London Fog to move headquarters from Eldersburg to Conn.


London Fog Corp. said yesterday that it will move its corporate headquarters from Eldersburg to Connecticut to be closer to the hub of the clothing industry in New York.

Only 15 to 20 workers at the Eldersburg complex will move to Darien, Conn., in the next six months, the company said, leaving about 630 at the Maryland operation, which will continue to operate as a distribution center and "international operational headquarters."

Arnold P. Cohen, London Fog's chairman and chief executive officer, said the new headquarters will be closer to customers, vendors and the New York clothing market.

The move to Connecticut also brings London Fog's key personnel together, Mr. Cohen said, because three of the company's four New York offices will be consolidated at the new headquarters.

"If we decided to get together now, it happens a day later," he said. After the move, he said, "we'll get all the strategic people under one roof."

While the relocation is expected to have little immediate economic impact in Carroll County, it means the loss of yet another high-profile headquarters from the state. In the last two decades, such well-known companies as Monumental Life, Noxell, Maryland Casualty, Maryland National Bank and First National Bank have been bought by companies based outside the state.

London Fog, famous for its trench coats, was founded in Baltimore in 1922. It moved its corporate headquarters in 1976 to Eldersburg.

The company is expected to have sales of $500 million this year after its merger with Pacific Trails Inc. of Seattle.

London Fog received a grant of $750,000 and a 5 percent loan of $750,000 from the state of Connecticut to be used for the headquarters, as well as for training and hiring new personnel, Mr. Cohen said.

The 50,000-square-foot headquarters in Darien also will be closer to the Connecticut residences of Mr. Cohen and John Varvatos, vice chairman and executive vice president.

State and Carroll County officials reacted with disappointment to the London Fog announcement, tinged with the consolation that the bulk of the work force will stay in Maryland.

"It caught me totally off guard," said William E. Jenne, administrator of the Carroll County Office of Economic Development. "It will be a big loss to the area."

Mr. Jenne, who first heard about the move from reporters yesterday, said the county and the state will lose the prestige and commitment that comes with a corporate headquarters.

"Commitments aren't as strong when companies only have a back office or production facility in an area," Mr. Jenne said. "Companies tend to be more active in the community when their corporate facilities are located there."

Mark L. Wasserman, secretary of the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, said he was "mildly disappointed," but stressed that the company is still committed to its Eldersburg operation, which may have "modest" job growth as London Fog acquires other companies.

"I'm not trying to sugarcoat it," Mr. Wasserman explained. "There is disappointment, but this is a ferociously competitive industry. Their approach seems to be understandable."

He said he was informed about the company's plans Monday by London Fog President Douglas C. Hillman. Mr. Cohen said the Maryland operations will continue to play a major role in London Fog's operation, and he said he plans to spend two days a week at his Baltimore home in Federal Hill, which he bought in November.

He also said the Eldersburg operation will benefit from expansion. "We're adding strength and volume," Mr. Cohen said. "Those things will continue to grow.

Mr. Cohen said the fact that his family lives in Westport, Conn. had little to do with the decision. "On a scale of one to 10, it was about a two," he said, adding that the decision to move was made by other executives in Maryland and New York. "I didn't get a vote," he said.

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