Coke's Howard plans on hold But company says it's still committed to a Hanover plant

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Despite an announcement that the Coca-Cola Co. and its affiliated bottlers plan to invest a record $3 billion next year to construct new plants and upgrade others, a Howard County site slated to contain a state-of-the-art bottling facility will likely remain barren.

Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., the affiliated Atlanta-based bottler that owns the Howard County land, says the decision to continue postponing construction of a planned nine-story plant is the result of fundamental changes in the soft drink industry.

For instance, since October 1992 when Coca-Cola Enterprises bought the 122-acre Parkway Industrial Center site in the Hanover section of the county for $15.1 million, noncarbonated fruit drinks, iced tea and other beverages have emerged as popular alternatives to traditional colas.

The options have also played havoc with Cola-Cola Enterprises' manufacturing, packaging and distribution methods, causing the company to wait before building new plants.

"The planned capital-investment program will have no effect on the Hanover site," said Katherine Whiting, a Coca-Cola Enterprises spokeswoman. "We're in the same state with the plant as we have been. We continue to work to re-engineer the plant, and, while there's no specific time frame for when we'll begin work there, we remain committed to the site."

The Coca-Cola Co. -- which owns 43 percent of Coca-Cola Enterprises -- announced last week its intention to spend $1.5 billion next year on capital improvements, the largest amount in its 109-year history. The world's largest soft-drink maker added that its affiliated bottlers -- including Coca-Cola Enterprises -- would invest roughly the same amount to spur sales.

"This comes in response to unprecedented growth in our worldwide business," said Coca-Cola President and Chief Operating Officer M. Douglas Ivester, in making the announcement.

The $1.5 billion figure is 36 percent higher than the amount Coke is spending in 1995.

Coca-Cola is expected to build the majority of the new plants and other necessary infrastructure overseas, where it earns 80 percent of its more than $3 billion in annual profits.

Mr. Ivester added that none of the projects' costs will exceed $85 million. Coca-Cola Enterprises' Hanover facility is projected to cost $100 million.

In August 1994, Coca-Cola Enterprises indefinitely suspended plans to build on the Hanover site, a move that earlier this year caused syrup manufacturer Coca-Cola USA to announce plans for a new $60 million facility in Allentown, Pa.

Initially, a new syrup plant to replace an aging facility on East Fort Avenue had been scheduled to join the bottling operation in Hanover. In all, the combined operation would have created 900 jobs and generated $5 million annually in property taxes.

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