German automaker BMW officially launched an expanded vehicle distribution center Monday at Tradepoint Atlantic in Sparrows Point, relocating from the state-owned Dundalk Marine Terminal to meet increased demand.
BMW began ramping up work in October at the new facility, which was built to process BMW and Mini vehicles that are shipped to the Port of Baltimore from manufacturing plants in Europe, Mexico and elsewhere. Vehicles are then sent to about 126 dealers in the Eastern and Midwest United States.
The automaker, which now employs more than 70 people at Sparrows Point, has the capacity to process about 100,000 imported vehicles a year. Workers at the new facility inspect vehicles, install accessories, and do repairs and maintenance.
The new 75,000-square-foot center on 35 acres is nearly double the space of the facility BMW operated at the previous site on Broening Highway, under a March 2010 deal with the Maryland Port Administration. At that facility, BMW outsourced much of the processing work, hiring contractors.
At Tradepoint, BMW has a long-term lease and has room to grow, said Claus Eberhart, vice president of aftersales for BMW of North America.
“It’s a long-term commitment,” Eberhart said in an interview Monday. “It’s the center of gravity. The fact that we stay here in the Baltimore area tells you a lot. It’s a very good location, but we needed more space to process the volumes coming through here.”
The Port of Baltimore is the nation’s largest importer and exporter of automobiles.
BMW officials said logistical advantages include access to deep-water berths and proximity to rail and highway transportation that allows cars to be processed within two days of arriving at the center. About 50% of the vehicles are pre-sold, Eberhart said.
Officials with BMW and Tradepoint kicked off the facility’s launch with a ceremony Monday attended by Gov. Larry Hogan, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olzsewski Jr. and U.S. Sen. Chris Van Hollen, among others.
“Today we are seeing yet another shining example of our growing economy as we celebrate two great companies coming together to forge an innovative, transformative and forward-thinking partnership,” said Hogan, citing BMW and Tradepoint Atlantic.
The governor noted that BMW, whose largest plant is in Spartanburg, South Carolina, has become the leading exporter of vehicles from the U.S. by value for the past seven years, according to the automaker.
“The job creation and associated economic benefits are a real game changer,” Hogan said.
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The vehicle distribution center is one of the most recent uses at Tradepoint Atlantic in southeastern Baltimore County, the former home of Bethlehem Steel’s former mill and shipyard. The steel mill, which had employed 30,000 people at its peak, had a series of owners before the last, RG Steel, filed for bankruptcy and shut down operations in 2012.
Tradepoint has built 8 million square feet of space for distribution, warehousing and industrial uses, and plans eventually to double in size. More than 20 companies, such as Home Depot, FedEx, Amazon and Under Armour, operate warehouse and distribution facilities there.
Last summer, Volkswagen Group of America opened a terminal at Tradepoint to serve about 302 of its auto dealers, a $150 million investment that created about 100 jobs. That facility processes Volkswagen, Audi, Lamborghini and Bentley vehicles. Volkswagen officials said they chose the site partly because the area’s connection to a national rail network and major highways would enable faster delivery times to dealerships.
The arrival of Volkswagen and the expansion and long-term commitment of BMW will be a boost to the port, said William Doyle, executive director of the Maryland Port Administration.
“We don’t have the space across the bay to build these facilities, the land has run out for these types of facilities,” Doyle said. “So in order to use the port of Baltimore, it’s built here at Tradepoint Atlantic.
“Our relationship, port of Baltimore and Tradepoint Atlantic, is the same,” he said. “Our goals are the same — jobs, distribution centers.”
The Sparrows Point facility is one of five U.S. distribution centers operated by BMW of North America, with others in New Jersey, Georgia, Texas and California, serving 350 BMW dealers and 105 Mini dealers nationwide.