Higher Education Is Key To Photonics Partnership

Jul 27, 2015

Education, business and government: The three way partnership that led to Rochester becoming home of a federal American Institute for Manufacturing in Photonics.

Credit University of Rochester

At least two of this area’s college presidents are ready for the challenge outlined by Vice President Joe Biden, who said a trained workforce is a key to success.

RIT President Dr. Bill Destler agrees.

"These are people that need to work with very, very fine materials. They need to work with very, very small structures, and they need to have the kind of training to make that possible. They'll get that at the community colleges, but they'll also get that at programs like the microelectronics program at RIT."

WXXI asked Destler: What happens in the first month?

"Very dull stuff, like actually getting the Institute organized, and figuring out how it's gonna operate, and where it's gonna operate. We're hoping that it may be located in the downtown area of Rochester - the Sibley building."

A point UR President Joel Seligman also made.

"I am absolutely determined that the administrative headquarters for AIM Photonics will be in the city of Rochester, preferably in the Sibley Building."

Seligman says what's happening in the Sibley building can help rebuild downtown. High Tech Rochester is there, and the UR and RIT are moving business incubators to the building.

Higher education plays a role in the Photonics Institute partnership. Dr. Alain Kaloyeros is president and CEO of the SUNY Polytechnic Institute. The announcement was on one of its campuses - at the Greece Canal Ponds Business Park.

"SUNY Polytechnic Institute is excited to work with our business and economic partners to continue to build Rochester's research footprint. Rochester is lucky to have one of the finest university presidents in the country, Joel Seligman. He's also a great champion for Rochester."

Dr. Kaloyeros says when the world looks for leadership in the field of photonics, it will look to Rochester.

RIT President Bill Destler calls the photonics announcement a game changer for RIT and the entire community. He expects the investment at his university could reach 50-million dollars.

"It's going to be a local attractor for international companies who basically want to be active in this space. They're gonna come to Rochester to find out what the secret sauce is, and we're going to be creating that right here."

Destler compares jobs in photonics to the old Kodak and Xerox jobs – requiring a skilled workforce. A workforce that will need training and he insists they can find it in Rochester. Destler suggests that photonics is more of what we do best here – optics, photonics and imaging and with assets not found elsewhere.

"Xerox is still a big employer around here and Kodak has still got four or five thousand people here. Both of those are imaging companies. So, I think we forget we have 50 to a hundred smaller companies working in this space. We have great universities that can work together, and they're kind of complimentary in many ways. We don't have a lot of duplicative strengths. But, together we actually have a lot of strengths across the board in imaging, optics and photonics."

As a parting comment, Destler told WXXI “shame on us if we don't take advantage of this opportunity.”