Six months after the Howard County Council passed a bill intended to help food distributor Coastal Sunbelt Produce remain in the county as it expands its operations, the company broke ground on the new site that will make that expansion possible.
Coastal Sunbelt leaders and state and county officials met Monday at the new, 33-acre lot on Whiskey Bottom Road in North Laurel to christen the project and to tout the public-private partnership they said made it possible.
In addition to the zoning change that opened the Whiskey Bottom site to light industrial activity, Coastal Sunbelt's expansion could be aided by $150,000 in property tax incentives offered by the county and a $1 million conditional loan from the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, to be awarded to the company if it meets a goal of creating 400 new jobs by 2018. With nearly 1,000 employees, Coastal Sunbelt is already one of Howard's largest employers, according to county officials.
"Since our founding in 1992, our company has grown to a leading position in the market. We've grown because we take care of our customers, we take care of our people and because we invest in our business," said Coastal Sunbelt President and CEO John Corso. "Our mission is to be the mid-Atlantic's supplier for produce and dairy. This soon-to-be-built facility represents the next bold step in that direction."
Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown called the public sector's support of Coastal Sunbelt an "investment in Maryland.
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"We understand, as do you, that for this growth and development to work, you've got to nurture it," he said. "I never thought you could cut your way to prosperity."
Howard County Executive Ken Ulman said the county fought to keep Coastal Sunbelt in Howard.
"I think this was the fastest rezoning in Howard County history, because this about job creation. We had to get it done," he said.
"When you get a good company like Coastal Sunbelt, that's grown up in your county... you work to find them a suitable space if that's what they need," said Howard County Economic Development Authority President Larry Twele, who helped find a new spot for the produce business. He called Coastal Sunbelt a "model company," pointing to their career ladder and English instruction programs for employees.
Coastal Sunbelt CFO Bob Lahmann said the company's new site would allow them to expand while retaining their current employees.
"A lot of our employees live in this area and if we were to move any distance from here, we would lose substantial amounts of employees," he said. The site's proximity to Route 1, as well as to the current, 17-acre Coastal Sunbelt property down the street, which the company plans to continue to operate even after moving to a new headquarters, made it an even more ideal solution, Lahmann said.
The new headquarters is scheduled to be complete in 18 months, officials said.