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Allegheny Energy is moving

April 22, 2004|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

HAGERSTOWN - The days of Allegheny Energy as a Washington County-based company are coming to an end.

The energy supplier's headquarters will move from Downsville Pike southwest of Hagerstown to Greensburg, Pa., company employees learned Wednesday.

The move to Greensburg is expected to be completed by Sept. 1, said Michelle Morris, Allegheny Energy's vice president of corporate communications.

The company has more than five times as many employees in and around Greensburg as in Maryland, Morris said.

"The move makes good business sense," she said. "We need to be close to where the bulk of our business and operations are."

About 15 of the approximately 50 jobs at the Downsville Pike headquarters will be eliminated, Morris said. That includes jobs in the communications, law and building services departments.

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Employees in those jobs will have a chance to find other jobs in the company, Morris said.

Another 20 jobs will be shifted to the company's regional operations office on Bower Avenue, which is known as the Williamsport service center.

One job will move to Martinsburg, W.Va., and the others will go to either Greensburg - which is southeast of Pittsburgh - or Harrisburg, Pa., Morris said.

Allegheny Energy moved its corporate office from New York City to Washington County in 1996.

After the company's expansion into the energy trading market backfired, it considered bankruptcy, shook up its management team, shed 10 percent of its 6,000 workers and revamped its business strategy. The outlook turned glum in 2002, but the company has tried to battle its way back with new financing.

Gregory I. Snook, president of the Washington County Commissioners, said Wednesday that the headquarters move wasn't entirely unexpected.

"We did have a sense that something was going to happen because of their financial problems," he said.

In October, The Herald-Mail reported that an energy industry analyst thought the corporate move was possible, but he couldn't confirm it.

Snook said the jobs will be missed because they paid well.

Timothy Troxell, the executive director of the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission, couldn't be reached for comment Wednesday.

"It's a shame to see (Allegheny) go," Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said. "It's probably a corporate decision to help them through the financial trouble they've been going through. ... It's probably a wise decision, but sad."

Breichner said Allegheny Energy has been generous to local causes and helpful to the city and its light department.

He said Allegheny Energy has had ties to the Hagerstown area for many years. Even two battles for control of the city's electrical distribution system didn't ruin the relationship, he said.

Snook and Breichner said it was a nice benefit for years to be able to say that Washington County was home to a Fortune 500 company. In March, Allegheny Energy fell off that list.

Allegheny Energy provides power to 1.7 million customers in five states through one of its divisions, Allegheny Power, according to the company's Web site.

Wednesday's announcement was, in a sense, the other shoe dropping for the corporate office.

Last October, the company said that about half of the 92 jobs there would move to Greensburg by March 1. The company said, though, that its headquarters would stay put.

On Wednesday, Morris said that Allegheny Energy's executives have spent more time in recent months in Greensburg, where the company has about 2,000 employees, and have had less reason to be in Washington County.

Both the headquarters building and Allegheny Energy's 450-acre Friendship Technology Park have been for sale since at least July, when an internal company e-mail said that real estate consultants would be touring the property.

Morris said Allegheny Energy will move from Downsville Pike by Sept. 1, regardless of whether it's been sold. She said she did not know if there were pending offers for the building or the business park.

Allegheny Energy opened the business park in 1988, but didn't attract the first tenant - Mountainside Teleport Corp. - until last year.

Snook said a business just asked about buying both the Downsville Pike building and the technology park and plans to tour them next week.

Morris could not provide a breakdown of Allegheny Energy employees in Maryland and Pennsylvania. A 2004 Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission guide says Allegheny Energy employs 194 people in the county.

One employee is William J. Wivell, the vice president of the Washington County Commissioners. He is a regulatory specialist at the Downsville Pike office in the regulation and rates division.

Wivell said Wednesday his job is staying in Washington County.

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