Two years after VP Biden visit, what's the state of photonics?

July 28, 2017 06:51 PM

Two years ago, former Vice President Joe Biden came to Rochester to announce the start of AIM Photonics.

We wanted to know: what has happened since?

There are two different things here. The thing the Vice President talked about was AIM Photonics. That is the federally-funded research and development group that is trying to invent photonic circuit boards so that photons power everything in the world.

I couldn't find their office here.

On the other hand I found people in the private sector and their job is photonics.

Just Google AIM Photonics. The website shows the old Kodak R&D building on Lake Avenue. So today that's where I went. I asked reception if I could get to the AIM Photonics office. The building receptionist told me they're not here yet.

"They're not here yet," I responded. "Okay."

But then I met Filipp Ignatovich.

Filipp Ignatovich, CTO Lumetrics: So I'm involved in making the instruments, developing the instruments that use laser light for the purposes of measuring things.

His jobs is in photonics. He is the Chief Technology Officer at Lumetrics in Henrietta. They make lasers to test things like contact lenses. He says he is one of 17,000 people in the photonics industry in Rochester.

Brean: 17,000?
Filipp Ignatovich, CTO Lumetrics: 17,000 yes.
Brean: That's got to be one of the largest groups of employed people in our community. 

Filipp Ignatovich: Yeah, absolutely.

He says since the Vice President came to Rochester, AIM Photonics has been ordering and building equipment and software.

Filipp Ignatovich, CTO Lumetrics: You know some people might say that two years is a long time but when it comes to a cutting edge technology, a careful planning is paramount.

Tom Battley, New York Photonics Rochester: If this was our money, and incidentally it is our money, I would say I'm highly confident and it's been money well invested.

Tom Battley is the Executive Director of New York Photonics. He showed me a map of all the photonics based companies in town.

What's the point?

He says the science says photonics will make everything we use -- from our phone to our cars -- work faster and more efficiently.

Tom Battley, New York Photonics Rochester: You won't have to wait for your Netflix movies to buffer anymore.

100,000 manufacturing jobs lost

The number of manufacturing jobs in Rochester declined by almost 100,000 since 1970.

The job numbers were compiled by John Bacheller, a former employee for Empire State Development. Look what he posted on his blog: In 1970 there were 152,000 manufacturing jobs in Rochester. By 2014, it was under 62,000.

John Bacheller, Empire State Development (retired): Most of the economy in Rochester today, 90% of the jobs are outside manufacturing.
Brean: So what's the solution here then?
John Bacheller, Empire State Development (retired): One clear issue is that to the extent that people can get more training get through four years of college, they're likely to have better job prospects. The people who are really being hurt are the people who have high school educations or less.

When I heard that I went to MCC. Friday, 14 high school students graduated the college's advanced manufacturing experience. Emily Russell showed me her precision manufacturing work. She's from Rush-Henrietta.

Emily Russell, graduate Summer Advanced Manufacturing Experience: Having a stable job is really important to me because I come from a family where money is kind of an issue.

By doing what they did this summer, these students are already one step ahead because, according to MCC, 99 percent of the jobs in our area require some education after high school.

Robert Lasch, MCC Applied Technology Center: But it may only be a technical certificate. It may be a two-year degree.

Robert Lasch is the director of the Applied Technology Center at MCC.

Brean: And are there job openings out there in this industry? 

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Robert Lasch, MCC Applied Technology Center: It is incredible. As the coordinator here at MCC I typically have in my precision machining program somewhere between three and five positions for each graduate coming out of the program. We literally cannot keep up with the demand that is out there right now.


Berkeley Brean

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