Stanley Black & Decker expansion: politicians kissing up to corporations

Does Stanley Black & Decker really need taxpayer loans?

April 06, 2011|By Dan Rodricks

I see from my newspaper about that $12 million investment Stanley Black & Decker plans to make for long-overdue upgrades to its Towson corporate campus, and I'm thinking: Beautiful, that's the way it should be — no need for the government to be involved anymore, and not after what the state of Maryland and Baltimore County went through with this company. If a company makes gobs of profits, it shouldn't need welfare from the states or towns where it does business.

I'm sure the 1,100 employees in Towson are relieved to see their out-of-state bosses making this kind of investment. And we should all be grateful, at a time when state and local governments are all feeling the fiscal pinch, that it didn't take kiss-up money from the state to get Stanley Black & Decker to make the commitment.

But, alas, my fellow taxpayers, that is not quite the case.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, always eager to secure pro-business bonafides — not to mention possible campaign donations from a major U.S. corporation — announced Tuesday morning a $1 million state loan to Stanley Black & Decker.

"For more than 100 years, Stanley and Black & Decker have changed the way we pursue our hobbies, make home repairs and construct our buildings," one of the governor's wordsmiths wrote, in an apparent audition for a job with the company's marketing division. "It is this entrepreneurial spirit that led Duncan Black and Alonzo Decker to set up shop in Maryland, and it is the same dedication to discovery and innovation that will move us forward into the new economy. With this project, we will not only protect and create jobs for our families, but together, we will continue supporting the skills and talents of generations to come."

Gives you goose bumps, doesn't it?

Not to be outdone by his fellow lean-and-hungry Democrat, the new Baltimore County executive, Kevin Kamenetz, stepped right up with another $100,000 loan — and not a personal one. This one comes from the county treasury. Plus, SB&D could qualify for a break on the property taxes it pays on its 33-acre campus.

"Baltimore County has a great tradition of being a place where lasting ideas are born and take root," said Mr. Kamenetz in an obvious reference to nothing immediately obvious. "Stanley Black & Decker's investment assures that their next great ideas will be born, designed, engineered and brought to customers from a world class center headquarters in Towson."

Is that precious, or what?

A little background: For years, Maryland and Baltimore County were engaged in ongoing efforts to suck up to Black & Decker with taxpayer funds, even as B&D reported profits. It didn't work out so well.

In 2000, the company wanted government "incentives" to expand its Towson headquarters. With much fanfare, economic development officials announced a deal to give the company $5.5 million in state loans, grants and tax credits, plus tax exemption in Baltimore County to the tune of $4 million.

A year later, the company put its expansion plans on hold and didn't take the handout. But it went to Annapolis to lobby for a break on its corporate income taxes, and the General Assembly obliged; there wasn't a single dissenting vote in the Senate.

Just a year after that, in February 2002, Black & Decker cut 450 jobs at the company's manufacturing plant in Easton; some of the workers there were only making $7.35 an hour. Within a year, B&D closed the Easton plant, cutting 1,300 jobs and ending its manufacturing operations in the state. David Iannucci, then the state's economic development secretary, had been among those who arranged "incentives" for the company. "We had been told repeatedly by Black & Decker officials that they had no plans to close the facility," he said at the time.

The Bush administration sent $1.5 million in federal funds to help workers displaced by the Easton closing. In the next year, Black & Decker reported soaring profits — $293 million on sales of $4.48 billion. The rest is history: Last year, toolmaker Stanley Works merged with Black & Decker in a $4.5 billion deal, resulting in dozens of layoffs in Maryland.

Now the company plans to make a $12 million investment in Towson, and that's great, and thank you, and good luck. But, grant or loan, $1.1 million in taxpayer money should not be in the picture for a company with surging revenues and profits. If Democratic politicians want to suck up to such corporations, they should write a personal check.

Dan Rodricks' column appears Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. He hosts Midday, Mondays through Fridays, on WYPR. His email is dan.rodricks@baltsun.com.

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