Toolmaker repays Md.'s largess by cutting jobs

This Just In...

February 01, 2002|By Dan Rodricks

I APOLOGIZE if this makes your head hurt. I want to look briefly at the Black & Decker situation. Before we do, however, a disclaimer: I don't have any B&D stock, but I buy all their fine power tools. My favorite is the rechargeable, battery-powered screwdriver, one of the greatest inventions in the history of guys trying to screw in stuff upside down while on ladders. But that's a story for another day.

Let's go to the tape: Couple of years ago, in the midst of a run of great sales, Black & Decker hints that it might move its operations out of Maryland - the corporate HQ is in Towson - unless it gets an attractive reason to stay here. So, in the fall of 2000, Baltimore County and the state give Black & Decker 9 million attractive reasons to stay - $9 million in loans, grants and tax credits. Nice.

Couple of years go by. Good years.

What happens? Company reports its first negative quarter in four years. In the fourth quarter of 2001, it loses $13 million, or 16 cents a share, on sales of $1.2 billion.

Why the loss? Not enough people buying hedge trimmers?

Actually, B&D is "restructuring." The cost of the "restructuring" is something like $100 million.

If not for the "restructuring," B&D actually would have posted a profit of $57.6 million in the last three months of 2001 instead of reporting its first loss in four years.

I told you this would make your head hurt.

In the "restructuring," B&D will cut 2,000 jobs worldwide, plus 450 jobs at its plant in Easton, on the Eastern Shore.

Nolan D. Archibald, the company's chairman, president and chief executive, says: "We'll increase our head count in low-cost regions by approximately 1,900 for a net head-count reduction of over 500."

You follow that, my fellow Americans? Nolan Archibald doesn't have workers. He has heads. Archibald, who made a 2000 salary of $1.1 million plus a bonus of $1.25 million, wants fewer of these heads in the United States and more in places like Mexico, China and the Czech Republic. The heads there work cheaper than the heads here. And some of the heads here - at the plant in Easton - only make $7.35 an hour.

So there it is: We've got people willing to work for $7.35 an hour and we still can't keep jobs in the United States, and we have a company headed for a $57.6 million fourth-quarter profit - and $178 million for the year - laying off workers. Ever wonder why we give government grants and tax credits to such a company? I do, and it makes my head hurt.

A gym grows in E. Baltimore

Finally, there's something new in the 'hood besides prisons. I'm talking about the swath of East Baltimore suburbanites can see as they zoom down the Jones Falls Expressway on the way to the Inner Harbor, Little Italy or Fells Point.

Just beyond that imposing penal palatinate of Mussolini architecture - the Baltimore Central Intake and Booking Center, the Supermax prison, the Reception and Diagnostic Center, the old City Jail, the ancient Maryland Penitentiary - there's something grand and fabulous: a new gymnasium with a cathedral ceiling. At long last the boys and girls who play basketball for St. Frances Academy have home-court advantage.

I stood in the mist yesterday morning and looked at it, and again in the afternoon. In Baltimore, you learn to savor signs of life as they sprout through the cracks.

The new building, which opens officially tomorrow afternoon, is called a "community center" because it's much more than a gym. There are numerous classrooms and meeting rooms, and they'll be used for employment and training programs, an after-school program for neighborhood kids and health screening for senior citizens. Ralph Moore, longtime community activist and advocate for the poor, has been hired as the center's director.

That's all in keeping with the mission of the Oblate Sisters of Providence, whose founder, Mother Mary Elizabeth Lange, established the school in 1828 to educate free and slave black children at a time when that was illegal. All these years, St. Frances has stood its ground and served the families of one of Baltimore's toughest and poorest neighborhoods - a long, quiet, unwavering effort to keep hope alive among children who grow up in the shadows of prisons.

You can look it up: In recent years, St. Frances' co-ed enrollment has risen from 125 to 290, and the school has gained local and national acclaim for its basketball teams and for its record of sending 95 percent of its graduates to college.

Sister John Francis Schilling, the principal of the school, who started yesterday morning by handing out report cards to parents in the school cafeteria, can still hardly believe what she sees when she looks out a window. A year ago, the adjacent community center was a vacant lot.

An architect first drew a plan for a gym for St. Frances Academy in 1940.

For years, the boys' junior and varsity teams practiced at a city rec center and played their "home" games at the University of Baltimore. The girls teams practiced at any of five locations and played at the College of Notre Dame.

The teams have been successful despite all that - both the boys' and girls' varsity won Catholic League titles in 1995 - but now they'll play on a shiny floor with "Panthers" painted into the wood. There's bleacher seating for 700 and even a big-screen video-projection system.

Some of St. Frances' Catholic school rivals are going to be envious when they see this place. Calvert Hall's varsity and junior varsity boys' teams come into the Panthers' new house Sunday afternoon (tip-offs: 1:45 p.m. and 3 p.m., respectively).

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