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Economic Development in a Fog?


London Fog Corp.'s decision to move its headquarters from Eldersburg to Connecticut can be seen as a terrible blow to Carroll County's economic development efforts.

Or it can be seen as a wake-up call for the county to sharpen its efforts to retain and recruit businesses.

Given the corporate upheaval and ownership changes that have occurred at London Fog in recent years, keeping the company's headquarters in Carroll County was admittedly a difficult task for both county and state officials. As a private company with absentee owners who have no connection to this state, London Fog had few institutional reasons to keep the company's home office in Maryland. Chairman Arnold P. Cohen and vice chairman John Varvatos reside in Connecticut and, like most people, these executives want to live close to work. Unlike most of us, they have the power to relocate their offices.

London Fog officials said that about 15 to 20 jobs will be moving to Darien, Conn., but there is the real possibility that the 630 company jobs tentatively remaining in Carroll might also leave. Merrill Lynch Capital Partners, the corporation's major stockholder, is bottom-line oriented. The location of London Fog's plants and distribution centers are of little importance to management. Just last week, London Fog closed a factory in Boonsboro in Washington County, which represented a loss of 300 jobs. Last year, London Fog closed its last plant in Baltimore, where the company began in 1922.

The loss of London Fog's corporate headquarters might only represent one or two dozen jobs, but it is also assuredly a loss of prestige. Corporations like to cluster where other businesses their size have paved the way. Having London Fog's headquarters was a feather in Carroll's cap.

The county's small economic development office now must redouble its efforts to retain the remainder of the outerwear manufacturer's operations in Eldersburg. This is yet another reason for appointing a full-time economic development director.

Having the executive assistant to the county commissioners double as the head of economic development is unsatisfactory. And having the commissioners attend occasional state-sponsored economic development parties isn't enough. If the commissioners are serious about retaining London Fog, as well as other businesses, they must include money in the next budget for a full-time director of economic development.

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