200 acres await if GM opts to build; Site is adjacent to van assembly plant on Broening Highway; State wants to be ready; Auto industry


Should General Motors Corp. decide that it wants to build a new factory in Baltimore, land won't be a problem.

State economic development officials said yesterday that they have identified 200 acres contiguous to the Broening Highway van assembly plant that could be made available to the automaker if it decides to build a new factory here or expand the present one.

Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of business and economic development, said the land availability is part of a broader state plan to encourage GM to stay in the city, where it has been for 64 years.

In July, GM Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John F. Smith Jr. told state officials that the Chevrolet Astro and GMC Safari assembly plant would remain open for two years. Its future is uncertain beyond 2000.

"Its status has not changed," said Brian Goebel, a spokesman for the plant, the city's largest manufacturer employer with 3,000 workers. "We're an unassigned plant at this time," he said, meaning that no product has been assigned to the 3.1 million-square-foot factory for after the Astro and Safari.

Goebel said production of the van beyond 2000 will be determined by market demand. Astro production fell 21.6 percent last year to 955,774 units. Safari production declined 17.4 percent to 40,184 vehicles.

GM has announced plans for a 10 percent reduction in van production at the plant beginning next month.

Lewin said GM has not asked for additional land in the city but that the state wanted to have something ready. He said the state wants to be in a position to assist if GM expresses an interest in continuing its operation. "We want to be able to say, 'We can get this done in Baltimore.' "

David S. Iannucci, economic development deputy, did not identify the specific pieces of property. Two hundred acres would more than double the size of the present plant site.

Iannucci said state officials are trying to "put ourselves in the heads of GM executives" to determine things that can be done to boost the attractiveness of Baltimore as a site for a new or expanded factory. He said some of GM's newest assembly plants have campuslike settings with major suppliers next to the factories.

Iannucci said that in addition to the 3,000 van plant workers, the state has identified 4,000 full or part-time jobs at suppliers or distributors directly connected to the van plant.

Lewin said the state is also prepared to help GM by training employees, reducing the company's electricity costs, offering tax credits, speeding the building permit process and providing infrastructure needed for a new factory.

Although GM has not made an official announcement, there is wide speculation that the production of a redesigned van to replace the Astro and Safari will be transferred to a modern plant in Wentzville, Mo., where the company's full-size van is built.

Charles R. Alfred, president of United Auto Workers Local 239, which represents hourly workers at the Baltimore plant, said Wentzville has unused capacity, and "they are going to shift the new van there."

Alfred said the workers are hoping GM will assign another product to Baltimore.

Pub Date: 2/20/99

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