Delivering jobs, groceries; Anne Arundel: County benefits with Internet grocery company betting on Pasadena for growth.


COUNTY economic development officials and residents seeking moderate-income jobs have reason to celebrate.

San Francisco-based Webvan Group has announced plans to build a distribution plant in the county that will bring 900 jobs and keep up the county's job-growth momentum.

The center will help the county bolster its claim as an emerging high-technology haven. Webvan combines the power of the Internet with old-fashioned service. The company essentially is betting that the milkman was right: People are pressed for time and prefer to have milk - and bread and meat and detergent - delivered to their door. With work, children's soccer games and the PTA, many families would gladly forgo time-consuming supermarket aisles and checkout counters. At least that's Webvan's hope.

This isn't a new industry, however. Other Internet grocery-delivery services have surfaced and found rocky going.

Peapod (based in Skokie, Ill.) has lost money and its chief executive officer. Also, a chief financial backer recently decided not to provide an additional $120 million the company needed.

New Jersey-based Netgrocer recently gained a new investor, but it also has lost money. Netgrocer ships nonperishable goods via Federal Express.

Webvan has struggled, too; since December its stock price has fallen from $25 a share to under $7.

Webvan is expanding beyond its San Francisco market into the Baltimore region as consumers become more and more comfortable with shopping for groceries online.

But Webvan's customers still will have to spend time shopping. Browsing the Internet is not always swift, especially with a slow modem. And customers have to make sure they're home when the goods arrive.

Though Webvan's staying power is yet to be proven, Anne Arundel is fortunate that the company has chosen Pasadena as a site for its interesting venture.

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