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NY Photonics companies responsible for continuing industry's momentum.

Byline: Rochester Business Journal Staff

A Beatles song famously opens with "It was twenty years ago today / Sargent Pepper taught the band to play." To me, those words are about culture change. Twenty years ago, due in part to the decline of the Big Three, the Rochester area was facing a serious down turn in its reputation as the Image Capital of the World. A team of entrepreneurial-thinking optics and photonics professionals created the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster (RRPC): Christopher Cotton (ASE Optics), John Hart (Lumetrics), Bruno Glavich (Applied Image), Christopher Palmer (Richardson Gratings), Will Houde-Walter (Lasermax), Michael Foley (Reflexite), and John Herbrand, Esq.

The world knows us as New York Photonics.

From those early beginnings, what has the RRPC brought to New York and the Finger Lakes as part of changing the culture? Education and advanced training programs; an environment where start-ups are welcomed and companies collaborate as much as they compete; and a drive to keep Rochester relevant on the international stage.

We have nurtured and grown a technical ecosystem in Rochester that other states and nations envy. New York Photonics has led the way with pertinent, accessible networking and educational opportunities for our members and the public. We have driven a resurgence in the MCC Optics Program and created a dual-credit optics program taught at area high schools to over 200 students this year, setting the ground work for the next wave of our labor force.

New York Photonics has brought international optics and photonics conferences like SPIE Optifab to Rochester. Rochester now hosts Luminate, the largest optics and photonics start-up competition in the world, and now we are leading the effort to form AmeriCOM, the American Center for Optics Manufacturing. AmeriCom will be the focal point for a resurgence in American optics manufacturing focused heavily on areas of critical national need.

MCC's Optics program; optics taught in area high schools; Optifab; AIM Photonics; Luminate; the New York pavilion at Photonics West and other conferences; restoring the reputation of our region as the nation's center of optics, photonics and imaging.

We did all of that together.

A dear friend works at RIT. She is in a position to discuss career opportunities with students. In October, she had asked one of her students about his career plans.

"You have a skill set that would be valuable to a photonics company," she said. "Have you thought about applying to a local company, maybe AIM Photonics?"

"Neither me nor my fellow students would be interested in working in photonics in Rochester," he said. "It's too political."

Nobody in our industry, in research and development, in engineering, in company management, in manufacturing, in sales and marketing, people forging careers in optics and photonics and imaging, is responsible for that reputation.

What we are responsible for is changing it.

Let's face it, the $250 million that New York State put into AIM Photonics was our money. With over 17,000 employees working in the OPI industry in western New York, and paying New York State income taxes, we more than funded the New York share of AIM Photonics. And without the independent leadership of industry, there would be no AIM Photonics to boast about.

With our every success, there will be those crowding the stage to take the bow for something that they had little to do with. It is the way of the world.

We, not they, are the ambassadors for our industry.

Industry must lead OPI economic development, not government and the academe.

The 21st century has shown us that social media is a powerful force that can organize people and change public opinion. We need to become adept and active with it.

Participation in events and groups such as RRPC, ROSA and others are more important than ever, especially with outreach to schools and the community.

Engage with the student chapters of OSA and SPIE.

Help the RMSC become an international center of light.

Work with us to establish AmeriCOM, the American Center for Optics Manufacturing.

Publish, educate, reach out, encourage, promote, create, invite, develop.

Be a speaker. Encourage your employees to speak about our industry and how prevalent and important it is to our lives.

For two years, New York Photonics has been distributing a book that will help a layman understand the optics, photonics, and imaging (OPI) industry and its impact on our lives. The Applications of Photonics Infographics book is available free of charge at the Rochester Museum & Science Center's welcome desk. While at the RMSC, be sure to visit their excellent exhibition, Illumination: The World of Light & Optics. The book and exhibition will help you understand the industry and science that is so important in our lives todayfrom biophotonics in medicine, to consumer and automotive innovation, to aerospace and defense applications. You will then be in a better position to help us shed light on the unparalleled opportunity that the Finger Lakes OPI ecosystem enjoys today!

The New York Photonics Map is in demand, and our global brand, New York Photonics, is recognized around the world; this is what we can do when we work together.

Battley is Executive Director of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster, New York Photonics. Follow him on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.

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Publication:Rochester Business Journal
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Feb 25, 2019
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