Arbitron relocating offices to Columbia

June 21, 1994|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,Sun Staff Writer

The Arbitron Co., the radio-ratings company, plans to move its headquarters to Columbia next year -- a boost to the Howard County economy and to the beleaguered Baltimore-Washington office market.

The company will move 400 employees from four other sites in Laurel and Beltsville to 127,000 square feet of office space in the Patuxent Woods Business Park. The lease would be one of the largest private-sector deals in the Baltimore area in years.

The 15-year-lease is worth more than $20 million, according to Cole Schnorf, a Manekin Corp. executive who helped negotiate the deal.

"This is one of the biggest private-sector deals in years and a clear sign the economy is improving," he said.

The main tangible economic benefit will be seen in the retail and office space markets, said Richard Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, a quasi-governmental agency.

Retailers near Arbitron's new headquarters, such as delicatessens, gas stations and restaurants, will see some new business that, in turn, will increase county sales tax revenues. And the lease will help reduce the inventory of vacant office space in the regional market, Mr. Story said.

E. Hayes Merkert, a broker with Manekin, said the deal should have "a positive ripple effect" in the office market.

"With big blocks of space like this fast disappearing from the market, companies with large space needs in the area may have to turn to the build-to-suit market," Mr. Merkert said. That market has been flat for several years.

But Mr. Story said the main benefit will be symbolic.

"The direct economic impact on the county isn't great. But Arbitron's move will be a big help in our efforts to sell the county as a great location to other companies," he said. "You are known by the company you keep, and Arbitron obviously has a nationally recognized name."

Arbitron's relocation -- which will make the company Howard County's 13th-largest employer, will consolidate administrative offices, computer data operations, information production and archives in two buildings in the business park. One of the buildings is owned by Manekin, which developed the park, and the other is owned by State Farm Insurance, Mr. Merkert said.

"It had become impractical to operate out of four different sites," said Tony Gochal, director of communications for Arbitron. "Columbia gave us the best location and the style of buildings we wanted."

Arbitron, with about 2,000 customers in the nation's 240 radio markets, had considered several other locations in the Baltimore-Washington corridor but picked Columbia, in part, because of its proximity to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, Mr. Gochal said.

"We didn't want to move too far from the airport or from our employee population," he said. Most of the company's workers live in Anne Arundel, Howard and Prince George's counties.

Columbia is about 10 miles from BWI. Customers often fly into BWI when visiting the company to review ratings surveys, Mr. Gochal said. The company provides customers -- radio stations, broadcast companies and advertisers -- with information about radio audiences and their listening and purchasing habits.

The current tenant of the Patuxent Woods space, BDM Corp., a defense contractor, is planning to relocate in the area.

Arbitron, owned by New York-based Ceridian Corp., an information services company, was founded in 1949 and quickly built a nationwide name by tracking information about television audiences. The company had viewers attach meters to their TV sets, keep logs of viewing habits and track how their purchases were affected by advertising. The company branched into the radio ratings business in 1965.

Late last year, the company threw in the towel in its battle with A. C. Nielsen Co. for the television ratings business, laying off 733 people. About 400 of those employees worked at the company's Laurel and Beltsville operations.

Mr. Gochal said Arbitron's revenues last year were about $110 million, down from an estimated $187 million in 1991, when the company was still in the television-station ratings business.

Arbitron expects the move, beginning in late fall, to be completed within a year. Arbitron's sales force of 300 in five cities won't be affected.

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