Atlanta business eludes Md. Scanty: Many Maryland companies spent years preparing to do business at the Olympic games in Atlanta, but only a few have benefited

Olympic spinoff

July 26, 1996|By Abbe Gluck | Abbe Gluck,SUN STAFF

Unlike Maryland's athletes, local companies going for the gold in Atlanta aren't getting much of it.

After spending years preparing and competing for the chance to do business at the Olympics, Maryland companies say, for the most part, they're not making much money on the games, but the exposure they're getting is making their participation worthwhile.

Solarex of Frederick provided the technology for the Georgia Tech Aquatic Center's solar-paneled roof, which, although "it's the largest rooftop system in the world, is not our most lucrative project," said the solar electric company's president, Harvey Forest. "But it's been a very good project because it focuses a lot of attention on our industry."

The million-dollar project, mostly financed by the Department of Energy, was intended "to make a showcase of solar energy," Forest said, adding that the United States dominates the solar energy market.

And it happened to be Whiting-Turner Contracting Co. of Towson that built the $19 million Aquatic Center and installed Solarex's technology on the roof for another $3.6 million, said Whiting-Turner Senior Vice President Edward Burger.

For Victor Stanley Inc., the Dunkirk company supplying benches and waste receptacles to the city of Atlanta, "it wasn't an extremely lucrative project," according to owner Jerry Skalka.

But Skalka stressed the advertising value of the Olympics.

"Very few people bend down and read the names on park benches, but the people who are in the industry and know who we are will recognize the name, and in that sense it's an excellent project," he said.

And for Hargrove Inc., the Lanham company that has worked at every presidential inaugural since Truman's, the Olympics are neither its biggest nor most lucrative deal. "But it would have been a real shame not to have been involved in such a prestigious event," said Leonard Piotrowski, the account executive who managed the project.

Hargrove, a special events design and decorating company, designed the overall decorative look in the sponsor hospitality villages.

One owner even said he's working the games because there's nothing better to do.

"We decided to take this on because July and August are a bit slower than peak season," said Tom Eyre, owner of Eyre Bus Service Inc., based in Glenelg. Eyre, who sent 17 buses and 19 drivers to Atlanta to shuttle passengers for three corporations, including General Motors, said the company has seen bigger projects and bigger profits.

But for other companies -- big and small -- the games have produced.

Whiting-Turner's $22.6 million Aquatic Center project was one of the largest. And Remsberg Tents made "several million dollars" putting up about 300 tents, with amenities including floors, air conditioning and doors, said Dennis Remsberg, owner of the Frederick company.

"Special events, instead of advertising, are becoming a big way for corporations to spend their dollars," Remsberg said. As one of three companies selected to split the work equally, Remsberg has tents at many different venues, including the 120,000 square-foot accreditation center at the airport.

A smaller company, the Gun Center, sold cases of rapid-fire pistol ammunition to members of the U.S. men's shooting team.

"It was a pretty large order," said owner Bill Kelley, who said this has been the Frederick-based company's biggest project in nine years of business. "Once they find what they like, they want lots of it."

Big or small, the participating Maryland companies share a few characteristics: most stressed their speed and technological ability, most have been preparing for the games for years and some have made their names by working Washington political events.

Victor Stanley's software enabled the company "to take an existing product and show the architects what it would look like incorporating their changes," said sales representative John Krucenski.

But the project was difficult, both because Atlanta had very specific demands for the benches and because the benches and receptacles were "the very last things that were installed in the city, we had a very small window of time to do it," said owner Skalka.

Similarly, Ron Attman, owner of Alpha Products, said his company was selected "because we can turn on a dime and produce what they want when they want it." The Savage-based company, which has its patented concession tray in 11 major league baseball stadiums, is selling the tray in Atlanta through two concessioners in three venues.

When Alpha received an order for 1 million hot dog wrappers 10 days before the Olympics, "We were able to get it done -- that's the kind of thing we're known for," Attman said.

Remsberg, Hargrove and Current Events Inc., which is designing and providing lighting for five major venues, said they prepared for the games for more than two years.

Remsberg, which competed against 31 companies for the job, said it has been setting up tents since March.

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