Rioting in Indonesia sends chill through local firms A fax says 2 workers are safe as building nearby is 'torched'

May 16, 1998|By Jay Hancock | Jay Hancock,SUN STAFF

An article in Saturday's editions reported incorrectly where a technician affiliated with Ward Machinery Co. was stranded last week. The technician was stuck at the Pindo Deli Pulp company in Indonesia.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Indonesian tumult touched the Ward Machinery Co. of Cockeysville yesterday morning through a fax machine.

One Ward-trained technician was stuck in Sindeh Teluk and trying to get out, said the tense dispatch from Ward's Australian distributor.

Another technician, an Indonesian, was due in Jakarta but missing en route after attending a training session at Ward's Maryland headquarters.

FOR THE RECORD - CORRECTION

And two marketing representatives for Ward's box-making equipment were holed up in Jakarta, "safe for now, but the building next to their office was torched yesterday," the fax said.

In the global economy, emotional effects travel as quickly as financial ones. Even as they contemplated lost sales and damaged profits, Maryland companies were quick to worry about their Indonesian business associates yesterday, and to offer what assistance they could.

"We are extraordinarily concerned about our distributors in Asia," said Gene Haggerty, Asian sales manager for Ward, which makes box printing and manufacturing equipment in Cockeysville for shipment worldwide. "We've offered any assistance we can give them: a quick visa the company plane."

Indonesia is not a big market for Maryland, accounting for only $118 million of the state's $6 billion in exports last year. But it was a growing one, and several dozen Maryland firms have done business in the country in recent years, according to the World Trade Center Institute of Maryland.

The company with perhaps the biggest exposure is McCormick & Co. Inc., the large spice seller based in Sparks.

McCormick obtains pepper, vanilla beans and other raw materials from Indonesia.

It also has a 50 percent stake in two Indonesian joint ventures, part of a global network of almost two dozen subsidiaries and affiliates.

Export sources said McCormick is considering scaling back or abandoning its Indonesian operations and relying on India, Brazil, Malaysia and other more stable countries for pepper and vanilla supplies.

Mac Barrett, a McCormick spokesman, declined to comment on the company's Indonesian plans or to describe its operations other than as "retail and industrial" facilities.

"We are currently evaluating our position in Indonesia and are not in a position to discuss it at this time," Barrett said.

Other companies were also reluctant to discuss their Indonesian operations, citing safety and security concerns.

"We have a handful of people providing technical support to some F-16s in the Indonesian air force," said James Fetig, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp., the Bethesda aerospace contractor.

"We're not going to be specific" about numbers of workers "and we're not going to specify where they are. We're simply saying they're safe."

Development Design Group, a Baltimore architectural firm, has four people -- one American -- in Jakarta working on a dozen projects, from shopping centers to town planning, said spokeswoman Kathleen Carney.

They're "doing OK," Carney said. "Things are a little upsetting, but they're looking very short-term. It's student protests, but it's not mass revolution."

Indonesia had made up about 15 percent of Development Design's business until recently, but the collapse of the Indonesian economy last year hurt client payments and caused the firm to lay off about 20 Baltimore employees.

The firm has renegotiated billing schedules with Indonesian clients, and "now there are still some things going forward," Carney said. "We sent a number of our senior executives over to Indonesia to talk to our clients, to reassure them that we weren't going to run away."

Even so, amid blood in the streets, a credit drought and hyperinflation, few if any companies plan to seek new Indonesian deals.

"Indonesia is a market people see taking years to come back," said James Hughes, head of the international trade office for Maryland's economic development department.

"People in the area are shifting their emphasis to other markets: Malaysia, Thailand."

Maryland economic development specialists have attended trade shows in Indonesia annually in recent years -- but not this year, Hughes said.

A year ago, Baltimore architecture firm RTKL Associates had four projects under construction, "and before things started to die, there were probably another 10 in the works," said Vice President Daun St. Amand. "All that stuff has dried up."

A shopping mall designed by RTKL was recently completed in Jakarta, "which we're a little nervous about today," St. Amand said. "I haven't heard whether that's one that got hit."

At Ward Machinery, where executives are hoping the missing technician is simply stuck in some airport, managers promise to service existing Indonesian clients but aren't counting on any new sales.

The company's first concern is the workers in Indonesia, Haggerty said, and it will await word this weekend on whether they need help.

Pub Date: 5/16/98

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