Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. announced yesterday it will break ground on a 10-story, $125 million production and distribution plant in Howard County in the next six months.
The planned facility, near the Anne Arundel County border in Dorsey, is massive -- 15 acres under one roof. It could be bigger yet if Coca-Cola USA decides to share the 122-acre site and build a $60 million syrup-manufacturing plant to replace a plant on East Fort Avenue in Baltimore.
When asked if that would happen, Coca-Cola Enterprises President Henry A. Schimberg didn't say yes and he didn't say no. He said the idea is still under consideration. Coke is expected to choose between Howard and Harford counties as the base of its regional syrup operations.
Plans to build a regional headquarters and bottling plant can be expanded later to include the syrup, Mr. Schimberg said.
If anyone was disappointed in the lack of a syrup-coated announcement, they didn't show it.
"This is truly one of the great days in the history of our state," Gov. William Donald Schaefer said, speaking from a rostrum bearing a Coca-Cola logo at the Howard County office building.
Behind him were a plethora of Coca-Cola products arranged fort-like around the furniture. Coke employees in the lobby offered free six-packs and individual bottles to the more than 150 people attending the announcement.
Inside, gifts were exchanged. The governor gave Mr. Schimberg and regional Vice President Robert Shannon a bas relief of the state seal to hang in their new office building.
County Executive Charles I. Ecker gave Mr. Shannon a county flag. He gave Mr. Schimberg a pictorial book on the history of the county written by local historian Joetta Cramm. He also presented them with a road sign that read Coca-Cola Drive. He said he would ask the County Council to make that the name of what is now Corporate Parkway, where the new plant will be located.
Mr. Schimberg presented the governor and other officials with lead crystal sculptures of Coke bottles that had been hand-cut in Mexico. The day belonged to Coke so completely that a Pepsi machine was hidden behind partitions and its logo covered with drawings left over from an art exhibit by mentally ill prisoners. The exhibit had hung in the lobby of the county office building.
When it came time for him to speak, Council Chairman Paul R. Farragut, D-4th, invited the crowd to sing a Coca-Cola slogan with him. "Help me out with this," he said. "You all know the tune. Da -- da, da, da. It's the real thing."
"Make no mistake about it, this is a blockbuster for the state of Maryland and we should all thank our lucky stars," said Mark L. Wasserman, state secretary of economic and employment development.
"The new facility represents one of the largest investments ever made in Howard County and creates an impressive number of new jobs," Mr. Farragut said. "It is a tribute to Howard County to have been chosen by this prestigious Fortune 100 company when locations around the country were in competition for the facility."
The governor agreed.
"Everybody on the East Coast was trying to get them," he said. "It was ours to lose." Mr. Schimberg and Mr. Shannon "were on our side from the beginning," he said.
The Coca-Cola plant is a "crucial ingredient in [the county's] future stability and vitality," County Executive Charles I. Ecker said.
"Coke has been here for four years," Mr. Ecker said. "This is an expansion of an existing business."
Coca-Cola employs about 180 people in the county.
Mr. Schimberg expects the company to hire 300 construction workers to build its state-of-the art facility. It will add 500 new technical and managerial workers to the county work force.
Included in that number are workers from Baltimore, Silver Spring and Alexandria, Va. They are expected to be transferred to Howard County as Coke's operations in those cities are consolidated.
Coca-Cola Enterprises was a wholly owned subsidiary of Coca-Cola USA until Nov. 21, 1986, when the parent company sold 51 percent of the stock in a public offering.
While Coca-Cola Enterprises was looking to Howard County for its bottling operation, Coca-Cola USA was eyeing Harford County as a site for its syrup plant.
About two weeks ago, the Atlanta-based companies began talking about sharing the Parkway Corporate Site east of U.S. 1 near the Anne Arundel County line. The county had already agreed to supply 1 million gallons of water a day to the site. It was asked two weeks ago if it could supply another 1.5 million gallons to handle the syrup operation.
The county said it could, and Coca-Cola Enterprises asked for a $5 million reduction in a special county fee to aid water and sewer construction. The county usually charges $600 for a unit of 250 gallons of water a day, but reduced the construction charge for Coca-Cola to $100 a unit.
The question still to be determined, said Coca-Cola Enterprises president Schimberg, is whether it is economically feasible to bring the syrup plant to the site. He said the 2.5-million-gallon-a-day water request includes water for the syrup plant.