Clean rooms like those in the new AIM Photonics lab at Eastman Business Park will be hard for health and defense sector operations eager to take the next step with light technology.
AIM Photonics is ready to open for business. Media and members of the state photonics board toured the two-floor space where integrated photonics testing, assembly and packaging (TAP) will bring to light a new generation of technology.
In photonics, packaging is a crucial process that makes silicon wafers functional. That allows photonics technology to be used in devices like mobile phones.
"Clearly, this is going to be a great economic driver for this region," said Bob Duffy of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce. "You're seeing it already. UR, RIT our universities are online here. Customers are trying to get in."
"There's definitely enough interest in this, to the point where we're actually struggling to keep up with it at this stage," said Michael Liehr, AIM Photonics’ CEO.
Even if this stage has not led to significant job growth here: just seven people work at AIM Photonics currently. The company’s first client will be welcomed next month, meaning the number of employees could reach as high as 50.
Some officials are trying to downplay how big a jobs creator the lab will be, despite earlier projections.
When Rochester won a national competition for the photonics institute, Vice President Joe Biden and Governor Andrew Cuomo hailed AIM Photonics as a regional economic game-changer. The late Congresswoman Louise Slaughter estimated the center would produce 6,000 jobs.
Board members recognized her efforts at their first gathering Monday morning, but remained sensitive about the public's jobs expectations.
"You can't walk those comments back," Duffy said. "People directly involved with the project, who I worked with, never said that."
The photonics board cast the center as the place where established companies and small tech firms will come to test and make new light-driven tech that will change our world.
"This is not going to be the generator of jobs per say, itself," said John Maggiore of the New York State Photonics Board of Officers. "Jobs will come about because of the type of research that will be done here.”
Vince Esposito, Empire State Development's Finger Lakes regional director, said the state would move forward with $30 million in support for the project, bringing the total amount of federal and state support to date to $217 million. More than $350 million in government funding had been projected for the initiative.
During tours Monday, AIM Photonics showed how it paid for new equipment, including the crane to lift it into the center's fourth and fifth floor lab areas at 1965 Lake Avenue. AIM Photonics will also make room for a firm that will manufacture in a space previously designated for other use; part of an unplanned sustainability opportunity that will help keep the light on here.