Businesses find success in Baltimore County enterprise zones

Growing up in nearby Catonsville, Geb Buchness remembers when the area where he now works was a mess.

“It used to be a junkyard, really,” said Buchness, vice president of strategic business development for Kaiser Permanente in Baltimore.

The healthcare company opened a full-service medical center in Halethorpe in April 2013, in one of Baltimore County’s three enterprise zones.

Companies that set up shop in those zones can get tax credits from the county and the state as an incentive for helping to revitalize an older area. Baltimore County’s other enterprise zones include the North Point Enterprise Zone in the Dundalk area and the Federal Center at Woodlawn Enterprise Zone.

Since the creation of the zones, companies have created 3,000 new jobs, Baltimore County officials estimate.

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Buchness said decades ago, the area that ran parallel to the I-695 up to Washington Boulevard was home to a garbage dump. In the 1980s and 1990s, developers stepped in and cleaned things up.

Now, he thinks the Halethorpe area—in Baltimore County’s Southwest Enterprise Zone—is perfect for business.

“I could see further economic development. It’s a great location when you think about it,” Buchness said.

PDF: Southwest Enterprise Zone (map)

Kaiser Permanente settled on the area because of its proximity to I-695 and I-95, which makes it easy to access the company’s other facilities south and west of Baltimore, Buchness said.  

The South Baltimore County Medical Center now employs about 400 people. About 200 of those jobs were created when the center opened, a Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman said.

Jeff Mayhew, deputy director of Baltimore County’s Department of Planning, said the county began creating enterprise zones such as the one in Halethorpe in the late 1980s and the early 1990s as a way to boost the manufacturing sector.

“It was based in the recognition that when you have a manufacturing job, that’s the kind of job that creates spinoff jobs, more so than retail jobs or service jobs,” Mayhew said. 

At the same time, a variety of industries within an area helps to keep the local economy steady, he said. And Halethorpe is a good example of that. 

“It helps create a balance between having good-paying jobs and a nice place to live,” Mayhew said. “It helps with the quality of life.”

Carol Mox, president of the Halethorpe Improvement Association, has lived in the area for 34 years. She said Lansdowne Station on Washington Boulevard has been a big boon to the area, with businesses including Wal-Mart, L.A. Fitness and Chick-fil-A.

“I think it’s been a good designation for the area,” Mox said. 

Fronda Cohen, a spokeswoman for the Baltimore County Department of Economic Development, said the Southwest Enterprise Zone is also home to Maryland Food Bank headquarters, Heavy Seas Brewery and Bakery Express, which supplies pastries to 7-Eleven locations in the mid-Atlantic.

Cohen said 52 companies have hired about 1,200 workers and made more than $190 million in property improvements, and $83 million in machinery and equipment investments since the Southwest Zone was established in 1996.

Other businesses that have moved or expanded in the Southwest Enterprise Zone include Ferguson Enterprises, Cowan Trucking and FedEx. The Greens at English Consul, a 90-unit senior housing complex, also opened this summer.

“It was a good site, and it looked like there hadn’t been a development there in quite some time,” said Chickie Grayson, president of Enterprise Homes. “It’s got shopping, retail, transportation-- all the things we looked for.”

The company is also building Hollins Station, a community of 48 townhouses in nearby Lansdowne. It’s scheduled to be open next year.

Heavy Seas opened its brewery on Hollins Ferry Road 19 years ago, just down the road from the former Carling Brewery, said Fred Crudder, the brewery’s director of marketing.

“Like a lot of breweries, when you’re starting out, you’re not exactly flush with cash,” Crudder said. “Industrial areas on the outlying parts of town are generally affordable.”

Heavy Seas founder Hugh Sisson said the business has expanded from 15,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet in the last two decades.

“The entire business alley has gotten stronger,” Sisson said. “We like it because of our highway (accessibility). Our taproom is now open, which is a bit of a stretch since we’re in an industrial area and we don’t have a lot of foot traffic. But we are a destination.”    

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