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Harford gains U.S. headquarters of British tech firm

Smiths Detection, a division of a London-based multinational engineering company, said Monday that it is consolidating its headquarters and security manufacturing operations in Harford County and plans to hire more than 100 people.

The company, which employs 225 people at its Edgewood facility, plans to add the workers over the next 18 months, officials said.

Harford's gain is a loss for Danbury, Conn., and Morristown, N.J., Smiths' previous U.S. headquarters. It relocated people to Edgewood from both sites.

Smiths makes advanced X-ray body and baggage screening equipment and chemical, biological and radiological detection devices for mostly government customers, including the Department of Defense and the Transportation Security Administration. From Edgewood, the company intends to serve its U.S., Canadian and Latin American customers.

The company's plans for Edgewood, where it recently completed a property expansion, "will add jobs if I do my job correctly," said Lance Roncalli, the managing director of Smith's U.S. operation.

"We'll be able to get our products to market faster and support them more effectively, and innovate based on [customer] needs," Roncalli said.

The company has 245,000 square feet of office and manufacturing space in Edgewood, including a new 99,000-square-foot building that was completed recently. As part of its consolidation and expansion in Edgewood, the company will bring some manufacturing from Germany and other parts of the world to its Harford County location.

The company's decision to expand in Harford is another sign of the economic drawing power of the Army's Aberdeen Proving Ground, partly due to the Base Realignment and Closure Act, which shuffled thousands of new Army personnel and contractors to the base in recent years.

Several defense and security-related companies have continued to open and increase the sizes of offices in the area.

Smiths oftens tests the company's sensor equipment at the nearby Army facility and many of its customers are tied to government work in the Aberdeen area, Roncalli said.

This month, the company announced that it won two Army contracts totaling $21 million for devices soldiers wear on their belts that can detect toxic chemicals.

The work is part of the company's involvement with the Department of Defense's Joint Chemical Agent Detector program. The company has won more than $370 million in contracts for the development of dangerous substance sensors and detectors through the program.

Eventually, Smiths plans to manufacture high-powered, full-body X-ray scanners in Edgewood; the scanners are in the testing phase, company officials said.

Smiths has spent $8.5 million on its Harford operations since 2007, company officials said. As part of its latest expansion, the company tapped a $750,000 loan from the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, as well as a $100,000 grant for employee training assistance from Harford County over three years.

The county's assistance to Smiths was criticized by a citizens group, the Harford Campaign for Liberty, which argued that a profitable foreign corporation shouldn't require local taxpayer assistance to fund its business.

Smiths Detection is a division of Smiths Group PLC, which has more than 23,000 employees worldwide and had a profit of $608 million last year.

County Executive David R. Craig, a Republican, supported the $100,000 training grant from the county. He said in a lengthy written statement last month in defense of his support that the company is expected to create jobs with an average annual salary of $72,000.

The new jobs would provide an additional $100,000 to $130,000 in annual income tax revenue to the county, and another $32,500 in property taxes because of building improvements, he estimated.

"A lot has been made of the fact that the company involved in our most recent business incentive program has their global headquarters in London," Craig wrote. "That is true, however the U.S. headquarters for the company is right here in Edgewood. The employees are Americans. The supervisors are Americans. And many of them are Harford County residents and taxpayers."

The addition of the 100-plus employees would place Smiths Detection among the top 15 private-sector employers in Harford County.

Roncalli said Smiths decided to consolidate its U.S. administrative operations with its manufacturing, research and development, already in Edgewood, to make it easier for the company to develop new products faster and serve customers.

gus.sentementes@baltsun.com

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Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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