Hope for Sparrows Point $300 million mill: Loss of jobs offset by long-term salvation of Baltimore County steel plant.

November 03, 1997

GOV. PARRIS N. GLENDENING exaggerated the other day when he called Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s plan to build a new $300 million cold-rolling mill at its Sparrows Point plant Maryland's "biggest economic development news in several decades." Those are overly optimistic words for an operation that will cut 900 of Beth Steel's 5,400 jobs by the year 2000. But Mr. Glendening's error was one of degree, not of substance.

The fact that Sparrows Point has snared this steel mill is very good news. It is a credit to the governor, Sens. Paul S. Sarbanes and Barbara A. Mikulski, Reps. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. and Benjamin L. Cardin and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. They put aside partisanship to lobby the company. The deal also happened because of the foresight of the United Steelworkers of America and management at the plant.

The Bethlehem Steel complex at Sparrows Point will lose 900 jobs through attrition and some buyouts. That is less important than keeping the remaining 4,500 positions. The new mill should also attract industries that use its flat-rolled sheet steel to manufacture products ranging from roofing and siding material to vending machines and school buses.

Baltimore County has been trying to develop an industrial park at Sparrows Point for years, without much success. Having a state-of-the-art cold-rolling steel mill there, along with improved roads, rail lines and other infrastructure, could be a big incentive for steel buyers, producers, shippers, middlemen and those who maintain plant equipment. And construction of a $300 million plant will generate some short-term employment and millions in tax revenues.

The ramifications would have been dire had Maryland lost this project. Rather than modernize its various steel-making operations in Sparrows Point as time went by, Beth Steel likely would have transferred them out of state, bit by bit. The $1.5 billion the company has invested the past 12 years to make Sparrows Point more competitive would be for naught; eventually, the entire plant might have closed.

Everyone involved recognized what was at stake. The union saw beyond the loss of the 900 jobs and helped devise a plan to save the company $130 million annually. That was pivotal in convincing Beth Steel that Sparrows Point would be the most profitable, competitive site. Also, Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and the state, offered millions in incentives. Because of this cooperative spirit, an industry important to Maryland and thousands of working families will survive and, we suspect, flourish.

Pub Date: 11/03/97

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