Correcting Carroll's Jobs Imbalance CARROLL COUNTY

October 01, 1992

The closing of Telemecanique shows that the economic development policy of Carroll's commissioners is short-sighted. With the closing of the plant, which manufactured electronic control devices, Carroll County loses 250 industrial jobs.

The plant's future has been in question since Groupe Schneider S.A. -- a French company -- began consolidating the American operations of Telemecanique and Square D, another of its U.S. subsidiaries. The first sign of trouble cropped up more than a year ago when Telemecanique sold its Md. 140 plant and consolidated its county manufacturing operations in its plant on Bethel Road. Other signs of trouble were the voluntary retirement of 27 employees in May and the announcement that Telemecanique was looking for someone to lease its new U.S. headquarters in Owings Mills.

If the county had a full-time economic director -- which it doesn't -- the Telemecanique plant still would have closed. Square D, which Groupe Schneider acquired in May 1991, had excess capacity in its Raleigh, N.C., plant and the parent company decided to consolidate many of its U.S. operations there. Nevertheless, the machinations over Telemecanique demonstrate how complicated the economic development field has become. Not only does an economic development director have to attract new companies into a jurisdiction, the director has to keep abreast of the corporate developments of those already there.

A lack of employment opportunities is a real problem in Carroll. About 55 percent of county residents have to commute to other jurisdictions to work. Of the jobs in the county, only about 15 percent are industrial and commercial jobs -- about one-tenth the level needed to maintain a balanced tax base, according to experts.

By appointing their executive assistant, Robert A. "Max" Bair, to oversee economic development, the commissioners say they are showing their commitment to this area. However, Mr. Bair, who serves as a de facto chief of staff, is stretched thin. Given his other responsibilities, Mr. Bair cannot devote the time and energy that economic development deserves -- and that other jurisdictions are devoting to it. It would make a lot more sense to appoint Mr. Bair on an interim basis until a full-time director can be named.

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