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Photonics ranks as top story

Photonics was king in the Rochester area in 2015, according to surveys taken at year-end by the Rochester Business Journal.

Rochester’s selection as the headquarters site for the $600 million American Institute for Manufacturing Integrated Photonics topped both newspaper readers and editorial department staff lists as the top local business story of 2015.

News the photonics institute would be based in Rochester was announced in July. The story was cited by 73 percent of RBJ readers and 100 percent of the RBJ staff.

The surveys were conducted Dec. 18 to Dec. 23 and included roughly 380 readers and 13 staff members. Participants were asked to name the top five local business news stories of 2015.

AIM Photonics is a manufacturing consortium that will focus on the design, manufacture, testing, assembly and packaging of integrated photonic devices. Among the lead universities are SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology.

Thomas Battley, executive director of the Rochester Regional Photonics Cluster, this week said it is gratifying for Rochester to be recognized for the leadership role it plays in the optics/photonics industry.

“The investments that New York State has made in photonics at SUNY Polytech and along the Thruway corridor, coupled with Rochester’s legacy and our preeminence in this field, will continue to pay off,” Battley said.

Both readers and RBJ staff picked the Finger Lakes region being named one of three $500 million winners of the Upstate Revitalization Initiative competition as the second-biggest news story of the year with 59 percent of readers picking it and 77 percent of RBJ staff.

In December it was announced the region was among three winners of the state’s $1.5 billion URI competition. The Southern Tier and Central New York regions also were selected as $500 million recipients. Funding will be distributed over a five-year period.

The competition replicated the Buffalo Billion initiative, a program that focused on jumpstarting the Western New York region, officials said.

Projects exhibiting a regionwide impact received priority, state officials said, especially those strengthening infrastructure, revitalizing communities, bolstering workforce development, growing tourism and improving quality of life.

The three pillars of the Finger Lakes’ submission were optics, photonics and imaging; agriculture and food production; and what officials described as next-generation manufacturing and technology at hub locations, including the Eastman Business Park, the Western New York Science and Technology Advanced Manufacturing Park in Genesee County and the Rochester Downtown Innovation Zone.

Battley noted Rochester can be a national leader in the areas of optics, photonics and imaging not just with AIM, but also with the Upstate Revitalization Initiative, adding that the region has 100-plus optics, photonics and imaging companies.

Robert Duffy, president and CEO of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, ranked the two top stories as 1 and 1A.

“Both are the best news possible in 2015,” Duffy said, noting both have the potential to be job generators.

Duffy, who is chairman of the AIM Photonics Leadership Council, said the Rochester-Finger Lakes region is moving in the right direction and building momentum.

“There will always be setbacks, but we’ve had far more good news than bad this year,” he said.

Among Duffy’s New Year’s resolutions are continuing to help break down barriers and encourage more teamwork to help advance the region further.

Patrick Smith, director of business development for the Center for Governmental Research Inc., believes the $500 million state award was the top story of the year. He cites his reasons: not only was the region one of the winners, it also provides a detailed roadmap for success and growth in the region, addressing four key objectives—grow jobs, increase regional wealth, drive private investment and reduce poverty.

The ripple effect of the money “will help position Rochester and the Finger Lakes region as a national and global leader for years to come,” Smith said. “This is truly a game changer for our region.”

Readers and RBJ staff differed on their pick for the third top business story in 2015. Readers chose the continuing trend of outlying hospitals affiliating or merging with the region’s two big health sys-tems—University of Rochester Medical Center and Rochester Regional Health.

The newspaper’s editorial staff chose the creation of the Rochester Anti-Poverty Task Force, which was launched to combat poverty and fight inequality in the city, as the third top business story.

Both groups noted the importance of the new, nearly $200 million Golisano Children’s Hospital opening and the re-development of downtown Rochester continuing.

Readers also selected MasterLock Co’s announcement it was closing the SentrySafe plant it acquired, affecting 300 local workers, and Cheryl Dinolfo succeeding Maggie Brooks as Monroe County executive.

RBJ staffers picked Harris Corp.’s $4.75 billion acquisition of Exelis Inc. as a top business story in 2015. The firms employ more than 3,200 workers locally.

Some reader respondents had questions or concerns over the 2015 news events.

J.A. DePaolis of Penfield wrote that he is encouraged so many things happened in 2015, but he believes the most important are those that translate to more local jobs.

Frances Reese, of Reese Environmental Consulting LLC, wondered how many of the new businesses in the region have been attracted with incentives, such as tax breaks and payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements.

“Are the jobs that they are bringing in equal or greater in numbers to those that are being lost?” Reese wrote. “At what cost do these public incentivized jobs come to (New York)? Is it a good deal for taxpayers?”

1/4/2016 (c) 2016 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.

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