Letter From . . . Prince William

Prince William's Big Year

A status report from the county's economic development agency to the Board of County Supervisors paints 1999 as the best year in memory for economic development efforts.

This year was already on its way to being the biggest for new and expanding businesses even before two high-profile deals: the development of data centers by America Online Inc. and Covad Communications Inc.

The county also pulled in corporate headquarters for Deck America, Aeronautical Systems, Computer Learning Centers and Micro Computer Retail Solutions.

Investment for the year has topped $600 million -- well above last year's $32 million. AOL accounted for $520 million of this year's figure.

In 1999, according to the county Department of Economic Development, 126 new developments and expansion projects were reported, with 40 in areas the county has targeted: high tech, biotechnology and corporate headquarters. The number of expected new jobs in the targeted areas this year totaled 2,324, a figure 43.5 percent higher than the previous three years combined.

The report, presented to the Board of County Supervisors by County Executive Bern Ewert last week, marks the end of Martin Briley's third year as head of the county's economic development agency. Briley has made moving new businesses -- either through headquarters relocations or, as in AOL's case, a large branch office -- into the county a priority for the agency. Briley has said Prince William had an average of five corporate prospects per month in 1997, but now has about 70 prospects per month.

The latest bit of good news came last week, when an architectural, engineering and construction firm based in Tennessee officially moved a branch office to Prince William County to be closer to the Marine Corps Systems Command at Quantico.

The new branch of Sverdrup Technology Inc. may create up to 130 jobs and bring an investment of $1.6 million to the county.

-- Amy Joyce

Letter From . . . Alexandria

Halifax Makes Its Point

Halifax Corp. recouped $3.5 million in cash from unnamed parties the company says were responsible for enabling a former employee to embezzle $15 million over four years.

The Alexandria information technology company announced last month that it was taking action against banks and accounting firms that it said were "grossly negligent" in allowing Mary Adams Collins, the former comptroller at Halifax's Richmond-based subsidiary, to cash forged or unauthorized checks. In September, the company filed suit against Wachovia Bank and First Union National Bank of Virginia to recoup lost funds.

The payment will add about $2.9 million to Halifax's earnings for the quarter ending Friday. The embezzlement was discovered last spring; Collins has ordered to pay $15 million in restitution.

"I am pleased to report that we have made further progress on our recovery efforts," chief executive Jack Reis said in a statement. "We intend to continue to pursue claims on behalf of the company and its shareholders that we believe appropriate under the circumstances."

-- Yuki Noguchi

Baltimore

Creditrust Picks Goldman

Creditrust Corp. hired Goldman, Sachs & Co. to serve as the exclusive financial adviser to its board. Goldman will advise the company on various strategic alternatives, including the potential sale of the company or finding a partner to buy a significant equity stake.

Creditrust buys and services portfolios of underperforming or delinquent credit card loans, adding to their value by helping borrowers improve their payment records.

The company, which went public last year, has been on a fast growth track. In recent weeks, however, a series of missteps have caused its stock to plummet. From a high of $34 last year, it has been hovering around $8 in recent days.

Alexandria

Selling Softworks

Massachusetts-based EMC Corp. said it would buy Alexandria data storage management company Softworks Inc. for $192 million in cash through a $10-a-share tender offer.

EMC said the deal is part of its strategy to build a portfolio of enterprise storage systems and software products. Softworks officials said the union will offer it a worldwide market presence for its technology, which helps companies manage and use vast pools of information.

The tender offer will expire Jan. 25. Owners of 42 percent of Softworks's common stock have already agreed to sell their holdings to EMC. The deal should be completed by the first quarter of next year.

Bethesda

CoStar's Pickups

CoStar Group Inc., a Bethesda-based provider of commercial real estate data, has added to its database information in six metropolitan markets covering more than 1.6 billion square feet of office and industrial property.

Five of the six markets -- Charlotte; Cincinnati; Cleveland; Columbus, Ohio; and St. Louis -- were added from CoStar's absorption of databases from LeaseTrend Inc. Information on the sixth, Seattle, was compiled by CoStar staff.

The company has information on 326,000 commercial properties in 41 markets.

Columbia

Another Bite for U.S. Foodservice

U.S. Foodservice closed on its purchase of Parkway Food Service of Greensburg, Pa., for an undisclosed sum.

Parkway serves the western Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Ohio markets, posting approximately $115 million in sales in 1998.

Columbia-based U.S. Foodservice, one of the largest food distribution companies in the country, has been on an acquisition binge in recent years. It has more than 13,000 employees and tallied $6.2 billion in revenue in the fiscal year ended in June.