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Bombardier to possibly expand operations in Maine?

June 6, 2012, Maine - The LePage administration is hoping the world's largest manufacturer of aircraft and trains will consider expanding its operations to Maine.


June 6, 2012
By Steve Mistler Maine Morning Sentinel

The governor's economic development team and the agency redeveloping the Brunswick Naval Air Station in May met with officials from Bombardier Inc., the Canada-based company with facilities throughout North America, Asia and Europe. Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner George Gervais, who attended the meeting along with two representatives from Bombardier's aerospace division, described the confab as preliminary but successful.
Gervais said there have been subsequent discussions with Bombardier since the May 10 meeting, but he declined to elaborate.

Gervais said the administration and the Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority invited Bombardier representatives to Maine to tout the state's aerospace supply chain, composites cluster, skilled workforce and assets at the former Brunswick Naval Air Base.

The gathering was held five months after the administration and the Brunswick redevelopment authority lost a bidding war with Wisconsin to potentially secure manufacturing jobs associated with the aircraft start-up Kestrel Aeroworks.

Christina Peikert, director of marketing and communications for Bombardier, said the meeting was an exploratory session. Peikert said the company made no commitment and that it's always reviewing its options to accommodate growth.

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Cameron Doerksen, an aerospace industry analyst with National Bank Financial in Montreal, closely tracks Bombardier's performance. He said he doubted that Bombardier would consider the former Navy base for manufacturing because the company tended to expand such operations in low-cost labor markets. However, he said, the Brunswick site could serve as an aftermarket servicing outfit for Bombardier's growing its small business jet division or its still-in-development C Series aircraft.

Peikert said Bombardier has eight service and repair plants in the U.S., including one in Hartford, Conn. that was established 30 years ago.

Peikert acknowledged that Bombardier representatives who met with the LePage administration were from the company's service division.

Steve Levesque, the executive director of the redevelopment authority in Brunswick, offered few details about the meeting.

"We don't comment on prospects that we're working with," said Levesque, adding that the talks with Bombardier were preliminary.

Gervais said that the state isn't pursuing a specific project, but that state officials want to make sure that Maine is considered if Bombardier does add a service center in the region.

The former naval base, renamed Brunswick Landing, and its 300,000-square feet of hangar space and 8,000-foot runways would seem well-suited to accommodate such an operation. Additionally, the base redevelopment plan targets aircraft maintenance and overhaul, which means such operations are permitted at the facility.

Kestrel Aeroworks was originally slated to occupy Hangar 6, the newest and largest hangar at facility. However, the company announced in January that it was moving its manufacturing operation to Wisconsin after it failed to secure a rich financing package and tax credits in Maine.

The announcement was a significant blow to the redevelopment efforts in Brunswick. The Midcoast Redevelopment Authority has lured several business to the facility, but is still in search of an anchor tenant.

The base was slated for closure by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission in 2005. The U.S. Navy decommissioned the 3,300-acre base last year.

Gervais said it was too early to speculate about Bombardier's plans, but he indicated that the meeting may have been well-timed.

Bombardier recently announced a sharp drop in quarterly sales and profits, but its share price on the Toronto Stock Exchange after the company announced increased aircraft orders and a healthy backlog. Bombardier, which is known for manufacturing the Learjet and trains, announced first quarter revenues of $3.5 billion.

Gervais said the state and the redevelopment authority first contacted Bombardier to get on the company's radar and dispel misconceptions about the state's business and tax climate. Gervais said the state's reputation had been hurt by an oft-cited Forbes report that in December ranked the state last in business friendliness for the second straight year.

The Forbes ranking was campaign fodder for LePage when he was running for governor in 2010.

"It was a successful meeting," Gervais said. "I think they (Bombardier) was very unaware of our supply chain advantages, incentive programs and business tax climate. … They were pleasantly surprised."