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Businesses to create 225 new jobs

February 01, 2000|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

Two companies will expand their Washington County operations, moves expected to create about 225 jobs, officials said Tuesday.

Susquehanna Bancshares Inc. plans in June to open a loans operations center at Top Flight Airpark next to Hagerstown Regional Airport and to employ about 150 people within a year, according to Susquehanna President William J. Reuter.

Within two or three years, the staffing likely will increase to about 300, he said.

Garden State Tanning, which produces leather for automobiles, is adding 75 new jobs at its Williamsport facilities on Clear Spring Road and at Interstate Industrial Park. The company said it is adding workers because it signed a long-term contract with the automobile manufacturer Acura.

Susquehanna's loan center will serve its subsidiaries in Maryland, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Reuter said the building also will house a computer system for "credit scoring models," which help evaluate the risk of borrowers.

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"They've a lovely, first-class tenant, the kind of tenant we're looking for," said Barrie Peterson, general manager of First Flight Limited Partnership, which owns the Airpark.

Reuter said Susquehanna's existing operations center in Hagerstown, a smaller facility, will close at the end of this year. Most of the 60 people who work there will move to the new center at the Airpark.

Susquehanna considered sites both in and out of Maryland, but chose the Airpark because office space is available, parking is sufficient, and the Interstate 81 corridor is convenient for employees from the Tri-State region, Reuter said.

He said that by the time employment at the loan center reaches 300, the company will have hired about 250 new employees. Current Susquehanna employees probably will fill the other positions, he said.

Susquehanna is made up of nine banks, one savings bank, a leasing company, a credit life reinsurance company and a trust and investment company. One of its banks is Farmers & Merchants Bank and Trust, which has its headquarters in Hagerstown.

Garden State previously added 75 employees when it moved into the Interstate Industrial Park in October.

"We're very pleased with the state of affairs," said Glenn Thornley, the company's operations vice president.

Garden State's new employees will receive between $9 and $11 per hour as a base salary, according to Thornley. With performance incentives, the wages regularly reach $15 to $18, he said.

Reuter said Susquehanna will pay its new workers around $12 or $13 an hour, not including fringe benefits.

"These are the types of jobs I think the community wants," he said.

Tom Riford, marketing director for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, said both Susquehanna and Garden State have shown a commitment to the county.

"We are just tickled," Riford said. "Not only are we getting new jobs, they're good-paying jobs."

"To have a manufacturer expand (in Washington County) is terrific," he said. Manufacturing business has a "multiplier effect," increasing suppliers' and truckers' businesses, too, he said.

In years past, the Airpark facility was a Fairchild Industries plant, where hundreds of employees built aircraft for the United States military and sub-assemblies for other companies.

When it closed the plant, Fairchild offered to give the land to the state of Maryland, which set up the Maryland Development Corporation (MEDCO) to accept the land, said Merle S. Elliott, one of the original MEDCO board members.

Citicorp temporarily used part of the office space as a training center, but MEDCO was unable to find permanent tenants and sold the park, said Elliott, who is now president of the Hagerstown-Washington County Industrial Foundation, known as CHIEF.

In 1986, when First Flight bought Top Flight Airpark, cargo shipper Aeron International was the only tenant, and it soon went out of business, Peterson said.

First Flight spent about $12 million to $15 million to improve the park over the next year, then looked for tenants, he said.

With the addition of the loans operations center, which will occupy about 30,000 square feet of space, the 1-million-square-foot Top Flight Airpark will be about three-quarters full, Peterson said.

Among the current tenants are Coca Cola; Millsource molding distributor; Track Ceramics, and California Microwave satellite and wireless communications company.

"We have about 10 to 20 tenants at any one time," Peterson said.

Various government agencies use a total of about 300,000 square feet, he said.

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