AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) -- A fledgling aircraft company plans to bring about 300 manufacturing jobs to the Naval Air Station after the Brunswick base closes, helping to fill a void left by the loss of military employment in the coastal area, officials announced Friday.
Gov. John Baldacci said Kestrel Aircraft Co. will start with 50 to 75 jobs, and then expand to 300 jobs planning and manufacturing turboprop aircraft utilizing composites at the base, now known as Brunswick Landing. Actual production is not expected to begin for about three years, said Alan Klapmeier, Kestrel's president.
Klapmeier said a big reason Maine was chosen was because of its experience with composites, which combine different elements to make a stronger material and will comprise most of the main structure of the high-end planes. Baldacci said Brunswick's selection is also "a testament to the talented work force here in Maine."
The announcement came as the state, which has an 8 percent unemployment rate, struggles to recover from the recession and officials search for new businesses to help replace the estimated 6,500 jobs to be lost as the naval air station, long a pillar of the area's economy. The base is scheduled to close in May.
"Now we can see a little bit of light at the end of that dark tunnel," Baldacci said following the announcement in a hangar at the Augusta State Airport, which showcased a sleek, six-to-eight seat prototype plane with Kestrel's logo. U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, D, and representatives of the other members of the state's congressional delegation attended.
"Any time you talk about new jobs coming to Maine, that's good news," said Pingree. "But today we are talking about good-paying, manufacturing jobs involving Maine's growing composite industry, and that's really good news."
The University of Maine Advanced Structures and Composites Center is renowned for research and development of composite materials, mixtures of fiber, glue and other materials that can be combined for use on bridges, windmill blades, buildings and other structures. The presence of Kestrel will complement composite technology already under way in the state, said Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, which worked with the Baldacci administration to bring Kestrel to Maine.
Klapmeier, founder of Cirrus Design aircraft company in 1984 and well-known in the aviation field, left the small-plane manufacturing firm in 2009 to pursue other aircraft ventures. He said Kestrel was formed under a merger with Farnborough Aircraft Corp. of Britain.
Kestrel acquired design and intellectual property rights associated with the new plane it will build.
Kestrel's $100 million venture at Brunswick will move into the development, certification and initial production phase this fall.