Presidential visit `as good as it gets,' box maker says

He says recognition of Glen Burnie firm `is very special'

October 25, 2001|By Kristine Henry | Kristine Henry,SUN STAFF

The roaring blue-and-silver machines at Dixie Printing & Packaging Corp. usually run 24 hours, spitting out a million boxes a day. But they came to a brief halt yesterday when the company received a visit from the leader of the free world.

President George W. Bush visited the Glen Burnie plant to promote his economic stimulus plan, which if passed would provide tax benefits to Dixie and other businesses.

"Today is probably as good as it gets," said Dixie's owner and president, A. Newth Morris III. "This kind of recognition is very special."

Morris said the tax changes Bush is seeking could help the company grow - something it's been doing with some success since his grandfather bought it in 1963.

Arthur Morris Sr. was already established in the world of box making when he acquired Dixie 38 years ago - in 1936 he had founded what is now known as the Rock-Tenn Co., a $964 million publicly traded packaging manufacturer in Georgia.

He immediately moved Dixie from its home on Llewllyn Street in Baltimore to its present location. It had about 10 employees at the time.

The facility had 25,000 square feet when the Morris family took it over. Additions have bumped the square footage to three times that.

One hundred people are employed at the privately held company - about 80 of whom are nonunion hourly workers - and its sales are nearly $20 million a year.

The company's boxes - "folding cartons," to be exact - hold everything from cosmetics to nails. They are also the food trays on Amtrak trains and the containers for Ritz Camera's Big Prints.

Newth Morris, 50, began working at the plant on the manufacturing side during his summer breaks from Stetson University in De Land, Fla. After he graduated in 1973, he joined the company as a salesman.(The name Newth came from his great-grandfather, George Edward Newth, who emigrated from England and landed in Philadelphia. As the family story goes, the first thing he happened upon was Morris Liquors. He took Morris as his last name, and now his male descendents have the middle name Newth.)

Morris took over the business from his father, Arthur Morris Jr., in 1989. None of his three children work for the company.

Morris is on the board of the National Association of Manufacturers, so when the White House called the group a few days ago looking for a good place for Bush to tout his stimulus plan, Dixie came to mind.

"It was the perfect company at the perfect place at the perfect time," said Fred Nichols, the association's vice president of government affairs. "If you're looking at how to get the president to a manufacturing company in the D.C. area, [Dixie's] proximity in terms of travel to BWI is perfect."

Morris was also considered a good choice because he's opposed to the alternative minimum tax for companies, which Bush wants to eliminate.

Businesses must figure their taxes twice, once under the regular tax rules, then again using the alternative method - and pay whichever is higher. It was designed to keep companies from using deductions to avoid paying any taxes, but some say the measure penalizes companies that make investments in equipment and other infrastructure.

Morris said Dixie spent $6 million on new equipment last year and has paid $167,000 in alternative minimum taxes over the past five years.

Bush told the crowd of about 100 that his stimulus package "encourages more immediate investment in plants and equipment to help retain workers and hopefully expand."

He spent about 25 minutes shaking hands with company officials and workers after he spoke.

Box cutter Calvin Trogdon, who has worked at Dixie for 34 years, was hoping that he'd get to shake the president's hand - and he got his wish.

"If nothing good ever happens to me again," he said, "at least I can say this happened."

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