When the steel mill at Sparrows Point closed in 2012, it was an economic disaster for Eastern Baltimore County. But now during this COVID-19 driven recession, the old Bethlehem Steel site, which is being redeveloped as Tradepoint Atlantic, is a job-hiring bright spot.
While nearly 60,000 people have filed for unemployment in Baltimore County during the pandemic, at Tradepoint Atlantic they’re looking to hire.
The 3,300-acre site at Sparrows Point is home to distribution warehouses like Home Depot, FedEx and Amazon. Last week, Amazon reported its sales were up more than 25 percent in the first quarter of 2020. That is a direct result of people sheltering at home and ordering online. The company also announced it plans to build a second distribution center at Tradepoint.
“Our tenants, who are very much part of the supply chain, have been very active and staffing up their operations,” said Aaron Tomarchio, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Tradepoint Atlantic.
Tomarchio said about 8,000 people work there each day. He believes that soon it will be 10,000. About half of the site now has tenants or is under construction. Tomarchio said COVID-19 has not had an effect on negotiations with prospective businesses.
“The conversations we’ve been having are continuing to be had. And the COVID crisis hasn’t stopped or halted them in any way,” Tomarchio said.
Baltimore County continues to green light permits and to do inspections at Tradepoint during the pandemic.
It’s projected 17,000 people eventually will work at Tradepoint Atlantic, just a little more than half the 30,000 Bethlehem Steel employed in its heyday.
Daraius Irani, chief economist for the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, said economically speaking, what’s happened at Sparrows Point is called “creative destruction.”
“Obviously the decline of the steel mill, while very painful and very dislocating for many individuals allows something like this to take hold and to grow and prosper,” Irani said.
The key to creative destruction is to be able to adapt, to create, once one part of the economy is destroyed.
“The economy doesn’t stay still,” Irani said. “It’s always moving forward.”
Tradepoint sells itself as a global logistics center. It has a deep-water port, as well as access to rail and the Interstate 95 corridor. So it has three ways to get stuff out.
Tomarchio said companies’ supply chains are being tested by COVID-19’s effects on the economy.
“As these companies realize where their weaknesses are in their supply chains, they’re going to look to try to fix that,” Tomarchio said.
Both he and Baltimore County Economic Development Director Will Anderson said that could create future opportunity for Tradepoint, with its ability to move things by land, rail and sea.
Anderson said, “If you have a fragile logistics supply chain that’s dependent upon one mode and it goes down for whatever reason, COVID-related reason or not, it raises the risk for these businesses that are trying to move their goods.”
Anderson said Tradepoint isn’t the only place in Baltimore County where you can find a job. There are openings at grocery stores, as well as in health care and construction to name a few.
Meantime, the guesswork has begun as to which businesses will be winners because of COVID-19. The Amazons of the world appear to have a lock.
Anderson said doing more things at home, like work, school, and health care may be here to stay as well. That would mean more jobs in high tech.
“There are a number of shakeout industries that are going to be changed by COVID,” Anderson said. “What we’ve learned and what we need people to be doing now post-COVID, that’s going to take us some time to figure out and move people into those skill sets.”
Because for at least some of the nearly 60,000 people unemployed in Baltimore County, the reality is that when the COVID-19 pandemic is history, their old job will be too.
You can find a list of job openings at baltimorecountybusiness.com. You can also find out about a webinar being held at 1 pm Tuesday to help people who are out of work find jobs and collect unemployment.