Local balloon company to go up, up and away


The Glen Burnie balloon company that created Woody Woodpecker for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and the gigantic red crab for the opening of the legislative session has packed up and moved to Delaware.

Bob Kemp, president of Kemp Balloons Inc., said he relocated his 21-year-old business to give it room to expand.

Delaware economic authorities were able to offer him more space at lower cost.

"I don't know if I could have pulled it off [in Maryland]," said the 63-year-old balloon maker, a Maryland native and a 1948 graduate of Glen Burnie High School.

His new headquarters is in Selbyville, 10 miles north of Ocean City on the Maryland-Delaware line.

Kemp Balloon Inc. now owns and occupies two buildings, totaling 15,000 square feet, nearly double the size of his leased building in the Glen Burnie Industrial Park.

The company, which Mr. Kemp says does up to $1 million in business a year, had 35 employees in Glen Burnie. About five employees have moved with the company, and he hopes to increase staff size to about 30 in the next year.

Michael S. Lofton, executive vice president of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation, said he "tried to keep him here," but could not find a way to match Delaware's offer.

Because Kemp Balloons Inc. does not have a large number of employees on its payroll, its move has little impact on the local economies of either state.

But to Delaware, the company's value is measured in publicity.

"One way of getting Delaware's name out there is to have some commentator in hundreds of parades [Kemp] does . . . say that Kemp balloons are from Selbyville, Delaware. That's a real plus for our state," said Dan McNulty, a senior business specialist at the Delaware Development Office, which helped negotiate the balloon company move.

Mr. Kemp, who started his company in Glen Burnie in 1973, said he is branching out to include mass production of inflatable, cold air balloons such as those that float above stores to promote special events.

The company's trademark hot air balloons, which have included Felix the Cat, Humpty Dumpty, Popeye and a huge saxophone commemorating President Clinton's inauguration, rent from $500 to $11,000, depending on the character, season and place.

With a bigger facility, Mr. Kemp hopes to concentrate on building a balloon amusement park.

"The very main reason [for moving] is that for the last 15 years I've had a dream to build a very large complex to allow me to put my balloons on display -- like an amusement park," said Mr. Kemp.

The park, "Balloon World," will not be built in Selbyville but somewhere along the Route 1 corridor in Delaware, which Mr. Kemp says has about 11 million travelers a year.

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