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Brunswick call center growth hinges on federal bill

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Brunswick call center growth hinges on federal bill

BRUNSWICK — The former chief executive of Brunswick-based EnvisioNet plans to bring a call center with up to 100 jobs to Brunswick Landing by the end of May.

But whether Brunswick remains as the company's home base hinges on a bill currently before a U.S. Senate committee. 

Heather Blease, now CEO of SaviLinx, said Tuesday that her business will be based mostly on government contracts. But current requirements of a law that benefits government contractors may make it difficult for her business to grow in Brunswick.

Currently, Brunswick Landing exists in what is called a Historically Underutilized Business Zone because of its status as a base closed under the Defense Department's Base Realignment and Closure Program. The HUBZone program, administered by the U.S. Small Business Association, makes it more likely for government contractors to receive more contracts.

Blease said the current HUBZone residency requirements will make it hard for her company to grow because the provision requires at least 35 percent of her employees to live on the former base.

The HUBZone Expansion Act of 2013 would change that. 

"We're trying to expand the definition of a HUBZone in a BRAC facility as not just the boundaries of the base, but expanding to include the community as well," Blease said. "We have a limited number of housing units that are on the base, which is why I'm interested in having the law changed."

The bill, co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Angus King, I-Maine, and Susan Collins, R-Maine, was introduced Jan. 31 and referred to the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship on Feb. 4.

No further action had been taken as of Wednesday.

In a letter to Collins in December, Blease said if the law is changed, she will put her business "at Brunswick Landing and provide hundreds of jobs to the economically depressed area."

"Otherwise, I will need to seek out other alternatives," Blease said.

"To the extent if the company grows, one of the provisions of HUBZone is we need to keep our headquarters located in the HUBZone and continue to maintain that 35 percent employment residency requirement," Blease said. "It means if this bill doesn't pass, then down the road if we need to open another facility, it could be in another state.  It could take away from what we have in Brunswick. Our preference is to have our largest facility in Brunswick and make that our home."

SaviLinx signed a five-year lease with the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority last week. Steve Levesque, MRRA's executive director, acknowledged that the failure of the HUBZone Expansion Act could be a setback.

"It's certainly important to her growth in Brunswick," Levesque said. "I know all four (congressional) delegation members support it ... . There's a lot of support for it. It's a change and it doesn't cost the government any money."

Blease said while the company's long-term HUBZone certification status will remain in question, SaviLinx's certification as a woman-owned business will give it the advantage of winning some government contracts.

SaviLinx is also banking on a change in Brunswick's zoning ordinance.

The company plans to move into the former naval air station's headquarters at Building 250, Levesque said. But current zoning laws only allow professional office use related to aviation in that area.

The Town Council has scheduled an April 1 public hearing on a change that will allow SaviLinx to use that building. The zoning change has already been approved by the Planning Board.

Beth Brogan of the Bangor Daily News contributed to this report. Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or dmartin@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.