2012-01-17 / Commentary

Commit to the common good


Well, the decision is in.

While Kestrel Aircraft Co. apparently will finish its airplanes at Brunswick Landing, the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, the majority of manufacturing jobs we hoped to see at the base will go to Wisconsin.

It’s been a long-running saga. Hopefully, we will still benefit, although to a lesser degree, from the company’s success, and learn from this disappointing outcome.

As a guy who has worked for 37 years on economic and business development — and project financings in Maine, in various roles — I’d like to put forth a few guiding principles for success in situations like this.

These apply to our now failed collective efforts to land all of Kestrel’s business, and have general application as well.

I write this as a plain old citizen of Brunswick ( 25 years now), not in any official capacity, although I’ve been a town councilor; board member of three local development corporations; purveyor of federal tax credits used to mobilize capital for worthy projects; and currently serve as a trustee of Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority (MRRA).

I have knowledge of the Kestrel initiative from several angles, having worked to make this project happen in Brunswick, although I have no current relationship with the company.

Kestrel is a high-profile earlystage company, with great prospects. Like all companies in capital-intensive industries, it has major capital needs to execute its business strategy.

Alan Klapmeier, the founder and CEO, and other company officials consistently made two things clear: (a) they wanted to be in Maine, and (b) they would do what they had to do to secure the necessary funding for the company.

The second need is paramount, because without sufficient capital, there is no company. It was evident from the outset that Kestrel being successful in Brunswick would be highly beneficial to the base redevelopment efforts.

There never was anything subtle, nefarious, or two-faced going on here — just business realities and people trying to execute their business strategy to launch a successful enterprise.

Major projects like this require a multitude of funding sources in order to be successful, including substantial private investment and various public incentives, as in the Kestrel deal.

In my opinion this is basic economic and community development. Those who care about the economic health of our community should make a judgment about whether any company, like Kestrel or otherwise, would be a beneficial neighbor. If so, we should do everything possible to help such a company be successful.

There are always limits to what outsiders can do, but all people who care about economic development in Maine and redevelopment of Brunswick Landing should have as a primary goal helping companies like Kestrel get access to the necessary capital, and other ingredients they need.

If it works, it works, and if it doesn’t it doesn’t. At the end of the day, you want to be able to say you were in the game and left it all on the field (or court, or rink).

These are critically important general principles, really basic stuff, directly related to the “business climate” of a region, state, community or redeveloping naval base. How do businesses perceive our interest in having them here?

This is part psychology and part substance. Our “body language” has to be positive, and we must deliver the goods.

For those charged with responsibility for community well- being, it is a matter of integrity and unwavering commitment.

More broadly, it is a responsibility of all citizens of a community. We’re all members of the “welcoming committee.”

We have to pull together, and we have to go all out. It’s a competitive environment to secure high profile projects. The question is: Do we want to compete?

As for the psychology, we have to come together to support beneficial, sustainable economic development, and we have to mean it. Business enterprises, just like people, eventually figure out whether we are genuine or fake.

As for the substance, we have a limited number of tools, so we have to use all we have effectively — tax increment financing; training programs; technical assistance; economic development financing programs like state loan guarantees, community development block grants, tax credit programs; and others — whatever we have at our disposal.

Maine has a lot of obstacles to desirable business development, but collectively we can overcome them. Pogo’s famous observation comes to mind: “We have met the enemy and they are us.”

We can overcome our obstacles if we can overcome ourselves.

This is an appeal to the better instincts in all of us, not a veiled criticism of any person or entity. Many people put it all on the line for Kestrel, and they know who they are.

Looking beyond this, we absolutely need a sustained, cooperative, all-out effort to succeed with the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station, and other beneficial development initiatives.

This is a call for a renewed commitment to the common good. It is a request to look into your heart and see how you are serving your communities, small and large.

And there is a test. It comes in the form of an exam (mercifully unsupervised) when you look in the mirror.

STEVEN WEEMS lives in Brunswick.

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