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Glendening's test on economic growth Marriott, port: Governor and legislators seek to keep hotelier in state and land big shipping contract.


TWO major challenges await Gov. Parris N. Glendening as he looks ahead to the new year. Both concern jobs, and economic growth, for Maryland.

It could take an expensive state commitment to keep Marriott International's headquarters in Maryland and to gain a much-coveted shipping contract from two maritime giants to use facilities at the Port of Baltimore. But the outlays would be worth every penny.

Here's why.

Hotel giant Marriott has outgrown its Bethesda headquarters after a quarter century. The booming hotel-motel business has meant rapid expansion for the company, so much so that it wants to build 1 million square feet of office space -- the equivalent of two 35-story skyscrapers -- on a new corporate campus.

These are good-paying jobs. Marriott employs 3,000 people at its headquarters and plans to enlarge that number. Just the construction -- at a cost of $144 million -- would provide a bonanza of work for Maryland builders.

Marriott is looking at sites in Montgomery and Frederick counties, but also in Northern Virginia. It is imperative that state economic development officials work with the company to come up with an incentive package to keep Marriott in Maryland.

The governor's second challenge could be considerably more expensive -- but even more advantageous. Two large shipping companies, the Danish giant Maersk and CSX's Sea-Land Service, want to consolidate their East Coast operations. Baltimore is a finalist.

Landing this prize would nearly triple container shipments through Baltimore and make the port a global presence overnight. It would have a huge spinoff economic impact and could set the stage for even more cargo business for Baltimore in future years.

That's because new cargo vessels are so monstrous that few harbors can accommodate them. Baltimore is primed to be one of the exceptions, thanks to its 50-foot channel and ample terminal space.

Indeed, winning the Maersk-Sea-Land contest could reverse Baltimore's spiraling maritime decline. No longer would its location 10 hours from the open sea be a handicap. For these shipping companies, that extra time will be well worth it because of the enormous capacity of their new, giant ships; Baltimore's experienced and efficient labor pool; and the port's overnight rail and truck access to the Northeast and Midwest.

What will it take to win this big contract? An enormous commitment to upgrade the Dundalk Marine Terminal, including xTC installation of more than a dozen super-large gantry cranes and dredging at the piers. It could require a separate funding source.

That's where legislative leaders have stepped in. The General Assembly's two budget chairs, Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman and Del. Howard "Pete" Rawlings, both of Baltimore, recently wrote Mr. Glendening, imploring him to do whatever it takes to gain these two economic development prizes.

"The budget committees urge you to pursue an aggressive strategy," they wrote, though such initiatives "could be rather costly." Still, the legislators concluded "the long-term benefits to the state may outweigh the short-term costs."

With a green light from lawmakers, the governor should not hesitate to bring home the jobs -- and containers. Securing these two prime prospects would be a great way to start his second term in office.

Pub Date: 12/31/98

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