Saving jobs on Broening Hwy. . . . GM plant: Thousands of jobs hinge on Maryland's ability to persuade automaker to stay in Baltimore; Agenda '99; Goals for the new year


A HUGE "millennium clock" that measured each passing day of the 20th century was moved from Annapolis' historic State House months ago because it was considered too garish. But Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the state of Maryland can't so easily avoid another ominous countdown that began last July.

That is the one set by John F. Smith Jr., chief executive officer of General Motors Corp., when he told the governor and others that the automaker's plant on Broening Highway in east Baltimore would remain open for at least two more years.

At the time, the commitment was welcomed by those who feared imminent closure of the plant, which provides the region with good-paying industrial jobs.

But Mr. Smith's announcement also caused GM employees, politicians and economic officials to consider in concrete terms the possibility that the facility may close -- a fate long rumored.

The plant's future is an issue of concern to residents of Central Maryland, whether or not they work at GM or have a relative or friend who does.

Economists estimate that the plant pumps more than $1 billion a year into the region's economy. About 3,000 people work there. Another 4,000 work for regional companies that supply it with parts and products.

The plant's future is uncertain because the midsize Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari vans produced there are due for a redesign and a new engine for the 2003 model year. Trade publications predict that GM will move production rather than retool the two-story Baltimore plant that has produced 10 million vehicles in its 63 years.

Maryland officials must to do all they can to convince the company otherwise. To their credit, they have already begun.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke put aside their political differences in the gubernatorial race last fall to meet with GM executives in Baltimore. With U.S. Sens. Barbara A. Mikulski and Paul S. Sarbanes and Reps. Benjamin L. Cardin and Elijah E. Cummings, they presented a united front.

Now officials should replicate the process used successfully last year to help persuade Bethlehem Steel to remain at its longtime Sparrows Point plant.

That means bringing on board Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. to negotiate a competitive electric rate for GM, as BGE did to help save Bethlehem Steel.

It means persuading GM to see the value of maintaining a rare plant on an international port.

It means enlisting support from the United Auto Workers' local at the Broening plant, which has a solid relationship with management and a good productivity record.

It means taxpayer help. For example, the state chipped in $10 million toward Bethlehem Steel's $300 million project.

It means persuading General Motors to continue its long tradition here through a new product line for the 21st century.

Remember, the clock is ticking.

Pub Date: 1/16/99

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