Bell unit stays in Md. Mobile phone firm leaving Silver Spring for Howard complex

Telecommunications

June 04, 1998|By Shanon D. Murray | Shanon D. Murray,SUN STAFF

The Baltimore-Washington regional headquarters of Bell Atlantic Mobile, the wireless subsidiary of Bell Atlantic Corp., said yesterday that it will move to Howard County after 14 years in Silver Spring.

About 300 employees will be relocated to an office building Bell Atlantic Mobile is constructing on 30 acres in the new, 100-acre Montpelier Research Park near the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory off U.S. 29.

Work on the 158,000-square-foot, three-story building is to begin in August and should be completed next summer, Gary Schulman, president of Bell Atlantic Mobile's Baltimore-Washington regional office, said at a news conference at APL.

Additionally, the regional subsidiary is expected to double its number of employees in four years, and exceed 1,000 workers at the facility not long after that, Schulman said.

"The Silver Spring location began as a small office and, as we grew, we didn't find suitable space for expansion there," he said.

The subsidiary's 300 employees are spread among three facilities in Silver Spring.

Bell Atlantic Mobile's relocation is a clear victory for Howard County in the mean game of local jurisdictions competing with one another for the same company; and it's also a victory for Maryland, which kept the headquarters from moving to Virginia.

"Within 45 miles of many points in Maryland, someone can be in another state. A business doesn't have to choose to be here," said James D. Fielder, acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development.

Yesterday's occurrence of one county beating out another for a company is counter to the trend, said Anirban Basu, a senior economist with the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University.

"What we have seen in Maryland in the last two years is a growing sense of regionalism," Basu said.

"Economic development efforts are extremely aggressive, but Maryland officials appear more focused on bringing firms to the state instead of just moving them around within the state," he said.

"The focus these days increasingly appears to be on making Maryland competitive nationally with powerhouses such as Virginia and North Carolina," Basu said. "And that's the basis economic development success should be measured on."

Fielder, Bell Atlantic Mobile and Howard County economic development officials declined to discuss the state's incentive package to the subsidiary to keep it in Maryland. Details should be available next week after the Legislative Policy Committee of the General Assembly votes on it, Fielder said.

"The package offers an appropriate level of incentives," said Fielder, who added that the state had been promoting itself to the subsidiary for about 14 months.

One of the primary reasons Howard County distinguished itself was that relocating there wouldn't require employees to extend their commute by much, Schulman said (the new building is less than eight miles from where most of Bell Atlantic's employees now work), but "we didn't discount Virginia because it certainly has a high-quality work environment."

Howard County has done well for itself in gaining a spot on the list of preferred destinations for companies, economist Basu said.

"That appears to be as much a function of labor force characteristics and land availability as efforts on the part of the jurisdiction to lure businesses," he said.

Howard County developed a list of five industries to target, including regional headquarters and telecommunications companies, said Richard Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority.

"This is the kind of high-value-added company we're looking to attract," Story said.

Pub Date: 6/04/98

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