Key to the Citi

Citigroup, Washington County's largest private employer, marks it's 20-year anniversary

Citigroup, Washington County's largest private employer, marks it's 20-year anniversary

June 24, 2006|by CANDICE BOSLEY

WASHINGTON COUNTY - It has more employees than the towns of Sharpsburg, Clear Spring and Shepherdstown, W.Va., have residents - combined.

Its child-care center once was the largest corporate day-care center in the nation. It holds the designation of being Washington County's largest private employer. Over the years, it has received too many community awards to mention.

And now, Citigroup has one more accolade: A key to the city.

Marking its 20-year anniversary, Citigroup (formerly known as Citicorp and still sometimes referred to by that name) received a ceremonial key to the City of Hagerstown during a celebration held at the business earlier this month.

Borne from a parallel business strategy that ended up never happening, Citigroup helped change the economic climate of Washington County.

In 1986, when the company opened, Fairchild's immense aircraft manufacturing plant in Hagerstown recently had closed, and Mack Trucks was reducing its work force in the county.


Until then, the county's jobs mostly were based around manufacturing and distribution. Those types of jobs still exist, but Citigroup showed that service jobs were possible, too, said Phil Kelly, director of public affairs and communications for the Hagerstown facility.

It also has offered a steady paycheck to thousands of people over the years.

Twenty years ago, on Friday, June 20, 1986, during a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company's facility off Interstate 81 by the Pennsylvania state line, it was "hinted strongly" that a second building might be built and the company one day could create as many as 2,000 jobs, according to a story in the next day's Herald-Mail.

That second building was, in fact, built, as was a third building 10 years later. The company also met and exceeded its employment expectations, and now has around 2,400 employees, Kelly said.

Some of those employees who first signed on with the company still are around.

Seventy-four current employees started working for Citigroup when it first opened in Hagerstown, and another 90-some transferred to Hagerstown from elsewhere, meaning they have more than 20 years of experience with the company, Kelly said.

One man has worked for the company for more than 40 years, Kelly said.

Impetus for center fell through

Safeguarding the information within Citigroup's buildings begins at the front doors. Each employee must scan an ID card when entering, and visitors must hand over a photo ID to a uniformed security guard before being given a visitor's clip-on tag.

The maze of hallways and stairwells within snakes through moveable walls and cubicles. Asked how long it took Kelly to master the layout, he replied: "A year."

He didn't indicate he was joking.

The Hagerstown center is one of the largest of the 30 or so Citigroup centers like it in the country. More than 99 percent of its duties are in support of Citigroup's credit card business, Kelly said.

Citigroup consists of 20 main departments, plus more divisions within those departments. The Credit Operations department, for example, has nine divisions within it.

Had it not been for a business proposal by then-Citicorp and a dire need by state and local officials to inject a shot of economic development into Western Maryland, Citigroup might not be here.

The company agreed to open the processing center in exchange for permission to open bank branches throughout the state. House Bill 1715 gave the company permission to build 10 bank branches throughout Maryland in 1986, 10 more in 1987 and an unlimited number after that in exchange for opening the operations center.

Under that same legislation, the company had to hire 1,000 people and invest $25 million in the Hagerstown facility by the end of 1988.

The funny thing is, Citigroup met all of the requirements, but never opened more than a handful of banks in the Baltimore area, Kelly said.

By 1989, Building 1 was full, and Citigroup officials decided to open a second adjoining building, which was finished in 1990 and was full five years later.

The third and final building was finished in 1996, Kelly said.

More than just credit cards

Given that around three-fourths or more of the company's employees are women and many had child-care concerns, the company decided to open a 10,000-square-foot day-care center in 1990.

"The day it opened, there was a waiting list," Kelly said.

The day-care center later was expanded, and once was the largest such corporate center in the U.S. Employees pay a reduced rate compared to the market average for their child or children to stay there during the day or come after school.

An on-site fitness center is available to employees for a monthly fee of $10. Two cafeterias serve meals throughout the day.

Free coffee is available at all times from a vending machine, employees can log onto the Internet and take educational courses in a computer lab and employees' achievements are publicly recognized within the facility.

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