As Mercedes-Benz USA moves to consolidate its operations in Baltimore, officials from Harford County and Maryland are scrambling to keep a Mercedes plant in Belcamp that installs equipment on newly imported cars and makes repairs.
Mercedes-Benz USA LLC signed a 20-year lease with the port of Baltimore in October for a 104-acre waterfront lot where it would process cars coming into the United States to prepare them for shipment to other parts of the country. The move is part of the company's plan to consolidate its operations as part of a major expansion in the port.
But James W. White, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration, told members of the Harford County legislative delegation last week that he is working with County Executive James M. Harkins on efforts to keep the Belcamp plant open.
"If we put the right incentives in front of them, it is possible that we can keep Mercedes in Harford County," White said.
Jim Resnick, a spokesman for Mercedes, said last week that the company's plan was to consolidate all of its vehicle preparation work at the new port site.
"It does not make a whole lot of business sense to have two sites doing the same work," he said.
Harkins is hoping he can change the company's mind. "We are going to be working with them, to do everything we can ... to retain them in the county," he said Friday.
Harkins acknowledged that one of the drawbacks of the Belcamp site is its distance from the port. He said it adds to the company's transportation costs.
According to J. Thomas Sadowski, the county director of economic development, the Belcamp plant has 60 to 70 workers.
White said he has had several meetings with Rich Schubert, manager of the vehicle-preparation center in Belcamp, about keeping both facilities
White said Schubert and Mercedes officials were busy with new model changeover, but he added that he hopes to arrange a meeting with Mercedes, state and county officials within a couple of months.
The contract that Mercedes signed with the port last year features two 10-year extensions. It guarantees a minimum of 3 million of the luxury cars to be imported through the port during the first term of the contract.
The company said that once the Fairfield terminal is fully operational it expects to import 160,000 cars a year through Baltimore.
White said the company imported 92,000 to 96,000 cars last year.
The port of Baltimore is the country's second-largest handler of automobiles. New York is the nation's leading auto import and export port.
The port of Baltimore has a significant economic impact on Harford County beyond Mercedes. According to port officials, 16,120 jobs in Maryland are directly attributed to the port. About 10 percent, or 1,600, of those employees live in Harford County.
More than 26 importers, exporters and distributors are in the county, and they account for 9,000 tons of cargo each year.