Woodlawn credit firm threatens to leave Md. Owner says Balto. Co. failed to deliver promised incentives

Economic development

October 03, 1998|By Liz Atwood and Bill Atkinson | Liz Atwood and Bill Atkinson,SUN STAFF

The head of a Woodlawn credit company employing 500 workers is threatening to move his business out of Maryland, saying Baltimore County failed to deliver on promised incentives.

Baltimore County officials, however, dispute the claims and have letters showing that the company, Creditrust, declined a financial aid offer.

"We'll stand by our economic development record," said County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger.

Until yesterday, county officials thought their relationship with Creditrust was cordial. Just two weeks ago, real estate agents for the company contacted county officials asking for help finding sites for an expected expansion.

Now company president Joseph K. Rensin said he is looking to move his entire company out of state and is considering sites in Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Virginia. The company, which buys portfolios of unpaid credit card loans and collects the balances, is growing rapidly and plans to add 700 jobs in the coming year.

"They certainly don't make it easy to do business in Baltimore County," Rensin said. "We will probably move out of Maryland."

Ruppersberger said he was surprised by the complaints Rensin has made to reporters. "We don't negotiate in the newspaper and we won't be leveraged by that," he said.

Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon said he spoke with Rensin yesterday. "He was very cordial," Hannon said. "We're going to get together Monday and talk business."

County officials and Rensin offered different accounts over what transpired between the company and the county as Creditrust was setting up its offices in Woodlawn in 1997.

Rensin contends that the county reneged on promises to provide training money for Creditrust's employees. He said he and Ruppersberger shook hands on the offer, but the county withdrew its pledge.

"They backed away, and to date we have never received one penny from the state, county or federal government," said Rensin, who founded Creditrust in 1990 in College Park. "We are not looking for anything more than anyone else would get if they are coming from outside the state."

Hannon said some of the promised training money was contingent upon Creditrust documenting that the workers to be helped were economically disadvantaged or dislocated.

When Creditrust was unable to provide all of the needed documents, the county offered a reduced amount of aid, Hannon said.

In February 1997, the county and state offered Creditrust $100,000 in training money and $750,000 in employment tax credits, county records show.

State officials confirm the offer.

But both the county and state say Creditrust failed to respond to the offer by a deadline of March 31, 1997. The offer was extended until July 31, 1997, and the company still did not respond, county records show.

On Oct. 2, 1997, the state received a letter from John L. Davis, vice president of Creditrust, declining the offer for training funds. In that letter, Davis thanked state and county officials for their assistance.

Rensin, however, denied the company rejected the offer. "Now why would we reject an offer?" he said. "Would you reject an offer of three quarters of a million [dollars] or anything like that?"

Rensin said the company now is looking to combine its operations into a larger facility and will decide within three months whether it will stay in Maryland. With only 2 percent of its 1 million customers in Maryland, Rensin said, "We could truly be anywhere."

Pub Date: 10/03/98

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