Wooing -- and Losing -- New Jobs

September 24, 1992

The decision of the manufacturer of After Six formal wear no to relocate to Harford County shows that it takes more than fast-track processing, assiduous promotion and readily available facilities to attract new business. Political power and labor union clout played a major role in keeping the well-known garment maker in Philadelphia.

Pennsylvania's governor and U.S. senator added their personal intervention to that of Philadelphia's mayor in lobbying for the 300 jobs and a new financial deal with the company's creditors. The union representing After Six workers threatened a corporate boycott campaign against the takeover firm's lenders, pressed a lawsuit against the transfer, and convinced the community that it could not afford to lose the jobs, even given the shaky debt-ridden standing of the employer.

The public campaign stirred further opposition to the move. More importantly, it forced delays on the transfer of After Six to a Maryland company and threatened the loss of crucial orders during the major formal-wear buying season. The delay could have killed After Six, and its value to creditors, so bondholders agreed to reduce their claims and take their chances on the firm staying in Philadelphia.

The incident illustrates the intensifying battle between communities over jobs, and the need for politicians to wade into the fray. While the financial figures argued in favor of After Six moving to Maryland, political leverage tipped the scale toward Philadelphia. It's an example of the kind of community commitment needed to win and keep jobs.

With an enviable record of attracting over a half-billion dollars in commercial investment over the past year and a ranking as one of the hottest development counties in the nation, Harford nevertheless knows what it is to lose jobs. The After Six operation was, after all, targeted to fill the vacant Gleneagles raincoat plant in Bel Air, which closed in June and meant layoffs for 200 skilled workers.

Another empty monument to hard times had a happier outcome for Harford: The B. Green wholesale grocery distributor recently signed a lease to consolidate its scattered warehouses into the former Channel Home Centers building near Perryman. Nearly 400 jobs will move to Harford by next year. The county is assisting the firm to get up to $1 million in state loans, even though the jobs will come from neighboring Baltimore City and Baltimore County. In this case, Harford had all the right stuff -- ample land, ready buildings, good transportation -- and no political opposition.

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