When fire destroyed Blazie Engineering's building in the rural Harford County community of Street Oct. 18, causing $2 million in damage, the family-owned business had to scramble to find new quarters.
After a two-week stint during which the company operated out of the basement of Dean and Marty Blazie's home and a garage, the owners quickly secured temporary space at the Forest Hill Business Airpark near Bel Air. Now, less than two months after the fire, the Blazies are making plans to build a new 11,000-square foot building at the airpark.
"They did it very quickly," Marty Blazie, who owns the company with her husband, said of how the airpark's owners accommodated them.
Blazie Engineering, which makes and sells computer equipment for the blind, is one of a growing number of small companies attracted to the 184-acre airpark on East Jarrettsville Road during the past several years.
Robert and Mari Martin, the airpark's owners, are able to offer more than the normal range of services to occupants. The Martins, who also own Forest Hill Construction Co., have built most of the 16 buildings at the park since they bought it four years ago. Mari Martin also owns 3M Design Inc., which can do the interior design work for buildings at the park.
Installation of public sewerage and water during the past several years has made the park's expansion possible. Other occupants include Kannegiesser, a distributor of commercial cleaning equipment; Modular Components, which makes electronic circuitry; and Schwan's Foods, a distributor of frozen foods.
The Martins, whose airpark now supports a broad mix of 23 small commercial and light-industrial companies, have other irons in the fire, too.
"We're very flexible with people," Robert Martin said. Companies can lease space at the park and eventually buy it.
They recently enticed Harbor Spice Co., maker of custom spices, to move to the park from Baltimore County. They also are seeking as occupants a lawn and garden equipment distributor, a company that makes theater-size movie screens and an adult day-care center.
Martin, the Blazies and the prospective occupants are working with county officials under a "fast-track" permitting system that has attracted to Harford other companies, including snack-food maker Frito Lay. The system allows the county to cut the red tape and time normally involved in securing building permits and other local approvals.
Blazie Engineering, a 5-year-old company that has about 15 workers, also has benefited from the Martins' private airstrip. Robert Martin, a pilot of 25 years, recently flew several Blazie officials to Erie, Pa., in his twin-engine Beech Baron for the day to meet with a vendor.
Another park occupant, Mid Atlantic Label, which makes product labels for a number of larger companies, has flown emergency shipments to Perdue Farms Inc. in Salisbury, Md., Virginia and North Carolina.
"The airstrip is an accessory," Robert Martin said. About three or four flights a day are made into or out of the park. About a third of the park's occupants have used the airstrip for out-of-state business meetings, parts shipments or product shipments.
Robert Martin may consider the airstrip an accessory. But James D. Fielder, Harford's economic development director, said, "I think there's a lot more potential to relate the airfield to the park."
The Martins have been talking to state officials about sharing the cost of resurfacing the park's runway, which was built in 1971. In return, the state is asking that the airstrip have a public designation and remain operating for at least 10 years.
Robert Martin said he had about 40 more lots to market at the airpark. Future expansion depends in part on the resolution of a dispute with the county about the alignment of a planned access road between Jarrettsville Road and Md. 23.
The Martins have proposed to pay the $500,000 cost of the road. But some officials, including County Executive Eileen M. Rehrmann, are seeking a different alignment -- one that Robert Martin said would cost about $1 million in lost building space.
"It's really a safety issue at this point," Rehrmann said. She said officials want to make sure new buildings are not erected too close to the 2,600-foot runway.
Rehrmann said county officials would continue to negotiate with the Martins on the road alignment.