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U.S. Senate bill could help attract jobs to Brunswick Landing

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U.S. Senate bill could help attract jobs to Brunswick Landing

BRUNSWICK — A bill introduced by U.S. Sens. Olympia Snow and Susan Collins on Dec. 12 could improve economic prospects and spur the creation of hundreds of jobs at the former Naval Air Station, now known as Brunswick Landing.

The bill, known as the HUBZone Expansion Act of 2012, would give preference to more businesses for federal contract work at former military bases, said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority.

"It's another business development tool to help us (and other former bases across the country) attract more businesses," Levesque said Tuesday. He said he is already in talks with one employer who is considering to move her business, along with two hundred jobs, to Brunswick Landing if the bill gets signed into law.

"HUBZone expansion is critical to that decision, but it will also open up opportunities for other businesses as well," Levesque said.

The bill, for which Levesque wrote the concept language, would modify the boundary rules for HUBZones at former bases to include the entire town, county or surrounding communities, up to a population of 50,000.

This would allow more businesses at former bases to qualify for HUBZone benefits, by making it easier for them to meet the program's residency rule, which requires that 35 percent of all employees live within the HUBZone's boundaries.

According to the HUBZone program's website, the federal government aims to award 3 percent of its contracts to HUBZone-certified businesses a year. For the 2010 fiscal year, that amounted to nearly $12 billion in contracts.

As it is right now, the HUBZone program isn't "really functional" for businesses on former bases because the HUBZone's tight boundaries combined with the 35 percent resident rule makes it "way too difficult" for them to be eligible, Levesque said.

But with the new bill, that could change.

The former Brunswick Naval Air Station officially closed in 2011 as part of the 2005 Base Closure and Realignment process, a move that left a major hole in the town's economy.

In a statement issued last week, Republican Collins said the current HUBZone law,which was enacted in 1997, doesn't do enough to help small businesses in towns affected by base closures like Brunswick.

"One of the reasons is simple – the law defines the geographic boundaries of a ... HUBZone to be the same as the boundaries of the base that was closed," Collins said. "...  This legislation would help encourage further economic development and job creation in the Brunswick region."

Snowe also issued a statement.

"As the economic and employment ramifications of closing a military installation are unquestionably and disproportionately felt by the people who reside in the communities around former military installations," Snowe said, "it is clear that the HUBZone designation for closed military installations needs to be clarified."

Levesque said the bill isn't political and doesn't require any extra spending for it to pass - two reasons he hopes it will pass.

The bill now has been referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. Snowe is the panel's ranking Republican until Jan. 3, 2013.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.