General Electric Co. is finalizing a deal to shift its appliance distribution center in Columbia to a Harford County business park, a move that will end the company's more than 20-year presence in Howard County.
In June, GE wrapped up a shutdown of its appliance-manufacturing plant in Columbia, which began operation in the late 1960s. Within a year, said company representatives, the Columbia distribution center will be replaced by a new center in the Riverside Business Park in southern Harford, along U.S. 40 in Belcamp.
Laurie Simone, a spokeswoman for GE's appliance division in Louisville, Ky., said the closing of the Columbia electric-range manufacturing plant was part of a consolidation. That operation, a victim of competition from low-cost imports, was shifted to a plant in Kentucky.
And, Simone said, shifting the adjacent Columbia distribution center to Harford will allow the company to sell the entire Columbia tract, which is lucrative because of its location at Interstate 95 and Md. 175.
The new 800,000-square-foot distribution center is to occupy 42 acres at Riverside, a 450-acre site already supporting a number of industrial operations. The park, owned by Harford-based Bata Land Co., is adjoined by more than 1,000 homes built as part of a planned development devised in the late 1970s.
When completed in a year, the new distribution center will be Harford's largest building. Pier 1 Imports now operates the county's largest building. It opened a 630,000-square-foot warehouse in Aberdeen last month.
Good rail and highway access to the Harford site attracted GE, company officials said. A CSX Transportation rail line serves the business park. U.S. 40 and I-95, both nearby, provide shipping routes to the north and south.
The new center, to be used for shipping dishwashers, ranges, refrigerators and other major appliances to retail markets in mid-Atlantic states and New England, is to employ as many as 115 people, Simone said.
Company officials expect that some of the 100 workers at the Columbia distribution center will be offered a chance to transfer to the Harford center.
William E. Sivertsen, Harford County economic development director, said the county had been courting GE for two years. He said the distribution center will be a good addition to the already thriving business park, which is about 75 percent developed.
Among the park's major tenants are a Mercedes-Benz plant for preparing cars for distribution; LAG USA Inc., a German company that makes custom tour buses; Citrus and Allied Essences, which makes essences for flavoring in soft drinks and other products; and Johnson Control's Hoover Universal Division, which makes auto seats and associated parts.
In recent years, Harford's strategic location on the Eastern seaboard has made the county a magnet for large-scale warehousing and distribution operations. Some county officials, however, want to begin concentrating on attracting high-technology companies that require less land and have the potential to create higher-paying jobs.
"We have great expectations, but a lot of that is market-driven," Sivertsen said. Because many manufacturers are in the South, he said, the market is good for distribution centers in the mid-Atlantic region.
GE will not own the Harford center or the land on which it is to be built.
A Sacramento, Calif.-based developer, D. Benvenuti Properties Inc., has purchased the land for an estimated $3.9 million. Holman Contract Warehousing of Seattle is to operate the distribution center for GE.
Simone, the GE spokeswoman, said Holman is to begin operating the Columbia distribution center in January in preparation for the move to Harford. GE now operates the Columbia center.