State wooing auto plants


The state has held discussions with nine auto manufacturers about locating assembly plants in Maryland, Richard C. Mike Lewin, secretary of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday.

Lewin said the talks started about a year ago after General Motors Corp. said it was committed to the continued production of vans at its Southeast Baltimore assembly plant only until the third quarter of 2003.

The automaker plans to eliminate the plant's second shift in July. That move would cut the work force of 2,500 by nearly half.

Keeping GM's vehicle assembly operations here "is still our No. 1 priority," Lewin said yesterday. "If we win a piece of business from these other companies, that would be great, too."

Earlier this month, state officials met with GM officials in Annapolis as part of an effort to win another product line to replace the vans now being built at the Broening Highway plant. Yesterday, Lewin conceded that while GM "is here to stay," it was possible that it might not maintain a large assembly plant here in years to come. Instead, he said, GM could have a number of smaller plants.

"They build transmissions here," he said, referring the GM Alli son Transmission plant under construction in White Marsh. "Maybe they can build engines here," Lewin said.

While Lewin declined to identify any of the other auto manufacturers the state has courted, he said eight are foreign companies and one is domestic.

Ed Lewis, a spokesman for Ford Motor Co., said the company has no plans for more assembly plants in the United States.

Lewin described the state's overtures to these companies as "an aggressive courtship," and said at least two companies have welcomed the state's efforts. "We're not being turned away by these companies," he added. "They have at least some interest in coming here."

There are no plans for another company to take over GM's 65-year-old assembly plant. Lewin said it is more likely that any newcomer would want a new factory built to suit its particular needs.

On another automotive front, Lewin said the state "has a good chance" of winning another expansion of GM's Allison Transmission operation.

Gov. Parris N. Glendening and other state officials first learned of the planned Allison expansion during the Annapolis meeting May 5.

An expansion could mean 350 jobs in addition to the 400 people who will be employed at the $216 million White Marsh plant when it opens next year.

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