The drama surrounding Kestrel Aircraft Co.’s announcement Monday that it would build an airplane manufacturing facility in Wisconsin rather than Brunswick offers three important lessons to guide the ongoing civilian redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station.
— Diversity makes sense.
Progress at Resilient Tier- V, Mölnlycke Health Care and other businesses at Brunswick Landing ameliorated the immediate negative impact of Kestrel’s decision. The BNAS master reuse plan emphasizes creating a mix of aviation, high-tech and other forward-looking enterprises on the former base property. By sticking to that plan, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority positioned the region to withstand the inevitable setbacks associated with such a large-scale effort.
Given the vagaries of the new global economy, it seems preferable to have six companies that employ 100 people each rather than one firm with 600 employees as cornerstones for converting the former military land back to civilian use.
— Government in Maine can only do so much to create jobs.
The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority did everything it could to accommodate Kestrel. MRRA expedited the conveyance of former Navy property into civilian hands and facilitated negotiations with Kestrel founder Alan Klapmeier.
Likewise, Gov. Paul LePage’s administration extended itself to the full limits of its authority to close the deal — without abrogating its responsibility as stewards of Maine’s limited financial resources.
Kestrel’s decision to build in Wisconsin didn’t result from a failure of government in Maine. Instead, it reflected the way capitalism in America works, circa 2012. A private firm, Kestrel, couldn’t finalize a funding deal with another private firm, CEI Capital Management, so it took its business elsewhere.
Entrepreneurs still need to convince investors of the merits of their enterprises. Government officials can bring private parties together, but they can’t make them agree.,
— The Mid-coast region must maintain perspective and take a long view of the redevelopment process.
Kestrel’s decision is disappointing, but its impact pales in comparison to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure commission’s vote to shutter BNAS.
Kestrel’s choice might cost the region 300 to 600 jobs it never had. The BRAC commission’s choice essentially snatched away the equivalent of an entire town.
Recovering from a loss of that proportion necessarily involves setbacks and recalibration. This region’s generally calm acceptance of Kestrel’s decision reflects the kind of resilience and determination needed to keep redevelopment on track.
That said, the response to Kestrel’s announcement from other parts of the state indicates that we must continue to explain how deeply base closure cut into the fiber of this community. The systematic shutdown of BNAS over six years minimized the drama, but the base closure triggered long-term economic and social repercussions on a scale rarely experienced before in Maine.
We’re strong, but we need understanding and help from other corners of the state to keep the recovery process on track.