Marada urged to expand in Carroll

April 14, 1994|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Sun Staff Writer

Westminster, Carroll County and state officials placed their combined inducements on the table Tuesday in an effort to persuade Marada Industries Inc. to expand its business here and build a third plant off Route 97.

But company spokesmen continue to assert that the auto parts manufacturer is nowhere near a final decision about the proposal, which is to include a 2.5-mile rail spur from the Random House plant on Hahn Road to Marada's property across from the Carroll County Air Business Center.

"Unless we are awfully close or unless Marada at the last minute makes a counteroffer we could accept, there seems to be a mingling of the minds that what we have on the table now is just about it," said county Commissioner Elmer C. Lippy, who declined to give specifics.

"They might come up with another initiative, but we're not bargaining any more on the terms we have to offer," he said.

Expansion rumors have been floating around the county since early last year, when Marada announced that recent contracts had led it to consider a third facility on the 80-some acres it owns east of Route 97 in Westminster. At the time, Marada was building a 40,000-square-foot light manufacturing plant on the property.

Marada, owned by Magna International of Toronto, also operates an 87,000-square-foot facility in the Air Business Center and employs about 250 people at the two facilities. The company ships automotive components to General Motors Corp., Chrysler Corp., Volkswagen, Honda and Jeep.

However, David M. Bailey, Magna's comptroller, maintains that the Westminster management team has little control over the final decision.

"Magna may choose to put the business somewhere else," Mr. Bailey said, noting that Magna has several divisions in the United States and abroad that could be tapped to fill the contracts. "It is the goal of this leadership team to place it here. But we're not the ones making the decision. Our parent company will put it anywhere it makes sense."

Mr. Bailey categorized Tuesday's meeting as a planning session, designed to help the participating governments prepare for the future.

"They need to plan for future expansion, but it doesn't mean it's going to happen," he said. "A few scenarios were discussed. But these are not the only people we are speaking with, obviously.

"We still need to present all those kinds of aspects to our parent company."

If completed, the project could cost nearly $16 million and double Marada's employee base in the next couple of years, Mr. Bailey said.

"We have to make a decision over the next several months," he said, noting the company's pending contracts. "There's the potential for quite a number of jobs to be created. There's a lot at stake. Expansion long-term goes far beyond this $15 [million] or $16 million expansion."

$176,000 in help offered

Only Westminster Mayor W. Benjamin Brown, who revealed the city's contribution to the package at a budget work session Tuesday night, was willing to be specific.

"The city has committed, if the offer is accepted, to over $100,000 for the rail spur and an estimated $76,000 to provide an enlarged water main to serve the property," Mayor Brown said.

"The city is in a tight budget year. What we've offered is in the best interests of Marada and in the city's best interests.

"What we're waiting for now is an initial reaction to see if it's in the ball park. If Marada is accepting of the parameters of the offer, the final negotiations can be ironed out."

State Department of Economic and Employment Development officials declined to comment on the rail spur or any other portion of the project. County officials also declined to comment specifically, for fear of hampering the negotiations.

The infrastructure, including the railway, is an investment the city would have needed to make eventually, Mayor Brown said. Marada simply got the ball rolling by noting that it would need rail service if it continued to grow in Westminster.

"When I heard that, it concerned me greatly, because we have always counted on that Marada had a campus plan and plans for further development," Mayor Brown said. He said he helped organize the initial meeting last spring among Marada, the state and county economic development offices, the state Department of Transportation and Maryland Midland Railway.

"It has taken nine months, but we have an offer proposed to Marada and, if they are accepting, a rail spur will be built with major financial backing from the state of Maryland."

Rail need cited

Mr. Bailey agreed that a rail spur is necessary to secure Marada's long-term future in Westminster. However, the manufacturer would not be the only company to benefit from rail service, he said.

"Everybody links [the rail] to Marada," Mr. Bailey said. "But, if you think about it, rail in this area would serve to open up economic opportunity right at the airport. It attracts bigger business and more manufacturing all around."

Paul D. Denton, president of Maryland Midland Railway, admitted that the county has lost at least one large industrial prospect because the Air Business Center does not have rail service.

"The chairman of the board [of that Midwestern firm] stepped off his plane and the very first words out of his mouth were, 'Is there a rail spur serving this site?' " Mr. Denton said, declining to name the potential client. "When we said no, he said, 'It's a pity because if it were, it would be high on my list.' "

Both Mr. Bailey and Mr. Denton said Maryland Midland's recent decision not to pursue a northern track to York, Pa., doesn't make the Westminster property less attractive.

"We'd have to work around that," Mr. Bailey said. "But figuring out the logistics, there is a cost with that, and that does affect our competitiveness."

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