SALISBURY TO GET MEAT PLANT Mountaire to leave Baltimore, move to Campbell site


SALISBURY -- Mountaire Corp. said yesterday that it will buy the soon-to-be vacated Campbell Soup Co. plant here and will move its beef processing plant from Baltimore to this Eastern Shore city.

Ronald M. Cameron, Mountaire's president and chief executive, said at a news conference that Mountaire was lured to Salisbury by a financial incentive package put together by state and Wicomico County officials.

Before the offer, Mr. Cameron said, the company was considering moving its Royal Quality Foods division to Delaware. He said the company is leaving its present site in Baltimore because it needs room to expand.

Mr. Cameron said the company would relocate only about 20 of the 120 employees who now work at its cooked roast beef, corn beef and pastrami plant on Stinson Street in West Baltimore. The initial plans are to hire 100 workers in the Salisbury area. Mr. Cameron said no preference would go to the 800 Campbell workers due to lose their jobs at the end of the month.

He said Mountaire will not match the pay of workers at Campbell, where most earned $8.50 to $9.56 an hour. He estimated the payroll at Royal Quality Food would be about $3.5 million the first year. Campbell's annual payroll was $21.5 million.

The state's incentive package includes a five-year exemption of property and other taxes worth about $180,000 annually, said Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development.

The company was also given a $2 million loan with a 3 perceninterest rate from the state's so-called "Sunny Day Fund," which was established to help lure investment to Maryland. Terms of the loan call for it to be repaid over 25 years, with the first installment due in 2000.

Mr. Cameron called the low-interest loan the key to keeping Royal Quality Foods in Maryland. "Without that we would not be here today," he said during the announcement ceremony, attended by Gov. William Donald Schaefer and county officials.

In addition, Mountaire is to receive a $150,000 grant from the state to train new workers.

Mr. Cameron's praise of state and county officials for their assistance was in sharp contrast with his comments about Baltimore officials yesterday.

In answer to a question about the city's efforts to retain the company, he responded: "I can't say they helped us."

He said all he saw in the city was rising costs and added, "The type of response we have gotten here, we didn't get there." Telephone calls to the city's economic development office were not returned yesterday.

Campbell, which announced the closing of the Salisbury plant in February, is scheduled to halt its operations at the end of this month.

Following extensive renovations, Mountaire expects to reopen the plant late this year. It hopes to eventually employ between 200 and 450 workers. Mr. Cameron declined to disclose the purchase price for the Campbell plant but said the total investment was about $5 million.

He said Mountaire, a privately held company based in North Little Rock, Ark., posted sales of between $150 million and $200 million last year. He declined to disclose its earnings.

Schaefer views crops

While in the area, Governor Schaefer toured a farm six miles outside Salisbury to inspect crops ruined by the hot, dry weather that has plagued the region the past five weeks.

Standing on the edge of William Guy's sun-parched cornfield, prior to announcing the purchase of the Campbell plant, the governor listened as county Extension Agent Wayne Staff said some corn crops have already been destroyed.

Based on conversations with farmers and his colleagues, Mr. Staff estimated that area farmers can expect to lose between 30 percent and 35 percent of their corn crop, assuming a normal amount of rain during the rest of the growing season.

"This is a serious, serious situation," the governor said. He told Agriculture Secretary Robert L. Walker to contact the White House to see if the state could "piggyback" onto the $2.5 billion in emergency aid that President Clinton promised Wednesday to help flood victims in the Midwest.

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