Earmark could send $425k to SMCC's Brunswick campus

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BRUNSWICK — An earmark within a congressional bill funding health and education could provide $425,000 in start-up funding for the Southern Maine Community College’s campus at the redeveloped Brunswick Naval Air Station.

The proposed earmark, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, is included in the House of Representatives version of the 2011 Labor, Health, Human Services and Education bill.

The bill has already cleared the House. A companion bill is scheduled to be taken up by the Senate this summer.

The Senate bill doesn’t include the earmark. However, a spokesman for Pingree was confident the appropriation would survive reconciliation of the two bills in conference committee. 

Pingree and officials from SMCC said the funding would allow the base campus, dubbed the Maine Advanced Technology and Engineering Center, to open next fall.

The college is a joint venture between SMCC and the University of Maine engineering school.

The campus is already slated to receive about $8 million. Voters in June narrowly approved an economic development bond that included $4.74 million for the campus.

Additionally, Gov. John Baldacci this spring enacted legislation that will redirect 50 percent of state income tax revenue from workers hired at the redeveloped base into a so-called job increment financing fund. Collected revenues would be split between the redevelopment authority and SMCC.

The fund is expected to generate about $4 million, however it’s dependent on the redevelopment authority’s ability to lure tenants to Brunswick Landing, the civilian name for the base.

Base redevelopers say the school will become a lynchpin for the base’s civilian transition because the curriculum can be tailored to meet the needs of incoming businesses.

The SMCC-UMaine partnership will allow community college students to pursue bachelor’s degrees in engineering.

Earlier this week, Pingree highlighted the need to establish a composites degree at the campus. Doing so, she said, would bolster the state’s composites cluster.

“We are really seeing the development of a composites cluster in the area,” Pingree said in a statement. “It is a technology that supports traditional Maine industries like boat building but also takes advantage of new opportunities like clean energy and aerospace.”

The earmark comes on the heels of news that Kestrel Aviation has signed a lease option to build a composite turboprop at the base. The company, founded by aviation visionary Alan Klapmeier, hopes to create 300 manufacturing jobs at Brunswick Landing.

Klapmeier has repeatedly said that the state’s composites cluster were major reasons he decided to bring Kestrel to Brunswick.

“We are going to build airplanes in Maine because we found the skills we need there,” Klapmeier said in statement. “This investment in a composite training center is an investment in future jobs for the area.”

SMCC president James Ortiz said the campus will drive innovation and job creation in composites, engineering and manufacturing.

“These funds would enable the (campus) to open next fall, helping to expand access to higher education and ultimately to raise incomes across Maine,” Ortiz said.

Ortiz and UMaine Vice President Jake Ward provided video testimony for the earmark. The videos can be viewed on Pingree’s website, http://bit.ly/cO2z2t.

According to Ortiz, Maine is 49th nationally in producing engineers.

“If we’re going to have a well-trained workforce, we’re going to need engineers,” Ortiz said.

Ward said the campus will train over 500 workers each year. During the first year, he expected the school to serve 300 students, leading to 75 jobs and $3.8 million in wages.

Steve Mistler can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 123 or smistler@theforecaster.net