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GraphTec moving to Annapolis Junction 110-employee firm leaving Balto. Co. in December


A Baltimore County graphic arts company that has increased fourfold in size since 1990 plans to move its 110-employee operation to Howard County in mid-December.

Executives of Graphic Technology Inc. of Woodlawn -- also known as GraphTec -- said yesterday that the 15-minute move from Woodlawn is vital to the color printing company's plans to establish a greater regional presence.

"We have a hand-tailored, custom-made business," said David E. Rosquist, GraphTec's senior vice president and general manager. "As we are becoming more of a regional printer, it is essential to be between Washington and Baltimore."

Attracting high-tech companies such as GraphTec also is essential to Howard County's long-range economic development plan.

"This is right on target with our thrust for technologically driven manufacturing," said Richard W. Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority.

The county seeks to lure companies that pay employees a salary higher than the industry standard and above the county average, Mr. Story said, adding: "This fits both." The average hourly wage at nonunion GraphTec is $19.50 or $780 a week -- $216 more than the county average weekly wage last year.

When it completes its move to Howard in mid-January, GraphTec will bring 110 jobs -- "highly skilled, highly paid, clean manufacturing jobs," company President Bill Harrison proudly told county officials and business leaders at a press conference yesterday.

The announcement was cast as part of a reversal of a spate of bad economic development news that began a decade ago when General Electric pulled the plug on its Howard County operation.

Since then, the county has seen Coca-Cola's indefinite postponement of plans to put a bottle washing plant, hundreds of new employees and a regional headquarters in the county -- as well as the layoff of 258 employees this year at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Despite these reversals, Mr. Story said, the county has created 9,000 new jobs in the last two years. "We're booming," he said.

Howard did not try to woo GraphTec from Baltimore County, Mr. Story said. "We do not go out of our way to encourage industry to move to Howard County from neighboring jurisdictions," he said. "But when they call and tell us they're leaving, we are as responsive as we can be."

Baltimore County Economic Development Director Robert L. Hannon, unaware of the GraphTec move until a reporter queried him about it, said his office would have done whatever it could to provide services to GraphTec had he known the company was seeking to expand.

"It appears they moved primarily because the executive officers of that company live in Howard County," he said. "Executive officers gravitate to where they live."

Mr. Hannon said that keeping GraphTec within the region is a plum, however, because employees cross county lines, and each county benefits from the jobs created in another. "It's a natural, healthy phenomena," he said of the move.

Mr. Story said Howard County has been working with GraphTec for three years, recommending agents who would help it find a suitable site and shepherding the company through the county permit process.

The county did not offer GraphTec financial incentives to relocate, County Executive Charles I. Ecker said. The county recently considered but dropped the idea of giving a county loan to an Annapolis Junction marble company as an inducement to keep it from moving elsewhere in Maryland. The state lent the company the money directly.

"We think we have a friendly business environment," Mr. Ecker told GraphTec executives yesterday. Already, the county and the company are having what Mr. Story called "intense discussions" about using the county's employment and training office to help recruit and train employees.

If a program is tailored to help retrain existing workers, the state government could reimburse the county for up to 50 percent of the cost, Mr. Story said.

Mr. Harrison said he expects his company, which has a branch office in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to grow within the next five years from a $17 million a year operation locally to about $35 million a year and to expand its work force here to about 140 employees. The company has 93 employees in Florida.

About 30 percent of the GraphTec's current Maryland work force -- including himself and Mr. Rosquist -- already reside in Howard County, Mr. Harrison said.

The Rouse Co., the DuPont Co., Safeway Stores, Marriott Corp., and the Hecht Co. are among GraphTec's clients -- as is Eastman Kodak for whom GraphTec is doing "some very high-tech stuff," said Mr. Rosquist.

Plans include an expanded role on the Internet designing and providing pages for clients on the World Wide Web, the graphics-oriented part of the Internet.

GraphTec officials said they expect to put their printing operation under one roof in a 60,000-square-foot building in the Annapolis Junction industrial park. The first employees are expected to start moving Dec. 15. The printing presses are expected to be in place by mid-January.

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