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Sparrows Point’s past helps create jobs today

John Lee

Sparrows Point, once the home to Bethlehem Steel in Southeast Baltimore County, is starting to come back to life. And more than a year into the Point’s rebirth, there are already hundreds of jobs on site, due in part to what the steel-making giant left behind.

Back in January, officials announced that Fed Ex would be the first major tenant at the Point, with plans to build a distribution center. It’s expected to open in the spring with about 150 employees. A few weeks ago, Under Armour said it was going to build an e-commerce distribution center with about 1,000 employees expected.

Michael Moore, the CEO for Tradepoint Atlantic, which owns Sparrows Point, says when the Under Armour plan went public, his inbox exploded with inquiries from businesses interested in the property. Moore told a conference sponsored by the Baltimore Business Journal that he expects there will be 3,500 jobs at Sparrows Point within three years.

"In addition to Under Armour," Moore said, "we have seven more announcements that we’ve written that are in the queue, where we have letters of intent. We don’t have signed leases."

There are already about 770 jobs at the Point. Some of them are in four buildings left over from the Bethlehem Steel days that have been rehabbed and reoccupied. Aaron Tomarchio, the Vice President of Corporate Affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic, says the companies in those buildings specialize in storing and shipping commodities.

The products "range from organic grains to metals that are sold on the London metals exchange," he said.

Tradepoint Atlantic is taking advantage of something else from the old days, more than 100 miles of railroad tracks on the site, with connections to CSX and Norfolk Southern. Tomarchio says they are cleaning, maintaining and storing rail cars for customers.

"Either they’re companies that make the product that those cars go in, or they’re companies that own rail cars and lease them out to companies that need them," he explained.

There are 3,100 acres at Sparrows Point. Some of the land was contaminated by the steel making that went on there for more than a century. Tradepoint Atlantic has agreed with the Maryland Department of the Environment to clean it up. But while that is happening, Tradepoint says, much of the land is safe and can be leased now.

Eric Gilbert, Tradepoint’s executive vice president of development, said the company is trying to stay ahead of the market to make sure they have property available when opportunities arise.

'If you’re not ready, they go somewhere else,' Gilbert said.

Eastern Baltimore County’s economy was dealt a serious blow with the decline and closing of Bethlehem Steel. More than 30,000 people worked there in its heyday.

Amy Menzer, the executive director of the Dundalk Renaissance Corporation, said Dundalk is starting to see an economic turnaround. More homes are being built. Incomes are rising.

"The closure of the steel mill was a sad thing to have happen," she said, "but the flip side is people are looking ahead."

Speaking of looking ahead, e-commerce is probably going to be a bigger part of the Sparrows Point comeback than initially thought. It’s all about location.

Officials say they are within a day’s drive of 30 percent of the country’s population and they have the space for big warehouses. And since a typical e-commerce facility can employ more than a thousand people, they say the eventual goal of 10,000 jobs in 10 years at Sparrows Point is achievable.

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