Aaron Tomarchio: How Kevin Kamenetz Steered Sparrows Point Toward The Future

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In 2010, during his first campaign for Baltimore County Executive, Kevin Kamenetz said something about Sparrows Point that seemed politically risky at the time: Maybe it’s time to think about a future beyond steel production.

His words seemed prescient two years later when, after cycling through five owners in a decade, the steel mill closed, putting 2,200 men and women out of work. At that time, most of Maryland’s political leaders promised that they would work to find a new steel company to take over production – although, in retrospect, that outcome was not possible.

County Executive Kamenetz had the foresight and courage to say something different. He said, the steel mill isn’t coming back, but let’s figure out how to bring new jobs to Sparrows Point.

This wasn’t an easy leap for many people to make. For generations, Sparrows Point represented the power of American industry. But by 2012, much of the 3,100-acre former Bethlehem Steel steel mill laid in ruins. The huge waterfront site where 30,000 men and women once reported to work daily was a polluted ghost town.

Kamenetz realized it would take leadership to begin to implement a new vision for Sparrow’s Point’s future – and the county government would have to play an active role. So he pulled together business, government and community leaders to form the Sparrows Point Partnership, and charged them with coming up with a plan to clean up the site and put the Point back to work – with state-of-the-art manufacturing, maritime, and distribution and logistics companies.

Six years later, our team at Tradepoint Atlantic is putting that plan into action. With our state and federal partners, we are cleaning up Sparrows Point after a century of steelmaking.

Just as envisioned, we’re taking advantage of our prime Mid-Atlantic location with deepwater berths, and access to I-695, I-95 and I-70 – plus CSX and Norfolk Southern railroads.

We have worked with County Executive Kamenetz and his team to bring in exactly the type of tenants envisioned by the Sparrows Point Partnership – including household names like Under Armour, FedEx and Amazon.

And contrary to the politically polarized times in which we live, Governor Hogan and County Executive Kamenetz – and their teams – have quietly worked together with Tradepoint Atlantic to transform Sparrows Point from an industrial wasteland into North America’s premier industrial gateway.

Even while they were running against each other for governor, the County Executive and the Governor put bringing jobs to Baltimore County first. Both men were working to take Sparrows Point to the next level by working toward a public-private partnership to build the modern infrastructure needed to support 21st century employers. In fact, the revitalization of Sparrows Point shows what is possible when everyone works toward a common purpose from the White House, to the Congress, to the Statehouse, to the Old Courthouse in Towson.

The Tradepoint Atlantic project, which started as a contrary opinion from Kevin Kamenetz, a man who was never afraid to speak his mind, is now on track to employ 3,500 people by next year – over a thousand more jobs than during the steel mill’s final years. The well-known economist Anirban Basu projects that Sparrows Point will be home to 17,000 jobs when our project is built out.

Sadly, Kevin Kamenetz did not live to see his vision of thousands of people arriving to work at Sparrows Point each morning. But he was right. We could work together to honor Sparrows Point’s past, while giving the community a better future.

Today, the people of Maryland and Baltimore County are in the process of overcoming a devastating blow to our economy – the end of steelmaking at Sparrows Point. Working with County Executive Kamenetz’s successor – his longtime Chief of Staff Don Mohler – and Governor Hogan and county and state legislators of both parties, we will finish the job he started.

Aaron Tomarchio is Senior Vice President for Administration and Corporate Affairs for Tradepoint Atlantic.

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