Coca-Cola to build 900-worker plant in Howard

October 09, 1992|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,Staff Writer Staff writer Carol Bowers contributed to this article.

Lured by a $5 million incentive from Howard County, Coca-Cola Enterprises has chosen a Dorsey site for what will become one of the largest manufacturing plants in the state, employing 900 workers.

Official announcement of plans to build the $100 million bottling plant and regional headquarters on a 120-acre site at Parkway Corporate Center, east of U.S. 1 near the Anne Arundel County line, will come Monday.

Gov. William Donald Schaefer, County Executive Charles I. Ecker, and Henry Schimberg, the president and chief operating officer of the Atlanta-based Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. will attend the announcement.

The company already has 200 workers in Howard County and will attract 700 more, Mr. Ecker said yesterday. He estimates that the company will generate an estimated $4 million annually in local property taxes.

Coca-Cola Enterprises Northeast and the property owner, Svatos are expected to sign a sales contract today that will allow Coke to purchase the Parkway site.

"Today is a day you all should celebrate," Mr. Schaefer told the county Chamber of Commerce yesterday. "I am so pleased, so happy."

The governor had a right to be. He played a large part yesterday morning in helping make the deal a reality. Until he called and yelled at Councilwoman Shane Pendergrass, the deal seemed to be hanging by a thread.

Ms. Pendergrass, D-1st, wanted to put Coca-Cola on the shelf for at least 11 more days.

Then the governor called, the county executive dropped in and various business leaders, including representatives of Coca-Cola Enterprises, stopped by.

Unless the council moved immediately to reduce the county's "in aid of construction charges" for large volume users from $6 million to $1 million, there might not be any Coca-Cola at all, Ms. Pendergrass was told.

Ms. Pendergrass' problem was not with the company, she said, but with the process. She wanted the county's deal with Coke discussed in a public hearing Oct. 19.

Ms. Pendergrass could have forced that possibility by refusing to vote to amend the council agenda to consider a reduced construction charge. It takes four votes to amend the agenda and only four council members were present. Councilman C. Vernon Gray, D-3rd, is in London.

The county executive and the other council members believed that it was too risky to test a twice-delayed purchase agreement between Coke and the Svatos Co. with another postponement. They believed it so strongly that for awhile they talked of asking Mr. Gray to take the first flight home so he could cast the deciding vote to change the agenda.

Meanwhile, Ms. Pendergrass was meeting with Coca-Cola officials. One, Robert D. Shanon, regional vice president and general manger of Coca-Cola Enterprises, brought with him a newspaper story saying that Howard County was cool to business.

Next came representatives from the Chamber of Commerce, presenting Ms. Pendergrass a letter reminding her of her stated support for Coca-Cola.

"Today is the day we need that support," the letter said. "We need your positive support on this issue today." When it came time to vote, Ms. Pendergrass read the letter into the public record.

In between, "I was yelled at by the governor," in a telephone conversation, Ms. Pendergrass said. "He said that if we did not vote today, we would be sending a message that Howard County is cool to business growth.

"I told him that if we did vote today, we were saying some people are more equal than others. He said that if I was opposed to Coke, he would have no problem. He said he could not understand my voting against it on a technicality. I said it was not a technicality, it was compromising the process."

"I didn't get much sleep last night," she said.

The motion was approved unanimously at 12:09 p.m. yesterday following a 38-minute public hearing in which Mr. Ecker broke with tradition by giving his own testimony to the council instead of having an aide present his views.

Bringing the company to the county "is one of the biggest deals in the state of Maryland and certainly in Howard County," Mr. Ecker said.

"It seems like years ago that we talked about a million gallons a day," Mr. Ecker said. "About 10 days ago, the company said their needs would go from 1 million to 2.5 million gallons a day because of a change in their plans."

At current rates, the county would have billed the company $6 million for a connection that would cost about $1 million, Mr. Ecker said. A reduced connection charge for larger users would reflect the actual cost, he said.

Until amended yesterday by the council, the charge was $600 per unit. A unit is based on typical residential use of 250 gallons a day. A single plant at a single site using 2.5 million gallons a day would need much less plumbing and therefore cost less to install than plumbing for 10,000 homes scattered throughout the county, Mr. Ecker told the council.

He said he ultimately wants a sliding scale but in the meantime wants consumers at a single site using 1.5 million or more gallons of water a day to pay $100 a unit instead of $600 a unit.

After the hearing, a jovial Ms. Pendergrass went to a Chamber of Commerce luncheon wearing a red Coca-Cola hat and carrying a Coca-Cola six pack. She presented both to Mr. Schaefer.

"I know what it is to make a tough decision," the governor told Ms. Pendergrass. "But you just had to to do it."

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