Harford vying to produce assault craft for Marines


State and Harford County officials will meet Tuesday with representatives of General Dynamics Corp. in Falls Church, Va., to fine-tune their bid to land a $45 million factory that will build a new military vehicle for the Marines, creating 350 jobs.

The county and Aberdeen Proving Ground are one of 10 U.S. competitors for production of the advanced amphibious assault vehicle, called AAAV by military officials.

The factory is to build more than 1,000 of the landing craft over the next 20 years. Production is scheduled to begin in 2007.

Each of the tank-like vehicles will be designed to carry up to 18 Marines over land and on water. It will be three times faster than the models being used in Iraq.

"This would be a big win for us," said J. Thomas Sadowski, director of the county's economic development office. If the county is successful, the factory will be built at Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Norine Lyons, a spokeswoman for General Dynamics' land systems division, said AAAV production is expected to generate more than $10 billion in revenue.

Aris Melissaratos, secretary of the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, said he will represent the state at the negotiations with General Dynamics.

"If this goes our way," he said, "this will be a huge, huge win. It would be like building vans at the GM plant in Baltimore, but these are much bigger vehicles."

Melissaratos will bring to the table his knowledge of the defense industry. "I've managed many major defense programs in this state," he said. "I ran engineering, manufacturing and procurement at the Westinghouse Defense and Electronics Group" in Linthicum. That Westinghouse division was later acquired by Northrop Grumman Corp.

Lyons said nine other communities are competing against Aberdeen to land the manufacturing plant. Earlier, she had said that 43 sites across the country were vying for the plant.

She said General Dynamics has scheduled visits by representatives of all 10 contenders for Tuesday or Wednesday.

"We have invited them back to discuss their proposals," Lyons said. "We will tell them how their bids were received. We will give them an opportunity to improve them."

Representatives of each contender will be given an hour and a half to try to convince the company's site evaluation team that it would be the best place for the production.

Lyons said the General Dynamics evaluation team will be composed of finance, human resources and contract personnel, procurement officials and members of the company's manufacturing staff.

Sadowski declined to identify members of the Maryland team other than to say it will be composed of state, county and local officials.

Lyons said the $10 billion in construction is only for production for the Marines. In addition, she said, "there will be international sales."

Overseas sales of military hardware can be a big business. During the 1990s, General Dynamics produced about 1,000 F-16 fighter planes for the Air Force at a plant in Fort Worth, Texas. It sold 2,000 of the jets to 21 other countries.

Sadowski said the strong part of the county's proposal is the quality of the work force. "We feel we have the labor they need," he said. "We have the intellectual capacity, the brainpower needed to staff the factory."

Lyons said General Dynamics will choose a site this summer.

She declined to identify other communities vying for the AAAV project, but published reports have mentioned Woodbridge, Va., and Jacksonville, N.C.

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