High-tech company likes small-town charm

October 01, 1997


Staff Writer, Charles Town

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. - When David Levine and Monica Larson were seeking a location for their company, they could have chosen California's Silicon Valley or the high-tech parks in northern Virginia.

Instead, they opened up shop in Shepherdstown, far away from their rivals in the highly competitive software world, where they create next-generation software for computers.

"It was a pure lifestyle reason," Levine said.

Husky Labs opened in mid-June at 123 E. German St. The building once housed an antique shop, a pool hall and, in the 1920s, a Ford dealership.


Now, about 15 computer whizzes, from long-haired programmers to bearded professorial types, design Web pages for companies who want to advertise on the Internet and produce new software for law firms and businesses.

The company was started in 1992 when Levine left his job at World Bank in Washington. He had been involved in the first international Web conference in Switzerland. Larson, his wife, worked at graphic design.

As the company grew, workers were spread out across the country and conversed online, Levine said.

The work was done on computers. Even some of the hiring was done based on work seen online, he said.

The company has designed Web pages ranging from a virtual tour of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial to online versions of the Baltimore Sun, National Public Radio and National Geographic.

Last year, two of the employees were married in Arizona and some staff members met for the first time at the wedding, Levine said.

When they decided to find a site for the business, Levine, who grew up in Washington, said he had fond memories of visiting Shepherdstown, so he and his wife bought a house.

"We had 15 people working together out at our house at Steamboat Run," Levine said.

Other employees moved to the area.

"I love it down here," said Wendell Piez, senior scientist with Husky Labs, who moved here from New Jersey. "It's very accessible to places. People are really friendly."

Levine said so many software companies are located in Silicon Valley and northern Virginia that software designers and programmers deal only with others in the industry.

"Here we interact with poets and farmers and bakers," Levine said.

The state of West Virginia provided a loan for company to buy the building in Shepherdstown, he said.

The company still has some off-site employees who work online, but they have a place to come for twice- weekly meetings, Levine said.

The company has drafted a couple of local residents with computer skills and are looking for others, Levine said.

Currently, company employees are working less on Web page designs and more on software development. Chakra, software created by the company, is being released today to clients.

The program will enable users to put information on a hard drive, encode it and then move it to other users on the system who need the information, Levine said.

He sees the software being used by law firms and corporations that need a secure way of sharing information about lawsuits and legal documents as various legal teams work on cases at the same time.

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