DCA plant is shutting its doors Company supplies bakery equipment and employs 100

'It's like the end of an era'

Well-paying positions in Howard industry decline by 430 in year

March 22, 1996|By Ivan Penn | Ivan Penn,SUN STAFF

A Jessup manufacturing plant - a longtime supplier of bakery equipment to such companies as Tastykake Inc. and Entenmann's Bakery will close its doors today, leaving most of its 100 workers in search of jobs.

The Donut Corporation of America (DCA), which has baking ingredient and equipment operations throughout the world, has operated a Howard County plant for 76 years, starting in Ellicott City in 1920 and moving to Jessup in 1970.

But Kerry Ingredients, the Beloit, Wis., parent of DCA, decided in January to get out of the equipment manufacturing business and focus on making bakery ingredients, a DCA official said.

As a result, the company is shutting down the Jessup operation, which also manufactured fuel cells, floor plates and other equipment parts for the Department of Defense.

The Jessup plant's workers included machinists, sheet-metal workers, welders, assemblers and draftsmen, many of whom earned $11 to $14 an hour.

"It's like the end of an era in history," said Ralph Bathgate, a 40- year employee who worked in the plant's production office and started at DCA two days after he graduated from high school. "It's going to be a lot of sad situations with everybody leaving."

The shutdown is another blow to a county that has lost more than 430 well-paying jobs in private industry in less than a year.

They include 258 in May at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, the county's largest private employer; and 75 in the fall from Washington Research Center, a division of W. R. Grace & Co., the county's ninth-largest employer.

"These are very significant manufacturing jobs," said Richard W. Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, a quasi-public agency. "This is a significant loss."

In addition to the economic impact, "you've got human beings in crisis," he said. "We are fully involved in doing all the things we can do to assimilate them back into the work force."

The Rapid Response Team of the Howard County Office of Employment and Training has been asked by the Economic Development Authority to help find new jobs for DCA workers.

While admitting the significance of the DCA loss, economic development officials said many of the displaced workers are likely to find work elsewhere in Howard's economy, which is growing at about 5 percent a year, creating 4,260 net new jobs annually.

Although the loss of midsized manufacturing operations is a problem, "the good news is that Howard County is not wanting for jobs," said Anirban Basu, a researcher with the Regional Economic Studies Program at the University of Baltimore.

Mr. Basu said Howard has benefited from companies with operations around the country that consolidate their operations in Howard. He cited as an example Biosys Inc., a California-based biotechnology company that bought Columbia-based Crop Genetics International last year and moved its headquarters to Howard.

But while economists take some solace from Howard's growing economy, the jobs being created in the county are not necessarily high-wage positions equivalent to the ones being eliminated at DCA.

Although the county is adding jobs faster than the state average, much of that growth is taking place in lower-paid service and distribution industries, including retail stores and warehouses, according to regional economic experts.

All of that adds up to uncertainty for the workers losing their jobs at DCA, who held those jobs for an average of eight years.

Richard Goutos, the plant's manager, said 80 percent of the employees will lose their jobs immediately. A few others will remain to close the operation and sell equipment. A handful will find jobs elsewhere within DCA, he said.

"I don't think you can find any more dedication from employees than the ones I've been associated with for the last 28 years," said Mr. Goutos. "It's sad."

Pub Date: 3/22/96

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