Head Inc. plans move from county Sporting goods firm wants to consolidate as it downsizes; Headquarters is for sale; Officials want to be closer to BWI and Jessup warehouse


Head Sportswear Inc., an athletic apparel company based in Columbia since 1972, is trying to sell its corporate headquarters and may move to Anne Arundel County to be closer to Baltimore-Washington International Airport, company officials said yesterday.

The move -- part of a nationwide downsizing of the tennis-racket, snow-ski and sportswear company -- represents a setback for Howard County as it struggles to pull itself out of a lingering economic recession.

Head officials stressed yesterday that no final decision has been made.

"I'm not selling the building for next to nothing," said Head's chief financial officer, Roman Wenzl. "But if I get a reasonable price, I'm out of here."

Company officials say they hope to consolidate Head's local operations either at the company's Jessup warehouse, on Preston Court in Anne Arundel County, or at a new site even closer to the airport.

Head employs about 40 workers in Columbia.

County officials had not been informed of Head's plans -- even though the sale of the company's headquarters was advertised in Friday's Wall Street Journal.

"The loss of any business is bad," said Richard W. Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

"Head has a long history in Howard County. We would rue the day that they would move."

He added that he wants to keep the company in the county. "Now that I'm aware," he said, "I'm going to make a call or two."

lTC The vacancy rate for warehouse space in the county recently dropped to about 9 percent, Mr. Story said.

"The market is getting very tight so the chances are very good that they will be able to move that building."

Four groups of prospective buyers already have looked at the Head facility off Route 108 in Columbia's Oakland Ridge Industrial Center, said J. Richard Latini, vice president of Colliers Pinkard, a commercial real estate firm representing Head.

The most recent group showed up yesterday and had to wait in the cold, for about 15 minutes because Head employees were in a private meeting to discuss the company's future.

The asking price for the office and warehouse facility is $2.5 million, or about $48 a square foot for the 52,000-square-foot building.

Head has been part of Columbia almost since the community's beginning in the 1960s.

The proposed move is one of many changes at Head, now owned by a Dutch firm, HTM Sports Holding BV.

Head officials said yesterday they are closing their Boulder, Colo., distribution center for ski and tennis equipment, and plan to move that operation to their Jessup facility, possibly bringing new jobs there.

At the same time, they said, Head will discontinue some product lines now distributed from Jessup -- mainly such general athletic wear as sweat shirts and hiking boots.

Head plans to concentrate on its traditional products, skis and tennis rackets, and focus as well on high-fashion athletic wear.

As part of that move, the company is dropping spokesman former heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield in the middle of a two-year endorsement contract.

With all the changes, the Columbia headquarters is simply too large to serve as Head's corporate offices, company officials said.

It has 28,000 square feet of unused warehouse space, Mr. Latini said.

While continuing to use their Jessup warehouse, Head officials said, they're studying whether to move both their offices and warehouse even closer to the airport.

"One option is getting out of Jessup," Mr. Wenzl said.

This year, the company laid off or reassigned about 17 percent of its work force in response to slow sales, leaving only about 95 employees in Columbia and Jessup.

The company has not reduced its employment force in Howard since then, said George Curtis, vice president for tennis apparel.

This year, the company closed its popular outlet store at its headquarters, a store once touted as a goodwill gesture to the community.

Yesterday, the closed store drew a prospective customer, who was politely told by a contractor taking storage racks out of the warehouse that the outlet no longer existed.

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