Harford's Business Setbacks

October 14, 1992

The past several months of economic development news out of Harford County, one of Maryland's more electric markets, have followed the rhythm of the Orioles' recently concluded baseball season: win, win, win, loss, extra-inning game.

Attracting the likes of Pier 1 Imports, Clorox and Frito-Lay, Harford could do no wrong in the field of business development early on. Lately, though, it has suffered a couple of setbacks.

A deal to get After Six formal wear to fill the Gleneagles rainwear factory in Bel Air crumbled after Pennsylvania politicians closed ranks to keep the tuxedo-maker in Philadelphia. Harford officials were also left a little dumbstruck by indications last week that Coca-Cola's state-of-the-art plant proposed for Howard County may include a syrup operation that Harford thought it would get.

Last spring, the Coca-Cola Co. said it intended to transfer syrup manufacturing from a 70-year-old factory in South Baltimore to Harford, although it had cautioned that its plans weren't final. The company's decision still hasn't been released, but in case you're following the bouncing syrup plant, the firm did request ample water capacity from Howard County to allow it to make syrup there instead. Harford officials aren't convinced they've lost the business either. Coca-Cola recently extended its letter of intent for property in Riverside.

After Eileen M. Rehrmann's administrators initially expressed some angst at the prospect of losing the 150-job project, hand it to them for not making a federal case of the matter. Harford's economic development office, led by James D. Fielder, has been rock-solid professional in its dealings and realizes it's to no one's best interest to go crying over spilled Coke. Ms. Rehrmann and Mr. Fielder have always stressed their belief in regional unity; if Howard County winds up with all the Coca-Cola jobs, well, it's better than having them in Virginia.

If Harford has lost Coke on the heels of After Six, it doesn't negate the qualities that have made it attractive: available, affordable land, good access, a skilled work force, fast-track permitting and an upfront relationship with business.

Harford's emergence in the state's economic development landscape was underscored last week when Gov. William Donald Schaefer lumped Harford with Howard and Montgomery, two much wealthier counties in the Washington sphere, as Maryland's hot springs for industrial activity. How Harford County rebounds from a loss or two will be as telling as its string of victories.

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