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Future is Bright for Rochester Photonics Industry

Rochester, New York is bursting with energy, photonic energy! The New York (NYSTAR) MEP Center, aka High Tech Rochester, is a key player in the revitalizing this industry, along with various economic and business development entities in the Rochester region.

To strengthen and grow this industry the Rochester region has received three grants; the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator, (AMJIAC) the Advanced Manufacturing Technology Consortia Program (AMTECH), and the Investing in Manufacturing Communities designation (IMCP). They are also gearing up to apply for a more significant and larger scale program, the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, in order to further grow the optics and photonics industry.

In 2012, the AMJIAC initiative awarded the Rochester Regional Optics, Photonics, and Imaging Accelerator Program a $1.88 million federal grant to help speed the growth of 50 small and medium-sized optics, photonics and imaging companies in the Rochester region, using the resources from MEP’s High Tech Rochester, the University of Rochester (UR), the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster, Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), the Finger Lakes Community College (FLCC), and Monroe Community College (MCC). The state is contributing $200,000 to the effort, along with another $700,000 being contributed by private organizations.

The AMJIAC accelerator program includes networking events, workshops and seminars, an increased presence at trade shows, market research, and collaborative research. Participating companies are receiving assessments and recommendations for improvements from business professionals. There are programs to improve manufacturing processes and strengthen sales efforts. And UR, RIT, FLCC and MCC are working together to develop new training programs for workers.

"Rochester has been, since 1853, since the founding of Bausch + Lomb, the center of the optics industry in the United States," said Paul Ballentine [1], deputy director of the Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences at the University of Rochester. In the Rochester region, photonics and related fields such as optics and imaging account for about 17,000 jobs at more than 75 companies. Statewide, the industry supports more than 25,000 jobs at 300 companies across New York State. The global market is about $500 billion with the Finger Lakes region accounting for about 1 percent of that market. The optics industry is "morphing into something more broad called photonics," Ballentine said.

In recent years optics and photonics industries in Rochester have been diversifying beyond large companies like Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch + Lomb Inc. The local industry now features mostly smaller companies, which are more agile and innovative. However, these companies do not have the same resources or staffing for research and development. That's why government funding is vital to help Rochester spur new companies and grow existing ones. Developments in photonics are expected to lead to a transition from electron-based devices to products and systems that use photons — or light — to operate to fiber optics. This change is expected to make devices that are smaller, much faster and more energy efficient. Fiber optics is a key technology in the IT and telecom businesses, and the market for digital imaging applications and flat panel displays is growing exponentially.

The photonics industry is poised for explosive growth and Rochester is the place it will happen. Yes, YOU need Rochester and photonics! Nearly all of the data handled by cell phones, cable TV, the Internet, and radio requires photonic technology in lasers, fiber optics, and optical detectors at some point between the source and the destination. Watch the video below to witness a day in one's life without this ubiquitous technology.

Keep your eyes on Rochester for the next few years!



1 Rochester Tries to Grow with Photonics Industry, Democrat & Chronicle, June 15, 2014.

Area Gets Leg Up on $1.3B in Manufacturing Funds, Democrat & Chronicle, May 28, 2014.

About the author

Heidi Sheppard

Heidi Sheppard serves on the Partnership Team at the National Institute of Standards and Technology's Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP) developing strategic partnerships and making connections that further MEP's mission. She is the lead for the Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge grant, the Maker to Manufacturer initiative, the Start Up, Rural and Very Small Manufacturing firms engagement, and the current study on the Value of Industrial Design for Small Manufacturers. She seeks out new opportunities for the MEP System, makes connections and grows partnerships.

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