California Microwave may open Washington Co. plant Site is big hangar formerly used by Fairchild Aircraft

November 18, 1995|By Greg Tasker | Greg Tasker,SUN STAFF

HAGERSTOWN -- California Microwave Inc., looking to expand its aviation electronics operations in Maryland, is eyeing space at the former Fairchild Aircraft Corp. hangar in Washington County and adding 10 to 15 highly skilled jobs over the next two years.

Shel McWilliams, vice president of operations for the company's Airborne Systems Integration Division, stressed yesterday that the expansion -- and the hiring of "a minimal number" of workers -- is "still in the infancy stages."

Mr. McWilliams said the company has been talking with the owners of the 1 million-square-foot hangar about leasing 87,500 square feet for the design and installation of electronics equipment on military airplanes. He said an expansion would come early next year.

The company has been advertising for additional workers for Hagerstown "in anticipation of a major government contract." Mr. McWilliams said the company has lost the contract bid referred to in the ad, but that it is planning to expand, anyway.

The Sunnyvale, Calif.-based company employs about 200 in Belcamp, in Harford County, and at Martin State Airport in Middle River, where it does the same kind of work.

"We anticipate some growth, and Martin State Airport does not at this time have additional aircraft hangar space," Mr. McWilliams said. "We've been looking at nearby space in Maryland and Delaware. The most feasible hangar space is in Hagerstown."

The hangar, formerly part of the massive Fairchild Aircraft Corp. operation, which shut down in the early 1980s, is now owned by Top Flight Air Park. The company leases several bays to small companies, including aviation-related firms and others.

The hangar abuts the 600-acre Washington County Regional Airport and has access to its air strips.

"We are working hard at [getting the site]," Mr. McWilliams said. "But I don't want to come in there and raise false hopes that we're the new person in town and are going to come in and hire X-number of people. That's not the case."

He said the expansion would not affect division offices at Belcamp or the company's facility at Martin State Airport.

Mr. McWilliams said the state, as well as Harford and Washington County officials, have been helpful with the site process.

"The state has a lot of unique resources. The airport site in Washington County is one of those prime locations," said Charles Porcari, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development. "We've been able to help direct them to a site. We're glad to help them in any way we can."

Mr. Porcari said the state has discussed economic incentives with the company, but he declined to divulge any specifics.

Hagerstown and Washington County officials applauded the company's efforts to expand at the former Fairchild site.

"I think the company would be a good addition to the airport," said Gregory Snook, president of the Washington County commissioners, who has spoken with Mr. McWilliams about the site.

"I think it's a good company, and they have the type of work related to the airfield. It would be another part of the economic base for the county."

Hagerstown Mayor Steven T. Sager, recalling Fairchild's operations, noted that the company employed one out of every two workers in Hagerstown during its peak. While its loss was devastating to the local economy, Hagerstown has rebounded in recent years, he said.

"We went from being dependent on one large employer to now having a nicely diversified economic base," he said.

"It would be great if California Microwave moved in. It won't have dramatic ripples on the economy, but 10 to 15 jobs will help."

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