Harford County lost out to Possum Point, Va., in the competition for one of the biggest economic development plums to come along in nearly a decade - a $100 million-plus plant to build a new amphibious assault vehicle for the Marines.
The tiny Northern Virginia community was selected by General Dynamics Corp. on Tuesday as the site for a 450,000-square-foot factory - larger than the General Motors Corp. Allison Transmission plant in White Marsh - that is expected to employ 350 manufacturing workers.
It was a project that Maryland's top economic development official once said would be "a huge, huge win" if the state succeeded in attracting it.
In March, Aris Melissaratos, secretary of business and economic development, said the General Dynamics project would be comparable to the General Motors vans assembly plant in Southeast Baltimore.
The failure to land the General Dynamics plant comes as County Executive James M. Harkins is seeking to boost the county's efforts to lure new industry to add to its tax base.
In late June, Harkins said the county needs to do a better job of balancing residential and business growth. "We need to bring in new industry," he said, explaining that business pays more in taxes than residential properties and requires less public service.
Harkins said he was disappointed in the loss, but was "very proud of the team work between Aberdeen, Harford County and the state of Maryland" in pursuing the project. He said the effort would make the county better prepared to pursue other projects in the future.
J. Thomas Sadowski, director of the Harford County Office of Economic Development, expressed disappointment at failing to lure the General Dynamics plant to Aberdeen Proving Ground.
"We are looking forward to a full debriefing with company officials," Sadowski said. "We will sit down with them to get an understanding why they made the decision they made. We will get an understanding of the strengths of our proposals and where we may have come up short."
"These are special projects and very rare," he added. "That is why we were so excited."
He said the last time the county landed a plant offering 350 manufacturing jobs was in 1994 when Frito-Lay opened its snack-food plant in Aberdeen.
Melissaratos said the state offered a big incentive package to lure General Dynamics. "We don't have a lot of money to throw around," he said. He said the state was hoping that Aberdeen Proving Ground offered the security, working and testing facilities that the company was looking for in a location for the plant.
Harford's loss will be a boon to Prince William County, Va.
Jill Lawrence Vaughan, communications manager for the Virginia Economic Development partnership, said the plant is expected to add $15 million to the regional economy over the next 20 years in income taxes, sales taxes and the purchase of construction materials.
The plant's annual payroll is expected to top $20 million a year.
She gave much of the credit to Gov. Mark Warner for landing the plant, which was being sought after by Maryland and eight other locations around the country.
"He went out to Detroit in January and met with the leadership of General Dynamics Land Systems division on their home turf," Vaughan said. "That helped Virginia's position a lot. The governor can open doors and reach decision-makers that we can't. He is very business-savvy. He's a deal-closer."
Sadowski said Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. "played a role in our efforts. He made phone calls and submitted a letter to General Dynamics."
Shareese N. DeLeaver, a spokeswoman for the governor, said she did not know of any meeting between Ehrlich and General Dynamics officials.
State and Harford County officials were invited to travel to General Dynamics' headquarters in Falls Church, Va., in early April to fine-tune their bid. Melissaratos and Lt. Gov. Michael S. Steele headed the team. Ehrlich did not attend.
General Dynamics spokesman Pete Keating said the Possum Point site won the competition "because it had the highest composite score measured against all site-selection criteria."
Possum Point is near the town of Dumfries and a short distance from the U.S. Marine Corps Base at Quantico.
"The production site selection was complex and meticulous," said John Wosina, vice president of amphibious systems for General Dynamics Land Systems.
Six major factors
"We looked at six major factors: cost, facility and the related infrastructure, performance testing capability, environmental considerations, information technology, and transportation availability," Wosina said. "Each of the 10 bids was evaluated very carefully and objectively."
The new plant doesn't come to Virginia free of charge.
Vaughan said Virginia's incentive package totaled about $3.5 million in state funds.