Trellis taps Columbia for factory

Photonics company says new facility will also be headquarters

`A huge step forward'

Fiber-optics plant will eventually employ 350 workers

March 20, 2001|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

Trellis Photonics Ltd., a fiber-optics equipment maker, said yesterday Columbia will be the home of its U.S. manufacturing plant, which is expected to eventually employ 350 workers.

The plant will also double as Trellis' new headquarters, company officials said.

"This is a huge step forward for the company, moving really out of a development environment ... into what I call being a whole company," said Tim Cahall, chief executive officer of Trellis.

Trellis, which moved its headquarters from Israel to Columbia in September, will receive an incentives package from Howard County and the state for building its plant. County and state officials declined to comment on the specifics of the package, because it is still being put together.

"The state and the county are continuing to work on financing the package of incentives," said Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.

Trellis, a privately held start-up company, has about 150 workers. Most of those workers are in Israel, where Trellis does research, development and some manufacturing. Trellis' Howard County workers are in its current headquarters on Governor Warfield Parkway.

The new 60,000-square- foot manufacturing plant and headquarters will be in Columbia Gateway, a rapidly growing office park near Interstate 95.

It is expected to cost $18 million, and construction is scheduled to be complete by December.

The plant will house 350 workers at full capacity, company officials said.

Trellis' plans to build a new facility and add workers come at a time when many in the telecommunications industry are lowering financial forecasts and announcing layoffs.

Cahall said Trellis is planning to make its product - a switching device for fiber-optic networks - available to customers by the end of this year.

Joe Gladue, an analyst who follows optical networking for the Chapman Co. in Baltimore, said a company often has to do hiring when it brings a product to market.

"This market, the technology is changing so rapidly, that you really can't afford to wait in some instances," Gladue said. "If you decide to wait six months, the market may pass you by."

Funding for Trellis' new plant comes from $25 million in venture capital that Trellis announced it received in October. The lead investor is Carlyle Internet Partners Europe, part of the private Washington-based investment firm Carlyle Group.

That money will also be used to expand Trellis' facility in Israel, Cahall said.

The Columbia plant will have offices, development laboratories and manufacturing equipment. It will be used to make Trellis' Intelligent Lambda Switch, which uses a technology called electroholography to route wavelengths of light into different fibers using a hologram embedded in crystal.

Trellis' switch has the capability to test, measure and adjust the power level of wave lengths without interfering with the signal, according to the company.

The state, and Howard County in particular, has been trying to attract technology companies to the region. In the last several years, telecommunications equipment-makers like Corvis Corp. and Ciena Corp. have formed in the area.

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