Toolmaker seeking help with growth

Black & Decker says it may leave without incentives

State, county in talks

$4.5 billion company has outgrown space in Towson buildings


July 07, 2000|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

Black & Decker Corp. is seeking incentives from local governments to help finance an expansion of its headquarters and, in what is becoming increasingly common for businesses, indicated it could move out of state unless it makes economic sense to stay in the region.

Founded in downtown Baltimore 90 years ago, the company's worldwide headquarters has been located on Joppa Road in Towson since 1917.

The buildings on the 30-acre site are too small for the $4.5 billion company, and executives said they either need to expand or move to another site, perhaps outside Maryland.

"Black & Decker is one of the world's most eminent manufacturing companies with a very long history, spanning decades, as one of the state's leading corporations," said Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of the state Department of Business and Economic Development. "We are aware of their expansion needs and are in talks as to how we can help."

He declined to discuss what types of taxpayer incentives the state might offer, but such packages typically include low-interest loans that may later be forgiven, tax breaks and help with worker training.

Marriott International Inc. of Bethesda, for example, got up to $44 million in grants, tax credits and other subsidies after it threatened to move to Virginia last year.

"I think companies, and I'm not saying Black & Decker, today are saying, `What are you going to give me to keep me here?'" said Ioanna T. Morfessis, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Alliance, an economic development group. "And when they ask that question it's really hard to look at them with a blank stare because the companies have obviously read about what other existing industries have gotten."

Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for Baltimore County's Department of Economic Development, said county officials are also in talks with the company. Baltimore County Councilman Wayne M. Skinner, whose district includes the Towson site, is working with the company and economic development officials to keep the company where it is.

Jack Gaylord, Black & Decker's vice president of real estate, declined to say whether the company is talking with economic development officials in other states.

"I don't want to make any comments on discussions with economic development agencies at this time," he said.

Gaylord said there are undeveloped sites in the region that Black & Decker is interested in, but he declined to identify them or even say if they are in Baltimore County.

Neither he nor local officials had figures on state or county taxes paid by the company, but payroll at the Towson headquarters, which employs about 1,200, was $87 million last year, Gaylord said.

The toolmaker plans to hire about 350 engineers and support staff over the next five to 10 years to boost research and development. But the company is already squeezed. It leases 80,000 square feet of office space in Hampstead and another 90,000 in Baltimore County.

Expanding on the Towson site could be tricky; its size precludes the company from simply spreading out. Instead, it would need to build upward.

"It gets to be more expensive to build vertically than horizontally," Gaylord said. "It's also a lot less expensive to build surface parking than to build a parking deck."

If the Towson site is expanded, it would likely involve constructing a new seven-story office building, a three-story office building and a 720-space parking garage. The land sits in a valley, making tall buildings look less obtrusive to passersby and neighbors.

Gaylord said he doesn't have enough information yet to speculate on whether the company will stay or relocate.

"I think it's safe to say our preference, if we could make it work, would be to stay here," he said.

Black & Decker held two meetings with community groups and area residents last month to get feedback on its potential expansion plans in Towson.

Susan Gray, president of the Greater Towson Council of Community Associations, said area residents generally seemed receptive to the plans.

She said the company has been "a good neighbor" and that residents are more comfortable with a known entity than with rolling the dice on a new company that might take over that site.

The headquarters for both Black & Decker's worldwide operations and its power tools division are at the Towson site, but no products are made there.

The company does have a plant in Easton, Md., that employs about 1,000. It would not be affected even if the headquarters moved out of state.

Barbara Lucas, Black & Decker's senior vice president for public affairs, said it was "hard to speculate" about what might happen to Towson employees should the company move out of the region.

"In almost every case, particularly in a situation like this, there is some talent pool you want to transplant," she said.

Black & Decker employs 22,000 worldwide and last year had net income of $300.3 million on sales of $4.52 billion. Its lines include DeWalt commercial power tools, Kwikset locks and Price Pfister plumbing products.

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