MRRA wins $2M grant for TechPlace Business Accelerator

Oct 22, 2013

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A building at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station will become a business incubator and technology accelerator for advanced manufacturing companies, thanks to a $2 million grant from the federal government announced Tuesday.

The Midcoast Regional Redevelopment Authority, along with Coastal Counties Workforce Inc., will receive a $2 million Make it in America Challenge grant to create TechPlace, the advanced manufacturing incubator, and to provide workforce training to support the businesses that will occupy it. MRRA is one of only 10 organizations throughout the country to receive such a grant.

“We feel pretty fortunate to be in some pretty lofty company nationally for this award,” Steve Levesque, MRRA’s executive director, told the Bangor Daily News on Tuesday.

TechPlace will offer low-cost office, shop, laboratory and manufacturing space to startup companies within five target sectors: aerospace, composites, information services, energy and biotechnology, said Levesque, who was reached on his cellphone while attending an aviation industry conference in Las Vegas.

While TechPlace is a new initiative, Levesque said the idea of building a small-business incubator is something MRRA has always wanted to do.

“It’s something we talked about, but we needed to find the money to kick it off,” he said. “And this Make it in America Challenge is the initial foray into that.”

President Barack Obama announced the creation of the Make it in America Challenge in March as a way to “help distressed regions build on existing assets, promote a competitive environment for foreign-owned and domestic firms to establish and grow their U.S. operations, create jobs and develop a skilled workforce for specific industries,” according to a news release from the federal government.

MRRA and Coastal Counties Workforce applied for the grant this past spring, according to Levesque. While those two organizations were the lead applicants on the project, other members of the collaboration include the Maine Manufacturing Extension Partnership, the University of Maine, Southern Maine Community College, the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and the town of Brunswick, Levesque said.

“We have a strong collaboration statewide, which is significant,” Levesque said. “It provides a real good basis to extend the collaboration to the rest of the state. So it’s not just Brunswick. I’d like to involve Loring [Development Authority in Limestone] in some of the future activities as we build upon this whole initiative.”

The $2 million grant is broken down as follows: $750,000 comes from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for renovations to the 90,000-square-foot building, which was a former Navy maintenance facility, and $1.3 million comes from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration for workforce training and supply chain management in the midcoast region. Levesque said MRRA, the Maine DECD and the Brunswick Development Corp. each will chip in $250,000 to match the Commerce Department’s $750,000.

Levesque said the building at 74 Orion St. that will be TechPlace’s future home is perfect for its intended purpose.

“We have a lot of large spaces on the former base, but we don’t have a lot of small spaces for startup companies,” Levesque said. “The building is already broken up into about 40 different shops and spaces, so that makes it an ideal configuration [for a small business incubator].”

Two businesses already plan to move into TechPlace within the next couple months, even before the renovations are complete, Levesque said. He declined to provide additional information about the companies or their identities.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony will be planned for next spring.

The incubator’s future sustainability will be provided by lease fees paid by tenant companies, Levesque said.

Maine’s congressional delegation chimed in with praise and support.

“This is exactly the kind of investment that is helping bring manufacturing jobs back to Maine and develop new industries for our state,” U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat whose district includes Brunswick, said in a statement. “Converting this building into a tech hub will help create good-paying manufacturing jobs right here in Maine. It’s a very exciting opportunity.”

In a joint statement, Maine U.S. Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins said the funding “will provide an important catalyst for innovation, build upon the ongoing economic redevelopment efforts in the area, and provide critical support for growing regional manufacturing sectors in composites, aviation and aerospace, alternative energy and biotechnology.”