AAA to move Cecil center to Del. in fall

250 jobs in Elkton are to be shifted to nearby Newark

Move surprises county, state

Regional headquarters of auto club going to Wilmington from Pa..

January 17, 2004|By Jamie Smith Hopkins | Jamie Smith Hopkins,SUN STAFF

AAA Mid-Atlantic is moving a call and operations center with 250 jobs from Elkton to Newark, Del., a decision that blindsided local and state economic development leaders.

The company, best known for roadside assistance, announced the change yesterday and said the relocation was tacked on to a deal to move its headquarters from Philadelphia to Wilmington, Del.

AAA Mid-Atlantic was lured by a $6 million performance-based strategic grant from Delaware and about $1 million in incentives from the city of Wilmington.

The move is a blow for Cecil County officials, who competed for the headquarters and had no inkling that losing out would also mean losing the Elkton center.

Paul Gilbert, the county's economic development director, wasn't notified by the company. "This is the first I've heard of it," he said. "It may be true, but it's inconsistent with what we've been told probably for the last two months."

Colleen Healey, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokeswoman, said the move from Elkton was a late addition. The company - which voted Thursday to relocate- decided to consolidate a few operations, and Delaware seemed "the most logical choice," she said.

"Moving the Elkton operation center into Delaware ... helped us take advantage of the package that the state of Delaware offered us," she said.

The move from Elkton should be complete in the fall, she said. About 150 jobs from other locations - which haven't been decided on - will also shift to the Newark site, an existing building.

Construction of the company's corporate headquarters on the Wilmington riverfront is scheduled for completion in the middle of next year. About 350 jobs will be moved there from Philadelphia.

The Elkton center took calls from stranded motorists, dispatched help and handled insurance claims and policies. Healey said employees there should be minimally affected because Newark is close by.

"It's a commutable distance," she said. "You step over a line and you're pretty much there."

Tori Leonard, a spokeswoman with the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said the move might not affect employment in the county, which had a 4.8 percent unemployment rate in November.

The department hadn't been aware of the decision to move the Elkton center, only that AAA Mid-Atlantic had decided against moving its headquarters to Cecil.

"Obviously, we like to keep Maryland jobs in Maryland," Leonard said.

The grant and incentives helped Delaware's case, and Healey said the state's tax structure also played a role.

"It's a very favorable state for businesses," she said. "As a membership organization, we have an obligation to our members to operate as cost-effectively as possible."

AAA Mid-Atlantic, which operates from New Jersey to Virginia, has 3.5 million members and 2,700 employees. In Maryland it operates an administrative office in Towson along with branch locations, insurance offices and driving schools.

It has 74 employees in Delaware. The office of the Delaware governor said AAA Mid-Atlantic's expanded presence will add more than $100 million a year to the economy.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.