BRUNSWICK, Maine — The House Armed Services Committee on Thursday approved an amendment to the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that, if approved by the Senate, would allow businesses on and near the former Brunswick Naval Air Station to qualify for a business incentive program offered by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The HUBZone (Historically Underutilized Business Zone) program provides incentives to businesses affected by recent military base closures and those affiliated with the civilian redevelopment of closed military installations. Brunswick Naval Air Station, now called Brunswick Landing, closed in 2011 under the most recent Department of Defense’s Base Realignment and Closure process.
The HUBZone provides an advantage in acquiring federal government contracts to any qualifying business. Currently, a business qualifies for the program if at least 35 percent of its employees live on the former military base.
But the HUBZone designation is “a hollow promise” without the amendment, according to the director of the entity charged with redeveloping the base. While some former military housing on the 3,200-acre Brunswick property has been converted to civilian use, the current HUBZone threshold is impractical, according to Steve Levesque, executive director of the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, the entity charged with redeveloping the former Navy base.
If enacted by the Senate, the amendment, sponsored by Rep. Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, and Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-New York, would adjust the requirements of the HUBZone program to make the economic incentives available to more businesses
The proposed amendment would allow a business to qualify for the HUBZone if 35 percent of its employees live within a 25-mile radius of the business; allows businesses close to the former base to take advantage of the HUBZone program; and extends the length of time for eligibility to either eight years or until the next census data is released, Poliquin said.
“By extending the radius out 25 miles, it will allow more constituents from the 2nd District to become eligible for the workforce, will attract more businesses, and help put more Mainers back to work,” Poliquin said. “I am hopeful that my colleagues in the Senate will also be successful in taking up a similar measure.”
The southern tip of the district Poliquin represents — including Lewiston, Maine’s second largest city — is within 25 miles of the former Navy base.
Stefanik, vice chairwoman for the Subcommittee on Readiness, which oversees the Base Realignment and Closure process, offered the amendment before the full committee. She represents the areas affected by the 1995 closure of Plattsburgh (New York) Air Force Base.
The expansion was first proposed in 2012 as a bill by U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King. After that effort failed, it was proposed in 2014 as an amendment to the defense budget. That effort also fell short of winning congressional approval.
This year, after a change in leadership of the House Small Business Committee, Poliquin and Stefanik were granted a waiver by Committee Chairman Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, that allowed them to instead offer the bill to the House Armed Services Committee.
“The congressman’s biggest goal is to make sure we get jobs, jobs and more jobs to the district and to Maine,” Poliquin spokesman Michael Byerly said Thursday. “He saw this as an opportunity to bring more jobs to Maine.”
Describing the vote as “a breakthrough,” Byerly said, “It’s been a long, long, long hard-fought battle.”
On Thursday, Collins and King praised Poliquin for his work on the House National Defense Authorization Act and vowed to press for its approval in the Senate.
“Members of the Maine delegation understand that with the right federal investments and opportunities, we can support the redevelopment of bases like the former Brunswick Naval Air Station and foster economic growth,” the senators said in a joint statement. “As the Senate begins consideration of the 2016 NDAA in the coming weeks, we will continue to pursue every opportunity — as we have in the past — to secure the HUBZones provision and pass it into law.”
“This has been a long time coming,” Levesque said Thursday. He said the committee vote “paves the way” for the amendment to move forward.
Without the amendment, the HUBZone program makes it nearly impossible for a business on a former military base to qualify and “makes it kind of a hollow promise,” Levesque said.