Grace has fired 45 at Columbia center High-tech company's move concerns county officials

W. R.

March 13, 1997|By Dan Morse | Dan Morse,SUN STAFF

W. R. Grace & Co. has fired 45 managers and staff members at its Washington Research Center in Columbia -- leaving concerns about the remaining 300 jobs at the high-tech facility off Route 32.

"Once a company begins on this track, there are bound to be worries," Richard Story, the county's chief business recruiter, said yesterday.

Story called the firings, which began in December, a blow for a county that has an unemployment rate of 2.6 percent.

"While not big in numbers, this is significant," said Story, executive director of Howard's Economic Development Authority. "The top people are gone. All the management functions are gone. These are people who are involved in the county from a leadership perspective."

Story said some of those fired will leave Howard County to find work in their specialized fields.

In a statement released yesterday, W. R. Grace said it was moving away from "central research" and aligning positions to Grace's core product lines -- which include flexible packaging, construction products and catalysts and silicas.

"The restructuring was a cost-management initiative that resulted in the termination of approximately 45 employees," W. R. Grace spokesman Charles Suits said in a statement released yesterday from Grace's headquarters in Boca Raton, Fla.

He said a smaller number of employees -- fewer than 20 -- were offered transfers to other Grace locations. The company has offices in Baltimore, Boca Raton and Cambridge, Mass.

Suits declined to comment on the company's future in Howard County. "I can't speculate on anything like that," he said.

At one point, the research center employed nearly 500 workers. In November 1995, the work force was cut to about 400. Suits said that since then the work force may have shrunk because of attrition.

With about 300 employees remaining, the facility still ranks as the 15th largest employer in the county, according to the Economic Development Authority.

Story said restructuring away from Howard County bucks a trend. He sees more companies consolidating in Howard because of its location between Baltimore and Washington.

He cited four companies and institutions that have done so recently: Signet Bank, Kronheim Co., Alpharma Inc. pharmaceutical company and Lincoln Technical Institute.

Pub Date: 3/13/97

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