When Brunswick lost the naval air station, it wasn’t just bad news for the town or the surrounding communities, it was a body shot to the whole Maine economy.

And when redevelopment efforts got under way, it wasn’t just a job for local business leaders, but required the commitment of business and government, on the local, state and federal levels, to put the pieces in place for an economic asset that could someday replace the $530 million in payroll and contracts that had been reliably produced by the base. That translated into $20 million every year in state tax revenue alone.

The base does not close finally until September, but redevelopment is already well under way, and following several years of bad economic news in Maine, here is a place where we can catch at least a glimpse of blue sky. Like the effort it took to get this off the ground, the benefits will not just be local, but will be felt statewide.

At the core of the redevelopment plan, and the main cause to be optimistic about its success, is a groundbreaking cooperation between Southern Maine Community College and the University of Maine. The institutions will work with employers to design programs that will give students the skills they need to step into good-paying jobs, and focus research and development dollars onto projects that could have commercial applications right next door to the buildings that have been made available for businesses by the Navy’s departure.

This provides a potential new business with both a pool of qualified employees and the synergistic relationships they need to improve and market their products. That should be a powerful business attractor as well as a great opportunity for Mainers who are trying to get into the job market with some new skills.

It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick – the timeline for a redeveloped military base to reach its former level of economic activity is 12 to 20 years – but the work that has been done is starting to show results.

Businesses on site or committed to moving to Brunswick account for nearly 600 new jobs. That’s a far cry from the more than 4,000 jobs that left with the Navy, but it’s a start.

The education component attacks the single biggest economic development challenge faced by the loss of the Navy base. Typically, when a paper mill or a sardine cannery shuts down, economic development agencies look for another paper company or fish processor willing to take over the existing site. The chief selling point is a pool of qualified workers ready to step into jobs like their old ones.

The Navy didn’t just take the jobs when it redeployed its P-3s to Pensacola, Fla.; it took the workers away as well.

By working with the institutions of higher learning, Brunswick will be able to guarantee a predictable supply of workers at a variety of skill levels, from associate degree to master’s in engineering.

If successful, this type of joint venture could provide the model for work force development in other areas. The first thing a company wants to know when it is considering a move to Maine is whether it will be able to hire the people it needs to do the company’s work. Other issues come up, from relatively high energy costs to a difficult climate, but the size of the available work force and workers’ education levels often top the list.

As a mostly rural, sparsely populated state, Maine will probably never have a huge labor pool, but there are things we can do as a state to be sure that our work force does not lag behind its competitors in its level of training and skills.

This is what the redevelopment of the Brunswick Naval Air Station takes on directly. Like everything else about this effort, its success will be felt statewide.