Panel seeks to keep GM here Governor's deputy heads effort focusing on Broening plant

State economy

August 12, 1998|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

Gov. Parris N. Glendening has established a panel of high-level administration officials to coordinate the state's effort to retain the General Motors Corp. van assembly plant in Baltimore.

"It's a very powerful brain trust," David Iannucci, the governor's deputy chief of staff and the man tapped to head the group, said yesterday.

"It's an orchestrated effort. We are trying to put ourselves in position to understand how GM makes decisions on the future of plants. We want to understand that so that we can create a strong case for the Baltimore plant's continued operation."

The panel includes members of the Maryland congressional delegation and representatives of the state departments of Business and Economic Development, Transportation, Environment, General Services and Labor, and Licensing and Regulations.

The formation of the group stems from growing concern in recent weeks about the future of the company's 63-year-old van assembly plant on Broening Highway, which, with a work force of 3,100, is the city's largest manufacturing employer.

Economists estimate that the plant and its local suppliers pump more than $1 billion a year into the region's economy.

Automotive News, an industry trade publication, reported last week that the midsize Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans made in Baltimore are scheduled for a new design and new engine in 2002 for the 2003 model year. The publication quoted GM sources as saying that production of the redesigned van probably will be transferred to a modern plant in Wentzville, Mo., where the company's full-size van is built.

In telephone conversations two weeks ago with Glendening and Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John F. Smith Jr. promised that the Baltimore plant will remain operating for at least two years.

Iannucci said the governor's panel will develop a strategy in hopes of retaining the plant and that he hopes to meet with Smith.

Jane T. Nishida, the state secretary of the environment, is looking at environmental issues and how Baltimore compares with potential plant locations in other parts of the United States. The department is prepared to expedite the permit process to speed construction of a new plant or to retool the existing one.

Iannucci said the port of Baltimore is also involved because of the possibility that parts might be shipped in and vehicles exported.

Industry analysts have said that if the new van or other vehicle is made in Baltimore, it will probably be designed as a "world vehicle," meaning that it would be sold in the United States and abroad.

"The port is also working with General Services to look at the land issue, what GM might need if they plan a new factory in the state," said Iannucci.

James D. Fielder Jr., acting secretary of business and economic development, is working on an incentive package aimed at reducing GM's cost of doing business in Maryland.

The package will be patterned after one given to Bethlehem Steel Corp. last year to persuade it to locate a $300 million cold-rolling mill complex at its Sparrows Point plant.

That package included $67.2 million in grants and low-interest loans, and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. agreed to build a $2 million substation adjacent to the mill and to provide rate reductions worth $4 million over the next decade.

"When we approach GM, we want a unified effort that includes the public sector, the business community and the union at the plant," Iannucci said. "The union at the plant has a reputation for good relations with GM, and we want to take full advantage of that."

Pub Date: 8/12/98

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