Spice giant McCormick & Co. Inc. is considering moving its corporate headquarters from Sparks in northern Baltimore County to blend administrative offices at a single site elsewhere in Maryland or southern Pennsylvania, the company said Wednesday.
"It's about consolidating the administrative buildings in Hunt Valley," said Jim Lynn, a company spokesman. "We're in the early stages of a long-term, multiyear project ... to develop a more effective workplace. Our primary objectives are to increase employee collaboration, engagement and efficiency in a more open and centralized location."
The spice and flavorings maker will search for sites primarily in parts of Maryland and Pennsylvania where employees live with a goal of having a minimal impact on worker commutes, Lynn said. McCormick has a high concentration of workers in northern Baltimore County and southern Pennsylvania, he said.
A new headquarters could be newly built or renovated or existing space, he said.
"There aren't a lot of concrete answers," said Lynn, when asked to pinpoint possible areas or the potential size of a new facility. "We're at the very early stages of a long-term process."
The company employs about 2,400 people in Maryland. Its administrative offices with about 800 employees are spread among four buildings, including the headquarters at 18 Loveton Circle in Sparks and three buildings on Schilling Circle in nearby Hunt Valley.
The Schilling Circle buildings house the U.S. consumer products division, the U.S. industrial group, an employment center and a wellness center. The company leases two offices and owns the building at 211 Schilling Circle. The buildings, with the company-owned Sparks headquarters, total about 300,000 square feet.
Lynn said the company had been talking with employees about space-related needs and "in the past few weeks took the project externally and began to connect with developers."
A few weeks ago, Alan Wilson, McCormick's chairman, president and CEO, met with Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz and the county's head of economic and workforce development "to talk about a range of issues," said Fronda Cohen, a county spokeswoman.
"We feel confident that McCormick is going to stay where its roots are and keep its headquarters here, where it has significant manufacturing operations," Cohen said.
The relocation search does not involve McCormick's other Hunt Valley facilities, which include a spice plant, a distribution center, a spice mill, and a research and development facility.
The company has deep roots in Maryland. Before moving to Baltimore County, McCormick had its factory and headquarters on Light Street along Baltimore harbor from 1920 to 1989.
"Our first hope would be for them to stay where they are, which is better for regional stability," said Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. "If they are looking elsewhere, we have already put out feelers to some economic development partners about how we can reach out to McCormick. Baltimore was the historic headquarters of McCormick. ... We think there are a lot of reasons why downtown Baltimore could be a competitive location."
The state Department of Business and Economic Development, expects to continue its great relationship with McCormick, whose CEO is on Maryland's Economic Development Commission board, said Karen Glenn Hood, the agency's spokeswoman.
"Obviously, McCormick is an iconic Maryland company, and we will certainly do everything we can to keep them here in Maryland," Hood said.
McCormick has not reached out to the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development or the governor's action team, which looks at business opportunities for the state, said Steve Kratz, a department spokesman.
"Certainly, we did see that they are potentially looking at new sites," Kratz said. "If they are seriously looking at Pennsylvania, we're certainly open to having those conversations and really would welcome them to Pennsylvania."
Kratz said it is too early to discuss any potential incentive package, which would depend on proposed economic investment and job metrics, as well as location.
Kenetha Hansen, vice president of economic development for the York County Economic Alliance, a private nonprofit that does economic development work for the county, said it is organization policy to neither confirm nor deny any conversations with businesses.
"When a project is public is if and when the company decides it's public," she said. "We're always happy to work with any prospect."
The search was not mentioned Wednesday morning during McCormick's annual shareholders meeting, attended by 800 to 1,000 investors who jammed a Cockeysville ballroom.
Investors heard about McCormick's growth in international markets, plans to combat lackluster U.S. sales, and launches of new flavoring products and targeted advertising campaigns before lining up for goody bags filled with McCormick products.
The token has become as much a hallmark of the annual gathering as the large numbers of investors who attend. This year, the bright red bags featured a seasoning mix from the new Simply Asia Indian Essential line as well as two staples — ground black pepper and pure vanilla extract, each with retro packaging to honor the company's 125th anniversary.
Zita Dabars, a retired Russian language teacher from Towson, half joked that she came for the gift bag. A shareholder for 10 years, Dabars said she likes to attend the meetings because McCormick is a stock based close to home.
"I think they were very honest and indicated where the company hadn't reached its goals, but very optimistic," Dabars said.
Company management highlighted the past year's mixed performance, with growth led by international demand while sales in the United States, the company's biggest market, slid below expectations.
Despite the difficulty, Wilson said, it's a good time to be in the spice and flavoring business, thanks to unprecedented interest from home cooks around the globe in trying out cuisines from other cultures and healthier eating options.
Today's kitchen pantry is stocked with about 40 spices and blends compared with fewer than 10 several decades ago, he said. The demand cuts across generations, with millennials having an above-average interest in cooking and baby boomers using spices to replace salt, sugar and fat. Demand for hot and spicy sauces has increased in the past two years among all consumers.
McCormick, which sells products in more than 125 countries, expects emerging markets to account for more than half its spice and seasonings sales and almost half the recipe mix sales globally by 2016, Wilson said.
But now the question is whether it all will be run out of northern Baltimore County in a few years.
"We are confident [we] will continue to have a wonderful home for McCormick here in Baltimore County," said Cohen, the county spokeswoman. "We have many options. That will be a business decision they will make."
Baltimore Sun reporter Natalie Sherman contributed to this article.