An offer by private investors to buy Parks Sausage Co. has let state economic development officials off the hook. Parks Sausage Co. was teetering near bankruptcy when it sought help from the state in July. All it got was the cold shoulder.
State officials were still stinging from criticism of an earlier proposed $1.5 million bailout of Stephens Engineering Co. Critics said Gov. Parris N. Glendening was paying back political supporter Wallace O. Stephens, who owns the struggling company in Prince George's County. The administration withdrew the Stephens proposal and appeared loath to help Parks Sausage, whose principal owner, Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., was also a Glendening supporter.
Fortunately, the city of Baltimore, which has much more at stake, was able to extend a $400,000 line of credit to Parks Sausage. That gave the company enough time to consider proposals from a number of potential investors. It has agreed to sell the company to two entrepreneurs with ties to the late Reginald Lewis and his TLC Beatrice foods conglomerate. Part of the deal is a promise to keep the company and its 220 jobs in Baltimore.
That's welcome news. Parks Sausage, though only 44 years old, has become an institution in Baltimore. It was founded in 1951 by Henry G. Parks, who started the company when he couldn't interest anyone else in doing it. The early days were rough, as prejudice tried its best to derail the company owned by a black man. Parks did become successful, but in recent years sales have plummeted from $28 million to $20 million.
The biggest factor was the company's forced move in 1989 from a site near what is now Oriole Park and its decision to then build a far bigger and more expensive plant in the Park Circle enterprise zone. High labor costs and the public's changing taste for less fatty meats also caused a decline in profits from sausage sales.
Those are problems that new owners W. Kevin Wright and Anthony S. Fugett must contend with. But with the expertise they bring from TLC Beatrice in international food marketing, there is reason to believe they may succeed.
That's good news for all those Baltimoreans who still fondly recite the company slogan, "More Parks sausages, please!"