Big boxes, or cyber tech, or both? [Editorial]

The Aegis

Back in early February when he shook up management of his economic development office, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said the move was not so much about past performance as it was about achieving future results.

At the time, he said, in terms of commercial development metrics, such as square footage added and jobs, Harford is on par with other suburban counties like Howard and Baltimore and ahead of Anne Arundel County.

He also said he expected there to be a number of opportunities to take advantage of technology transfer and additive manufacturing arising from the research and development at APG.

That prediction has somewhat come to fruition with a recent partnership between a national additive manufacturing consortium, the county and the local defense community at what was called University Center in Aberdeen, but will return to its original name as a Higher Education and Applied Technology Center — HEAT for short.

But Glassman has also said in past interviews with The Aegis that he thinks the heyday of big box distribution warehouses and fulfillment centers may have passed in Harford County, even though as recently as late 2016 he was touting the XO Logistics deal for a new fulfillment center in a recently completed Perryman spec building.

And, last year his administration actively supported a request to rezone 88 acres just south of Aberdeen from high density residential to general industrial, over objections from some area residents. Plans are under review by the county to build an 860,000-square-foot warehouse/distribution center on that site, which is along Route 40 between Old Stepney Road and the Route 7 intersection.

Certainly, Glassman will take any jobs that come along, as would the head of any county or city, and this proposed Tower Logistics Center will have parking to accommodate up to 715 employees, according to the developers. It will also receive trucks day and night and will have parking for more that 200 truck trailers on the site. This also means there will be traffic coming in and out all hours of the day. That justifiably concerns residents who live adjacent to or near the site – there are many – and also county agency heads who are reviewing the plan, because there’s no two ways around that where trucks coming and going are concerned, this site shows but one point of access – from Route 40 near an already busy intersection.

In recent years, Harford County has definitely lost its allure for big box distribution center developers, who have turned north to Cecil County with alarming frequency, if we are talking in terms of jobs/tax revenue gained.

The growth of the Principio Business Park between Perryville and North East has been such that the state and county are actively considering building a new interchange along Interstate 95 primarily to make it easier for trucks to get to the industrial park and other nearby developments.

A few decades ago, similar growth at Riverside Business Park in Belcamp and anticipated development of warehouses and distribution centers along the Perryman peninsula in Harford County led to the construction of the I-95/Route 543 interchange.

Unfortunately, the county and state never carried through with the additional highway infrastructure needs, including a more direct access to Perryman and to the south side of Aberdeen from I-95, as the county instead got caught up in the BRAC euphoria during the previous decade and pretty much shifted those other needs to the back burner.

We suspect the Tower project won’t be the last big warehouse built in Harford County, but we also suspect that Glassman is right that Harford’s day in the sun as a go-to place for big distribution facilities has pretty well moved into twilight shadows. Lack of good infrastructure will do that, right or wrong.

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