Symbolism and tone played major roles in the state's decision for a win-at-any-cost campaign to keep McCormick & Co.'s new distribution center, and 150 current jobs, in Maryland. So, too, did a long-term view of the benefits of economic development, a perspective lacking in the state for years.
Symbolism came into play because the spice company has made its home in Maryland for more than a century, and because it is one of four Fortune 500 corporations headquartered here.
Tone is important because Gov. Parris Glendening insisted on making a statement that this state will be aggressive in courting business development -- and in fighting to keep major employers and Maryland jobs here.
The $20 million-plus commitment of state grants and loans and Harford County tax credits -- the largest state incentive package in many years -- emphasized how strongly the new governor feels about economic growth. Mr. Glendening began lobbying McCormick even before his inauguration, trying to avoid another loss to neighboring Pennsylvania.
Maryland's campaign was not based primarily on 150 jobs that would move out of the spicemaker's Hunt Valley/Sparks facilities in Baltimore County; many of those workers might have commuted to a warehouse location over the state line. Rather, Maryland officials recognized the potential for future expansion that could double the initial employment. They also recognized the possibility that McCormick manufacturing operations might one day be drawn to the site.
McCormick's size and stability bolstered those projections. Still, the per-job cost of landing the new facility amounts to more than $140,000, or nearly 10 times the benchmark figure used by economic development officials only a few years ago. It illustrates the sharply escalating cost of competition among states and localities for jobs.
Some will question the size of this incentive package to a private business that only last year chose Harford County for its warehousing center, without generous government enticements. The decision may also signal to other employers that Maryland will make lavish concessions for the sake of landing jobs of any kind.
McCormick selected the Riverside Business Park in Belcamp over a White Marsh site in Baltimore County partly because of Harford's successful fast-track permit approval system and because the land was cheaper.
But the courting of McCormick was a cooperative regional effort, directed by the state, a model that could help Maryland to secure economic development prospects more effectively in the future.