Heart of business in rural Loveton Headquarters: The agricultural community has been transformed into a corporate center during the past decade. Soon a health services provider will join McCormick, Fila USA and Becton Dickinson.

February 18, 1997|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

Just a few years ago, Loveton was a quiet agricultural community of cornfields and woodlands. Today the rolling fields north of Hunt Valley are sprouting a very different crop: hundreds of high-paying jobs and the largest concentration of corporate headquarters outside downtown Baltimore.

From this 1 1/2 -square-mile area, Fila USA courts famous athletes such as professional basketball player Grant Hill, McCormick & Co. oversees its international spice market and Becton Dickinson Microbiology Systems designs equipment to diagnose infectious diseases.

Soon they will be joined by Integrated Health Services (IHS), the country's largest provider of health services for people released from a hospital. The company will begin construction this spring on a 1,000-employee corporate headquarters.

Such sprawling offices are rare in northern Baltimore County, which has some of the most restrictive zoning in the nation and where residents view any corporate beachhead with suspicion.

Loveton -- started in 1812 as a post office site near the estate of Capt. Thomas Love -- has in the past 10 years been transformed from an agricultural community to a corporate center with bike trails, woods and a campuslike ambience that can't be found in other business parks.

"We were looking for a peaceful, tranquil setting," said Marshall A. Elkins, IHS' executive vice president and director for the headquarters project. "This was the furthermost plot of land that can be developed for our purposes."

Loveton, which has more than 2,000 workers in its offices and factories, is two miles from the office towers, hotels and shopping centers of Hunt Valley. Approaching the area, York Road changes from a straight suburban stretch to a winding two-lane road and passes over a narrow bridge before climbing a steep hill.

On top, the woods open up to reveal the Fila USA headquarters, Loveton Center office park and Loveton Farms housing development. Just ahead is the future home of IHS -- an undeveloped office park called Highlands Corporate Center.

A rural trend

Integrated Health decided to buy the 160 acres after viewing more than 40 sites, including some outside Maryland. Elkins said the company chose the Highlands Corporate Center because, although rural, it is close to hotels, a light rail station and the homes of key executives.

Integrated Health's choice reflects a trend among companies to build upscale "corporate campuses" amid forests and farms, said county economic development director Robert L. Hannon.

The trend, which began on the West Coast, is especially evident among high-technology companies that want attractive office locations to help lure top-notch employees, Hannon said.

The growth in the Loveton-Sparks area is reflected by State Highway Administration traffic counts. In 1986, the state counted 4,600 cars each day on York Road at the Belfast Road intersection, north of the corporate parks. In 1995, that number had grown to more than 19,000.

The reason is simple: It is one of the last undeveloped areas with municipal water and sewer in the north-central area of the county.

Thanks to political maneuvering, Loveton is a blip in the county's otherwise contiguous Urban-Rural Demarcation Line, which separates developed areas from rural areas. Harry Dundore, once chairman of the planning board and a powerful crony of former County Executive Spiro T. Agnew, persuaded the county to extend water to his Diecraft Inc. manufacturing plant in the early 1970s.

Economic boon

The result may not reflect good planning, but it has been an economic boon to the county.

United Parcel Service opened a distribution facility in 1987, employing more than 400 people. Becton Dickinson moved its microbiology division headquarters to the Loveton Center office park in 1990, providing work for 800 employees. McCormick, which once owned the Loveton Center property, built its headquarters there in 1991, employing nearly 200.

McCormick executives, once squeezed into a Hunt Valley office building they had to share with other tenants, now work in a four-story building that overlooks a rolling woodland.

Walls are decorated with murals representing the spice trade, and on the first floor is an Elizabethan tea room similar to one that existed at the former corporate headquarters on Light Street. Each conference room is named after a spice.

Fila USA, which previously occupied a nondescript office building in Hunt Valley, moved in December to a 90,000-square-foot building formerly owned by Farm Credit Bank. Company officials were attracted by the hilltop location and the convenience the property provided its 350 employees, said Michael Ponsi, director of construction and facilities.

The bank building was gutted and remade to reflect Fila's emphasis on the young and modern.

For employees, there is a cafeteria that soon will have an outdoor dining area, and a health club with showers and locker rooms. A 2-mile bike trail winds through the woods on a portion of the 120-acre site.

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