Renovated auto terminal opens APS also celebrates export of its 600,000th Chrysler since 1990

On the waterfront

November 20, 1998|By Robert Little | Robert Little,SUN STAFF

The man driving a green Chrysler 300M up the stern of the Jingu Maru at Baltimore's Atlantic Marine Terminal yesterday wore a dark suit and tie, not the requisite gloves and coveralls. He was a DaimlerChrysler executive, not one of the union longshoremen who typically handle the job.

But the circumstances weren't typical, either. The car was the 600,000th Chrysler shipped from Baltimore since American Port Services started processing nearly all of the manufacturer's exports here in 1990.

Officials of American Port Services celebrated that milestone yesterday, along with the official opening of their renovated 53-acre marine terminal for loading and unloading automobiles. And they did it with the threat of competition looming next door -- a 50-acre vacant lot that the Maryland Port Administration plans to turn into a similar facility soon.

American Port Services just spent $4 million upgrading its terminal, paving new storage spaces, erecting buildings for coating cars and installing components. The state plans to spend $18 million for a marine terminal next door, then lease it to a Jacksonville, Fla., company that wants to enter the same business.

That has put APS at odds with state officials. Chief executive Timothy Chadwick has pledged to contest the neighboring project before the Federal Maritime Commission.

Tempers were calm yesterday. Company and state officials gathered at the Brooklyn marine terminal to cheer an established Baltimore company with about 300 employees, not counting the longshoremen, truck drivers, freight forwarders and others who benefit from APS business. Gov. Parris N. Glendening sent a proclamation declaring yesterday American Port Services Day. Comptroller-elect William Donald Schaefer, who said, "I hate everything, but I love the port of Baltimore," helped cut the ceremonial ribbon.

"The name of the game is keeping industry in our city, in our state, and bringing new businesses in. People talk about ports in Delaware taking our business, ports in Virginia taking our business. If you don't think that's competition, you're wrong," Schaefer said.

"This is an investment of over $4 million by a company that's made a commitment to stay here; it's significant," said James D. Fielder, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

APS subsidiary Hobelmann Port Services was established in the early 1950s with a facility for off-loading and processing Volkswagen Beetles. Today it operates in three Baltimore locations and at ports in Jacksonville and Zeebrugge, Belgium. The company handles imports and exports, including every Chrysler shipped overseas. About 95 percent of those Chrysler exports leave the country through Baltimore.

The company does more than take cars on and off ships. It applies coatings to the bodies and undercarriages, and installs components such as stereo systems. Vehicles are bar-coded and tracked electronically, and watched by security cameras everywhere they go. To reduce damage, workers who drive the cars wear one-piece clothing and are not permitted to wear metal watches or jewelry.

American Port Services is the country's largest automobile-processing company, but it is not the only one in Baltimore. Besides a handful of other private companies, the public Maryland Port Administration has targeted automobile processing as a way to augment its trade in cargo shipped in metal containers.

The city is second to New York City in the number of automobiles shipped through its terminals, a result largely of its proximity to middle America.

But convenient or not, automobile manufacturers could send their import and export business to another city, so Chadwick said his company upgraded its facility to give it as much efficiency and damage protection as he can.

"There are other ports along the Atlantic seaboard," said Frank Fountain, the DaimlerChrysler senior vice president who drove the car onto the ship yesterday.

"But having a quality partner is most important. That's why we're here."

Pub Date: 11/20/98

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