Photonics Institute: 5 Months of Planning Ahead

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Many questions remain about Rochester's new photonics institute, including how many jobs will be created, where research and manufacturing will take place and when all of this will unfold.

"What it will look like is basically the discussion we will have here in a few minutes," said Michael Liehr, a vice president in the SUNY Polytechnic system.

News 8 caught up with Liehr Tuesday morning as he headed into a meeting with the Department of Defense, which chose Rochester as the site of the photonics institute. Liehr helped write the application, which has not been made public. News 8 has filed an open records request with the DoD for the document.

"When we made our proposal, we had only input from industry and academia and not from the DoD. So the whole intent in the next few months is to include the DoD, maybe some course corrections based on what they would like to see, since they are a substantial investor in this," said Liehr. "Then go out and specifically say these are the projects that will be done. These are the people that will do this, how much is it going to cost and what are the key milestones, deliverables. That's for the next few months."

Five months to be exact. Liehr said the DoD wants a map of projects by the end of the year. The DoD is investing $110 million. The state is investing $250 million. Universities and private companies are investing more than $200 million.

Liehr has some experience putting a massive effort like this together. He played an integral role in the success of SUNY Polytechnic's nanotechnology facility in Albany. There are 3,500 scientists employed there. Another 7,000 jobs were created at partner companies and support companies. The effort gained steam about 10 years ago.

Last year, Albany gained 700 manufacturing jobs, while Rochester lost 1,100.

Liehr is using the Albany nanotech model for Rochester photonics. His boss, SUNY Polytechnic CEO Alain Kaloyeros, called the photonics institute Rochester's version of the Buffalo Billion.

"Look at the example of Albany. Even though there isn't always a blueprint for the exact steps that will happen, after a while you look back and see wow, this really was a big step," said Liehr. "We expect it. It is clearly a key emerging technology. We're putting all the pieces in place and hopefully time will tell and you'll all be happy about it."

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