Thinking big about how to renew Sparrows Point manufacturing

A daunting challenge and great opportunity to boost Baltimore region

  • The Sparrows Point Shipbuilding division of the Bethlehem Steel Co. in 1940.
The Sparrows Point Shipbuilding division of the Bethlehem… (Robert F. Kniesche/Baltimore…)
December 15, 2012|Dan Rodricks

Here's what I'm thinking: We get La Famille DeBeaufre to establish a second bakery in Sparrows Point and ship their beloved Berger Cookies all over the world — to China, India, Brazil, Mexico and other nations with rising economies.

And maybe we send some cookies to North Korea to give those poor people a treat and the inspiration they need to rise up against the rocket club president who serves as their dictator.

Think of it: Berger Cookies as an instrument of international influence, revolution and peace.

And imagine a massive cookie factory "down the Point," with public tours and, once a year, a sprawling holiday "cookie village" that people from all over the world will want to see. Imagine busloads of Chinese tourists demanding to see the factory where Berger Cookies are made.

You follow me? We need to think big here.

We — that is, Maryland business leaders, local and state government, members of Congress — need to wipe the slate clean at Sparrows Point and foster a new wave of manufacturing there. (I'm just throwing Berger Cookies into the mix because I'm a fan of the brand and I think it's time for the hugely popular Berger to go global.)

Now that steelmaking is gone and the owners of Sparrows Point plan to raze the plant, it's time for a new deal for the old peninsula. And there's a lot to speak in its favor as a nexus of new industry.

The Point is located just south of Dundalk and the expanding and busy port. Ports America manages the Seagirt Marine Terminal and has constructed a new 50-foot berth to accommodate extra-wide vessels that will be coming through the extra-wide Panama Canal by 2015. Baltimore is one of only two ports that can handle the increased traffic in Panamax ships.

The ships will pass right by Sparrows Point. The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is expected to double its capacity, raising the possibility that the Port of Baltimore might need to expand. So why not expand at The Point? Last I checked, there was still a large shipyard there.

Did I mention the easy access to rails and the interstate highway system?

So certainly a new wave of manufacturers would be able to ship their products to market easily from a renewed Sparrows Point industrial zone.

But what products and what manufacturers?

It's a 10-year project: Redeveloping The Point in the greenest way possible, with environmental and infrastructural improvements, then marketing it to highly technical and innovative manufacturers, and providing them with the educated and skilled workers they'll need.

What a challenge. What an opportunity. If Kevin Kamenetz, the Baltimore County executive, wants to really make a difference in the lives of people — that's why he's in public office, right? — then he should make this his top economic priority.

What a grand opportunity for regional partnerships — with the mayor of Baltimore and the other county executives, the public and private universities, business and labor leaders.

I realize that manufacturing rings anachronistic to the American ear, and yet there had been modest monthly growth in that sector until recently.

Last month, the index widely used to track it reported American manufacturing at its weakest level since July 2009, noting cuts in demand for factory orders and manufacturing jobs because of concerns with the stalemate in Congress over the fiscal cliff.

But let's step around that mess for the moment.

There's room for some optimism here.

While manufacturing output represents only about 12 percent of GDP, it's still the sector that provides important research and innovations, the one that develops new products and contributes mightily to global commerce.

"In advanced economies, manufacturing companies fund as much as 90 percent of private-sector research and development," according to a recent report in Foreign Policy. "Manufacturing continues to dominate global trade: 70 percent of global exports are manufactured goods."

There is some "reshoring" of manufacturing already underway. Several market watchers and economists believe it will soon be cheaper to manufacture and assemble products, including machinery and electronics, in the U.S. than overseas. Apple announced a $100 million investment in producing some of its computers here.

So all that sounds wonderful. But it would be more wonderful if Congress could give manufacturing a push — and in two specific ways.

First, resolve the fiscal issues that are keeping companies in the manufacturing sector from investing and hiring.

Second, Congress needs to end the ridiculous tax breaks for American companies that move operations overseas. This has been going on for years and needs to stop.

Sen. Ben Cardin is a sponsor of the Bring Jobs Home Act, which would end deductions for the costs of off-shoring and give businesses significant tax credits toward the costs of moving operations back into the U.S. Members of Congress need to support that act, and citizens need to tell them so.

Let's bring more jobs home. Maybe some of them will end up in a renewed Sparrows Point.

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.