Martin plant saved by quick action

DEFENSE INDUSTRY

January 08, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Staff Writer

Martin Marietta Corp.'s Middle River complex came dangerously close last month to being phased out -- a lot closer than most people, including many of its 1,400 workers, realized.

But quick action by government officials -- and a local Martin executive -- helped save the complex, which once built the famed China Clipper. This was an occasion when Gov. William Donald Schaefer's aggressive "do it now" philosophy paid off.

As part of a consolidation triggered by its acquisition last year of General Electric Co.'s aerospace division, Martin was closing a number of plants.

In more than one scenario, Middle River would have been shut down, according to William F. Ballhaus Jr., who took over in May as president of the local operation.

That threat wasn't eliminated until a few days before Christmas, when the complex landed a big GE contract to make thrust reversers, which act as brakes for jets as they land.

A lot of people, including Mr. Ballhaus, Mr. Schaefer, Rep. Helen Delich Bentley and Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, deserve credit for helping to save a plant that dates to the 1920s.

Maryland officials moved swiftly and were among the first officials from a number of states to meet with Martin's top management to determine what could be done to protect plants in the state.

Mr. Schaefer didn't beat around the bush. "What can the state do to help preserve jobs in Maryland?" he bluntly asked Norman R. Augustine, Martin's chairman and chief executive, in late June.

Mrs. Bentley played a pivotal role by setting up a later meeting with Martin president Thomas Young, whom she has known since his days as head of the Middle River complex.

During these meetings, the state team learned that the Middle River plant's future rested upon its success in winning the GE contract. Without this contract, there would not be enough work at the plant to justify keeping it open.

Timing was critical. GE was scheduled to pick a company to take over its thrust reverser production by the end of 1993.

To make things worse, Martin's top management was not certainthe company should even be in that business. It was up to Mr. Ballhaus to convince them. He and his staff moved swiftly to develop a strategy to go after the GE contract. It was eventually approved by Martin's directors.

Meanwhile, Mr. Wasserman was hurrying to craft a package of state financial incentives to help trim Middle River's overhead.

"Mark Wasserman is a guy who moves quickly and makes things happen," said Mr. Ballhaus.

The state came up with $900,000 that would be used by the company to help train workers and to relocate equipment and some key personnel from GE's Cincinnati plant.

The state also agreed to lease a building that Martin did not need.

It was money well spent. In salaries alone, the Middle River plant contributed $66 million to Maryland's economy last year.

Competition for the GE work was fierce, said a Martin spokesman. "In this kind of competition every dollar you can save is absolutely critical."

The state officials' only regret: They couldn't prevent the closing of Martin's submarine warfare plant in Glen Burnie.

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