An offer by private investors to buy Parks Sausage Co. has let state economic development officials off the hook after they squirmed to avoid having to bail out the financially struggling firm. Parks Sausage Co. was teetering near bankruptcy when it sought help from the state in July. All it got was the cold shoulder.
State officials were still stinging from criticism of an earlier proposed $1.5 million bailout of Stephens Engineering Co. Critics said Gov. Parris N. Glendening was paying back political supporter Wallace O. Stephens, who owns the floundering Prince George's County firm. The administration withdrew the Stephens offer and appeared loath to help Parks, whose principal owner, Raymond V. Haysbert Sr., also supported Mr. Glendening.
But the city of Baltimore, which has much more at stake, was able to extend a $400,000 line of credit to Parks Sausage. That gave the company enough time to consider proposals from a number of potential investors. It now has agreed to sell the company to two entrepreneurs with ties to the late Reginald Lewis and his TLC Beatrice foods conglomerate. Part of the deal is a promise to keep the company and its 220 jobs in Baltimore City.
Parks Sausage has become a Baltimore institution. It was started in 1951 by Henry G. Parks, who launched the company when he couldn't interest anyone else in doing it. The early days were rough, as prejudice might have derailed a company owned by a black man. Parks did become successful, but in recent years sales have plummeted from $28 million to $20 million.
The biggest factor was the company's forced move in 1989 to make way for Oriole Park at Camden Yards and its ill-fated decision to build a much larger factory -- with a hefty mortgage -- in the Park Circle enterprise zone in Northwest Baltimore. High labor costs and the public's changing taste for less fatty meats also caused sausage sales profits to decline.
Those are problems that new owners W. Kevin Wright and Anthony S. Fugett must contend with. But with the expertise they bring from TLC Beatrice -- especially in marketing foods to a vast overseas audience of consumers -- there is reason for optimism that we will continue to hear that familiar refrain, "More Parks sausages. . . Mom!"