Shards of an economy in transition Turbines to T-shirts: Shift from manufacturing is tale of Baltimore County, and Maryland.

November 29, 1995

CONSIDER THESE recent scenes:

* The Baltimore County executive opens a facility to provide health care, day care and police protection to an apartment complex in a working-class neighborhood that has seen better days.

* That community's key employer is rumored to be closing.

* Nearby, the governor unveils a state-of-the-art distribution center and outlet store for the pop culture merchandise of Warner Bros.

Glue the pieces together and you have a striking picture of an economy in transition.

A half-century ago, the former Glenn L. Martin Co. employed a virtual small city -- 52,000 people -- in eastern Baltimore County's Middle River. Workers rolled out the famed China Clipper flying boat in the 1930s, the B-26 Marauder bombers in the 1940s and the Titan II rockets that launched Gemini astronauts into space in the 1960s. But the work force is barely 1,000 now and the remaining workers anxiously await word of Lockheed Martin Corp.'s possible sale of the division. That could end the company's 66-year omnipresence in Middle River.

In such places, for the better part of this century, a person could find work, support a family and live securely, if modestly. Jobs at Martin or Bethlehem Steel were passed on like family heirlooms. Minus that base, however, the future has become much less forgiving, particularly in Middle River and neighboring Essex, where urban-style poverty grows.

A few miles west, hard by Interstate 95, Gov. Parris N. Glendening posed the other day with life-sized cartoon characters to inaugurate a shiny, new warehouse. It's an impressive operation, but it doesn't require as many hands to ship T-shirts as it did to build warplanes. That's not to diminish the $16 million investment, a coup for Maryland, but it's emblematic of an economic transformation.

Maryland now has the fourth largest service economy in the United States -- and the eighth smallest manufacturing base. Meanwhile, the other shoe is dropping with the shrinking of Uncle Sam's bureaucracy, another core job maker for Maryland. The impact won't be as concentrated as in the industrial "company towns" like Middle River, but it will be a painful, historic change for Maryland unless strategies to diversify the state's economy succeed.

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