There has been so much talk recently about computer chips in Harford County's economic future that the announcement of a new potato chips factory comes as a bit of a surprise. Yet while Frito-Lay Inc.'s decision to build a highly automated snack production plant in Aberdeen may not be high-tech, it is great for the county.
When the Frito-Lay plant opens in 1992 with 300 employees, it will be one of the county's largest private employers. In explaining its decision to build the 225,000 square foot facility on 65 acres at the Hickory Ridge Industrial Park, Frito-Lay cited the proximity of Interstate 95, other major roads and rail lines. Quick access is essential for reaching the Philadelphia and Baltimore-Washington markets, major consumers of the hundred products manufactured by the Pepsico subsidiary.
In recent years, Harford has revved up its efforts to diversify beyond warehousing, which may bring in property tax revenue but creates few jobs and consumes land that could be used more profitably for manufacturing. The county's "fast track" approach of expediting corporate development persuaded the successful Merry-Go-Round clothing chain to move to Harford County. It also was a factor in Clorox Co.'s decision to build a $75-million production and distribution plant there.
Both state and county officials can claim credit in luring Frito-Lay. The state gave the county a $500,000 grant for sewer system improvements and agreed to provide up to $100,000 for training the plant's workers. This enabled officials to negotiate with Frito-Lay without having to offer any tax abatements. That's good revenue news for the county and the town of Aberdeen.
Will computer chips come after potato chips? James D. Fielder Jr., Harford's new economic development director, thinks so -- but in time. As he puts it,, "You don't move from warehouse jobs to computer chips in one step. It is a continuum."