Christmas arrived seven days earlier than expected for Howard County.
A week after word leaked that Corvis Corp. intends to expand and create about 1,400 jobs in Howard County by 2001, county officials and business leaders are scrambling to assess the impact of the company's news.
The anticipated increase from 96 to 1,500 employees would make the Columbia-based telecommunications equipment company the second-largest private employer in the county. The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Fulton employs about 2,800 workers.
Although there are concerns about whether roads can handle added traffic and enough housing exists for the projected number of new employees, county officials and business leaders agree that the overall problem is a pleasant one.
"You're talking about a company with a tremendous impact on the county," Richard Story, executive director of the county's Economic Development Authority, says of Corvis. "This [expansion] is their dream, and we hope they realize it."
Adds Dwight Clark, divisional vice president for governmental affairs for the county Chamber of Commerce: "This is a big feather in our cap."
Corvis, which was founded by David R. Huber in June 1997 and two months ago changed its name from Novo Telecommunications Inc., plans to expand from the Rivers Center office complex in Columbia to two buildings totaling 160,000 square feet in the Columbia Gateway corporate park.
Huber, who is the company's president, is one of the state's most successful high-technology entrepreneurs. He founded Ciena Corp. in Linthicum to produce technology that enables fiber-optic telephone lines to handle far more calls and Internet messages, but left in May 1997.
That technology -- dense wavelength division multiplexing -- is likely to be produced by Corvis, according to the company's classified ads on the Internet.
Despite his success -- or perhaps because of it -- Huber is protective of his company's plans. He reportedly was miffed that the expansion plan was announced last week by the state Department of Business and Economic Development and not by his firm.
A state agency spokeswoman declined to comment on Corvis.
Huber's spokesman did not return several requests for an interview, and an official with Mankein Corp., which is developing the sites at Columbia Gateway for Corvis, also declined to talk.
"I've spoken to Corvis, and I just want to honor their desire," says Cole Schorf, a senior vice president of development. "They've asked that we not make a comment at this time."
Even Huber can't suppress the excitement generated by his firm's plan. County officials are optimistic that some of the 86,000 residents who commute daily from Howard to jobs in other jurisdictions will fill the projected 1,400 new positions, which appear to center on manufacturing.
Officials hope that the tax revenue generated by Corvis will help offset the deficit caused by residential development, which typically doesn't generate enough revenue to pay for the public services it requires.
'A golden opportunity'
Business leaders -- such as Michael Riemer, president of the Chamber of Commerce -- say new employees mean new business opportunities.
"People, when they go to work, generally shop close to work, and so there's a big impact on the retail side," Riemer says. "And one of the big things I hear from big companies is a need for recreation. Someone who wanted to build a gym or softball fields, I would think that they'd be taking advantage of a golden opportunity."
The expansion of Corvis -- coupled with the county's fast-track approval process for commercial development and business-friendly climate -- sends a message to other companies considering new facilities, Story says.
"There's a certain amount of thinking that if a high-tech company is moving here, something can't be wrong," he says. "Once you have a certain momentum, others might say, 'Gee, I better get in on the action.' "
Nowhere is the sense of urgency more noticeable than in Columbia Gateway, where at least half a dozen big companies have planted corporate roots since the Rouse Co. began developing the office park in the southwest corner of Interstate 95 and Route 175 in 1986.
'Life is good'
Micros Systems Inc. announced in July that it will move its corporate headquarters from Prince George's County to a new 250,000-square-foot building. AlliedSignal is about a month away from moving into its 150,000-square-foot office, and Mike's Train House recently completed a 79,000-square-foot addition to a 44,000-square-foot warehouse.
With 200 of 584 acres left for commercial development at Columbia Gateway, the phone at Ed Ely's office rings frequently.
"If you have to have a problem, this is one you love to have," says VTC Ely, vice president and director of land sales for the Rouse Co. "Life is good."
Ely says he thinks that recovery from the recession of the early 1990s has sparked the search for space.
"A lot of companies got real thin," he says. "As soon as their businesses picked up," they needed more employees, and then more space.
Other office parks are also enjoying a renewed vitality, and Howard continues to boast the lowest office vacancy rate in the Baltimore metropolitan region at 3.5 percent, according to an office market survey completed in September.
There are a few concerns attached to the corporate growth. Housing affordable for young single professionals and families remains scarce as developers seek to build "McMansions" to gain a larger profit margin.
If the workers must commute from outside the county, they will help clog state and local roads that need improvements including resurfacing and added lanes.
The corporate demand for available land puts pressure on county officials to find space that is rapidly dwindling.
But Rutter says the county is committed to helping businesses find what they need: "We are saying, 'We want you here and we will do what we can to keep you here.' "
Pub Date: 12/27/98