Columbia firm plans big growth 96 workers at Corvis could rise to 1,500 by 2001, state says; Ciena founder not talking; High-tech start-up already contracting for larger buildings


Corvis Corp., a Columbia telecommunications equipment firm founded by one of the state's most successful high-technology entrepreneurs, is planning to expand from 96 to 1,500 employees in Howard County by 2001, according to state records.

Along with planning this explosive job growth, the company is embarking on a building spree. Construction of a 60,000-square-foot building has begun in the Columbia Gateway office park, and Corvis has signed a lease on 100,000 square feet in another yet-to-be-built facility at Columbia Gateway, according to the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

"They're doing extraordinary things," Linda West, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Business and Economic Development, said yesterday. DBED provided the employment figures. "We're really pleased they decided to expand here."

"Their real estate requirement has exploded," said Richard W. Story, director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority

The company, founded in June 1997, is based at the Rivers Center office park in Columbia, and said it plans to remain there for now. "The plan is to keep what we have here and to expand over there [at Gateway]," said Moise Augis, a Corvis spokesman.

Corvis said little else about its plans, but the company is being closely watched. Its president and founder, David R. Huber, has a track record that is striking even by the supercharged standards of high-tech.

Huber was the founder of Ciena Corp., which pioneered technology that enabled fiber-optic telephone lines to handle far more calls and Internet messages. Ciena's products were snapped up by phone companies eager to increase the capacity of their networks.

As a result, Linthicum-based Ciena became one of the fastest-growing start-ups in American economic history. While the company has fallen on hard times this year, with a plunging stock value and disappointing financial reports, the valuation of its February 1997 initial public offering -- $3.4 billion -- and its first-year sales -- $195 million -- set records for start-ups.

However, as Ciena grew out of the start-up phase, Huber began to think he no longer had sufficient freedom to develop his ideas for advancing fiber-optic technology. He left Ciena in May 1997 and quietly founded Nova Telecommunications Inc. the following month. Two months ago, Nova changed its name to Corvis.

DBED's West said the employment numbers came from a "prospect status report" that the agency had on Corvis. She said the company had inquired about obtaining a job-creation tax credit.

Just what Corvis plans to do with all of the new employees and real estate is cloaked in secrecy. Huber has consistently held his tongue when asked about the company, and did not respond to calls asking for comment.

Corvis spokesman Augis declined to go into detail about the company's products. He said, "We have great technology in this company, and what we're doing is very, very high-tech in the world of fiber-optics. In any kind of network, our technology will bring tremendous value."

"There's a company policy not to talk about the details of what we're doing," he said. "We're in a market where hype is the rule we'll do what we need to do, then we'll come out."

Augis said the company plans to go public at some point, but he wouldn't say when.

Given Huber's track record, industry analysts are deeply curious about what he's up to. "Huber has a lot of stature," said David Toung of Argus Research Corp. in New York. "Someone who has struck gold once is going to be able to attract quite a bit of venture capital. He certainly has a lot of good ideas."

Pub Date: 12/19/98

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