45 jobs going as Bookham leaves Howard

2001 arrival disappoints in `photonics corridor'

Plant in England also closing

British fiber-optics firm squeezed by slow market

July 04, 2002|By Stacey Hirsh | Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

The sharp downturn in the telecommunications industry hit Maryland again as Bookham Technology PLC, a British fiber-optics company, said yesterday that 45 workers will lose their jobs when it closes the North American headquarters it opened in Howard County last year.

When the building, which also houses a manufacturing plant, opened in January 2001, it was expected to boost the region's "photonics corridor" and someday employ 1,000. But as of yesterday, the firm employed only about 45, all of whom will be laid off as the plant winds down to close at the end of September.

"Originally, when Bookham purchased the site of the plant, it was based on demand projections which were probably between eight and 10 times what the current projections are for this year and the next couple of years," said Stephen Abely, Bookham's chief financial officer. "We just don't see the need to have the additional capacity."

Bookham will also close a plant in Swindon, England, which employs about 30, the company said yesterday.

Bookham, a publicly traded company headquartered in Oxfordshire, England, makes components that help information flow along fiber-optic networks. What sets Bookham apart from other component-makers is that it uses silicon, rather than more widely used silica, to make its product.

Its North American headquarters are in the 150,000- square-foot building that formerly housed Honeywell International Inc. in Columbia's Oakland Ridge Industrial Park.

David S. Iannucci, Maryland's secretary of business and economic development, said Bookham backed away this year from a $1 million incentive package it was scheduled to receive from the state. The company knew it was required to meet certain growth targets to receive that state funding, and Bookham was growing slower than it had hoped, he said.

Iannucci said the company did receive a $100,000 work force grant, which he expects will be fully refunded to the state.

Richard W. Story, chief executive officer of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said the company didn't receive incentives from the county.

"They had certain employment benchmarks to achieve before any incentives flowed, and they never hit those benchmarks," Story said.

Story said he was disappointed that the potential Bookham promised was never fulfilled. He said the county is working with the company to make a list of local optics firms that may be interested in sub-leasing the space, which the British company leases from Corporate Office Properties Trust of Columbia.

"Our focus will be, No. 1, on people and, No. 2, on the real estate," Story said.

Iannucci said that he, too, was "extremely disappointed" that Bookham was closing Columbia operations, though he was confident that the county will continue to be an "economic development success story."

"Howard County is still well situated as a technology leader in Maryland's economic future," he said. "This is a sad chapter for Bookham, but we will collectively move beyond it very quickly."

Jim Jungjohann, an optics analyst at CIBC World Markets, said he wasn't surprised by the plant closure. The components space is full of too many players chasing the same dismal marketplace, he said, and the industry must consolidate to become healthy in a few years.

"All these optics companies, including Bookham, they really have to remake themselves, reinvent themselves," he said. "And that's not just putting lipstick on Mick Jagger and putting him back on stage. You've got to make some tough decisions going forward."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.