Harford, state officials work to keep Belcamp auto plant

Mercedes-Benz planning on consolidating facilities

February 06, 2005|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,SUN STAFF

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 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 between 60 and 70 workers.

White said he has had several meeting with Rich Schubert, manager of the vehicle-preparation center in Belcamp, about keeping both facilities and 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 through Baltimore 160,000 cars a year. White said the company imported between 92,000 and 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 these employees live in Harford County.

More than 26 importers, exporters and distributors are located in the county, and they account for 9,000 tons of cargo each year.

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