Putting the ball in GM's court


GENERAL MOTORS apparently wants to keep Maryland officials in suspense. After last week's high-level meeting with company bigwigs, state officials still don't know whether the company's 65-year-old Broening Highway assembly plant will be open after September 2003.

The future doesn't look rosy. The plant is producing GMC minivans that have not been redesigned in nearly 15 years and will be phased out in 2003. The company is ending the second shift on June 30, laying off about 1,200 workers. GM hasn't designated a new product for the plant or asked state officials for road or rail improvements or for help on air quality, as it did the last time the plant was in danger of closing.

GM officials did allow at the meeting with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and the state's congressional delegation that the company might consider expanding the Allison transmission plant being built in White Marsh. GM officials said they might double the work force there to 750.

This seemingly good news actually presages poorly for Broening Highway. By increasing the number of workers at the Allison plant, GM will be able to offer jobs to a number of laid-off Broening workers, rather than having to pay them to sit idle, as labor contracts require. That would soften the blow to GM's bottom line, and might make closing Broening more acceptable to the community.

Rather than wait until December when GM's president, G. Richard Wagoner Jr., is to meet with Governor Glendening, state and city officials must immediately begin a major initiative to persuade GM to keep its Baltimore assembly operation. The argument is very clear: GM has developed a global manufacturing ability that requires parts and finished products to be moved from one side of the world to other.

No GM plant is better situated than Baltimore's for a global Internet-based system of purchasing and manufacturing. The plant is adjacent to the port. It has rail and highway connections to GM's Midwest plants and East Coast markets.

Now is the time to find out what GM needs, and to assemble a package that allows the automaker to continue assembling vehicles in Maryland.

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