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WATCH: How will photonics affect economy, job growth?

University of Rochester

Initial estimates for how many jobs the AIM Photonics Institute in Rochester would create were in the thousands, but according to some experts, that kind of economic growth is difficult to predict.

In the immediate future, the institute will create research jobs requiring advanced degrees, according to Paul Ballentine with the University of Rochester’s Center for Emerging Innovations and Science.

"At first, there will be only a few, and they’ll be high-level jobs. And when I say a few, I mean 100, or less than 100, and they will be bachelor’s, master’s, Ph.D.s, a few technicians’ jobs.”

Photonics is still an emerging science with a lot of research and development, and the labs where this R&D takes place are high-tech spaces that are expensive to build and maintain.

The idea behind the institute is to use the federal, state and private dollars to build state-of-the-art research spaces that companies can rent or lease to do their own R&D. Scientific breakthroughs will hopefully spur new products and technologies. That's where manufacturing comes in.

Bob Duffy is the CEO and president of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. He's also head of the AIM Photonics Leadership Council, and he says they're hoping to establish a large-scale manufacturing facility in Rochester. That site would specialize in packaging silicon wafers to make circuits and semi-conductors.

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Bob Duffy, who leads the AIM Photonics Leadership Council, says they're hoping to establish a large-scale manufacturing facility in Rochester.

"That would be a place where other companies who are in the semiconductor industry, wafer production, would have the packaging done here,” Duffy says. “And we're hoping to re-create a synergy in Rochester that will create jobs, create value for Rochester in this whole industry that really is permeating the country, and find our niche."

These facilities are also very specialized and very high-tech, and specialized technicians will be needed to work in them, according to Ballentine.

“A good percentage of those jobs will be middle-skills jobs at the associate’s degree level, where you’re working in factories and doing things like that,” Ballentine says.

Monroe Community College offers associate’s degrees in the field, and because of companies like Kodak, Bausch + Lomb and Xerox, the Rochester region already has optical technicians who fit the mold.

It's this ecosystem of skilled workers, research facilities and manufacturing plants that is expected to make Rochester an attractive place for companies to locate and not only develop their products but also be able to bring them to market more quickly. And hopefully, these companies will grow and create more jobs.

Putting an exact number on it, however, can be tricky. Kent Gardner is an economist with the Center for Governmental Research.

Credit WXXI News
"What we're trying to do is create a chain reaction here," economist Kent Gardner of the Center for Governmental Research says about photonics-related job creation.

"When we consider the number of jobs that might be created from the photonics institute, it's one of the things that unfortunately we don't know,” Gardner says. “We know it's going to be a lot, we know that there's going to be a significant investment, but what we're trying to do is create a chain reaction here."

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced two photonics companies were planning to move to Rochester. One of the companies, Avogy from Silicon Valley, California, makes chargers for laptops and phones and other devices.

"The computer chip that is in this charger is going to be built here, and developed, and refined here," Cuomo said in his announcement. "This is advanced manufacturing."

Not only will Avogy bring jobs here, and hopefully grow and create more jobs, Cuomo says, but they're also expected to indirectly influence the local job market. Local businesses could grow by partnering with Avogy to help with other aspects of business like distribution.

There is a lot of energy and excitement behind this, but, as Duffy cautioned, it’s going to take a lot more work for the institute to reach its full potential.

"If we are not careful and we’re not diligent about what we have here and what the opportunities are, then other areas of the country will work very hard to take those opportunities away."

This is the last in a three-part series on photonics. 

Veronica Volk is a Reporter/Producer for WXXI News. She comes from WFUV Public Radio, where she began her broadcasting career as a reporter covering the Bronx, and the greater New York City area. She later became the Senior Producer of WFUV’s weekly public affairs show, Cityscape. Originally from Ocean County, New Jersey, Veronica got her B.A. in Communication and Media Studies at Fordham University, concentrating on Media, Culture, and Society.
Sasha-Ann Simons joined the team at WXXI News as a Multimedia Reporter/Producer. She most often tells stories about the innovation economy and technology in upstate New York as part of a journalism collaborative, and is a fill-in host and regular contributor to WXXI-TV's weekly news magazine program, Need To Know.
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