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Kestrel Abandonment A Setback For Old Maine Base

Kestrel Aircraft decided to move its headquarters and 300 jobs to Superior, Wis., in part because Maine did not provide enough incentive.

BRUNSWICK, Maine (AP) — The loss of hundreds of jobs that will fly to Wisconsin with Kestrel Aircraft Co. represents the first major setback for the redevelopment of Brunswick Naval Air Station, but there's no need to villainize the company because Maine failed to provide promised help, a redevelopment official said.

While the loss of 300 or more jobs is a disappointment, the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority is already looking at other companies that could bring just as many jobs to Brunswick.

"This is economic development. It's not always smooth sailing. There are bumps in the road. You grind through some of these things. It is a bit of a setback, but it's not a total loss," said Steve Levesque, the agency's executive director.

Kestral, which plans to build composite turboprop aircraft, was the first major tenant announced for the formerbase, now called Brunswick Landing. Even with last week's announcement that Kestral would base its headquarters in Superior, Wis., rather than Maine, Kestral will still maintain a presence in Brunswick. Levesque expects it to grow its Maine workforce to up to 100.

In the end, Kestrel's manufacturing and assembly will be done in Wisconsin, but the company will keep the engineering design functions that are now in Brunswick in Brunswick. Kestrel still holds a lease on half of a hangar at the former base.

The town will also be home to Kestral Aeroworks, a division that customizes and upgrades planes built by other manufacturers, said Adrian Norris, a board member and partner in the company. The company is also considering having the painting, interior work and flight testing done in Maine, but a final decision has yet to be made, Norris said.

"Right now we have about 25 employees in Maine and that will be growing," he said.

In Wisconsin, the housing and economic development authority will provide $90 million in tax credit allocations, which will result in $18 million to $21 million in cash to the company, said Norris.

Company officials had to go with what was best for the business.

Without the credits, "we were a little bit stuck," Norris said.

Kestrel received a $20 million tax credit allocation in Maine, and it will have to keep its obligations to put some of the jobs in Maine to meet the terms.

Brunswick Naval Air Station was ordered closed in 2005 by the independent base-closing commission, and redevelopment officials learned from past lessons from other shuttered bases by getting an early start on redevelopment. Some of the property was even transferred before the base closed in June.

All told, there are 17 business leases with a promise of 450 jobs at the former Navy base. At its peak, the baseemployed 700 civilian workers.

Levesque remains confident that other private businesses could make up for the loss of Kestral's jobs.

"We have to swallow our ego a little bit and deal with 100 jobs instead of 300. If we play our cards right, then maybe we'll end up with more," Levesque said.

Other companies committed to building businesses at the site include Molnlycke Health Care, Maine Tool and Machine and information technology company Resilient Communications.


Associated Press writer Clarke Canfield in Portland, Maine, contributed to this report.

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