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Washington County fares well in difficult economy

February 05, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

In 2002, Washington County continued to weather a stormy economy and ended the year on a positive note, economic development officials said.

"I think Washington County fared well compared to the national economy. I think we held our own," said Cassandra Latimer, marketing specialist for the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

The county didn't experience as much job growth and capital investment in the last year as it did in the late 1990s, but those activities never ground to a halt, Latimer said.

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"If the end of December and the first part of January are any indication, the coming year is going to be strong," Latimer said.

This year began with confirmation of the first occupant for Allegheny Energy's Friendship Technology Park. Mountainside Teleport Corp., a subsidiary of Intelsat Global Service Corp., announced plans in November to build a ground support operation for its satellite communication network at the business park southwest of Hagerstown.

The local operation is expected to start in April or May and to have up to 15 employees in two years, Intelsat spokeswoman Allison Scuriatti said.

Mountainside will bring the higher wage jobs Washington County officials have wanted for years.

The first employees will be senior level, specialized engineering and technical workers who probably will be brought into the area rather than hired locally, Scuriatti said. She didn't have a pay range for those workers, but said it would be more than $40,000 a year.

Officials also hope to entice more technology companies with higher wage jobs to the business park.

"Our economy is maturing. We're growing," Latimer said.

Companies that had put projects on the back burner the last couple of years are starting to look again, and the county is getting new inquiries from manufacturers and professional offices, Latimer said.

Latimer said word has gotten out that Washington County officials are going to be pickier about their business prospects, Latimer said

"If you're not going to pay at least that average wage, then don't come knocking," Latimer said.

The county's average weekly wage in 2002 was $558, she said.

More good news


After two divisions from Citicorp Credit Services north of Hagerstown were relocated last year, the local operation will expand some of the remaining divisions to take advantage of space in the three-building complex, spokesman Phil Kelly said.

Citicorp officials expect to hire 700 to 800 people this year, Kelly said. Almost half of those hirings will keep up with normal attrition at the company, while 400 to 500 will be for newly created positions, Kelly said.

The relocations and consolidations came after Citigroup bought Associates First Capital Corp. in 2000.

The 160-person computer and technical division relocated to offices in Jacksonville, Fla., and Dallas, while the 190-person consumer finance division moved to St. Louis. Those moves began in the fall of 2001 and were completed by March 2002.

When Citigroup bought Associates, the deal included the U.S. Auto Club phone center operation, Kelly said. The local Citicorp operation is the main site for that operation.

The U.S. Auto Club phone center operation employs approximately 150 people. Citicorp officials expect to have 270 employees locally in that division by the end of the year, Kelly said.

Three other divisions also are expected to grow this year, Kelly said.

The risk and intervention/early warning division that detects fraud has approximately 330 workers, Kelly said. The credit operations division employs about 530 people.

The customer service department also will be hiring, Kelly said. Customer service is the biggest department at the local operation and accounts for about 1,100 workers, Kelly said.

The moves should result in Citicorp increasing its work force from about 2,400 employees at the beginning of the year to about 2,800 by the end of the year, Kelly said.

"That's very aggressive hiring," Kelly said.

Lenox Inc. will create 70 jobs with a new distribution center near Halfway that is expected to be complete in October, said spokesman Phil Lynch with Lenox's parent company, Brown-Forman. Lenox manufactures china, crystal giftware and flatware.

While the jobs won't be created this year, Washington County is still a contender for a FedEx Corp. central distribution hub for ground delivery service, spokesman David Westrick said. The center would open in 2005 or 2006. The center would be smaller than the one in Woodbridge, N.J., that employs 800 people.

Allegheny woes


Allegheny Energy Inc. had a difficult 2002.

The Hagerstown-based utility announced in July it would offer early retirement to approximately 600 of its 6,000 workers after a disappointing first quarter. About 650 employees chose to take early retirement, most by the end of 2003.

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