The photonics institute being established in Rochester will benefit the world, Vice President Joe Biden told hundreds of people Monday.
The vice president was in town to announce what everyone in the room already knew — that Rochester is the winner of a fierce nationwide competition for the next in a series of public-private partnerships to boost advanced manufacturing.
“It’s great to be here,” Biden said, speaking from SUNY Polytechnic Canal Ponds in Greece where the institute will be established with more than $600 million in private and public investments, including $110 million from U.S. Department of Defense over five years.
“I came for one reason,” the vice president joked. “I thought Abby Wambach was going to be here,” he said referring to the Pittsford native professional soccer player who was part of the team winning the 2015 World Cup earlier this month.
The new institute will focus on cutting-edge research in integrated photonics, using multiple units of light on a single platform to improve the performance and reliability of telecommunications, radar, lasers and other technologies to help spark new growth in manufacturing, building on the area’s legacy of leading optical and photonics technology capabilities.
Photonics is the science of using and controlling photons — the smallest unit of light — to convey information and images.
Biden, a graduate of Syracuse University College of Law, noted it was appropriate the new institute will be in the home of Eastman Kodak, saying the city has gone from manufacturing Brownie cameras to lenses mapping the far side of Pluto.
He said the field of photonics is changing at an exponential rate, becoming smaller and more powerful, creating new possibilities such as super computers, broad band with 10 times its current capacity and cameras the size of a pill that can film the inside of arteries.
Biden said the technology will revolutionize medicine and strengthen the nation’s defense by allowing better detection of weapons and battlefield communications. He said it is part of a growing network to bridge the gap between research and product development.
Biden said he was criticized several years ago when he asked where it was written that the United States could not be the leading manufacturing in the world in the 21st century; that insourcing will replace outsourcing.
“We remain and continue to be the most innovative country in the world,” Biden said. “Innovation is who we are. This is the nation that is best positioned to lead the world in the 21st century.”
He said the U.S. is exporting at its highest level ever, has added 900,000 manufacturing jobs since the Great Recession and is the No. 1 choice for foreign investors who have invested $2.8 trillion, including $936 billion in manufacturing.
In order to keep its edge, Biden said the U.S. has to build the most modern infrastructure in the world and develop a highly skilled workforce trained in the latest technologies.
He lauded Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for his vision, saying it was the reason Rochester was so competitive.
“All the resources and manpower we need reside right here,” Biden said.
In turn, Cuomo credited several people, including Alain Kaloyeros, founding president and CEO of SUNY Polytechnic Institute for bringing nanotechnology to the state more than 20 years ago; U.S. Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, for her work in getting federal support; Joel Seligman, president of the University of Rochester, one of 20 university partners, along with Rochester Institute of Technology, represented by President William Destler.
“The vice president is no stranger to upstate New York,” Cuomo said. “He knows the challenges we have in upstate New York.”
He said when people ask him what happened to upstate New York, he tells them the state was not an aggressive partner in investing upstate, but is now putting its money where its mouth is, investing more than $250 million to equip, install and make operational the state-of-the-art Manufacturing Innovation Institute for Integrated Photonics, expected to bring thousands of advanced research and manufacturing jobs.
“The future doesn’t just happen,” Cuomo said. “You make your own destiny. You make your own future. Rochester, the future is here today. You did it.”
The Photonics Institute consists of more than 50 companies, 20 universities, 33 community colleges (include Monroe and Finger Lakes) and 16 nonprofit organizations across 20 states. It is hoped the investment will do for New York what Silicon Valley did for California. Advanced photonics research will be centered at SUNY Poly nanotechnology megaplex in Albany, SUNY Polytechnic Canal Ponds and Smart Technology and Commercialization facilities in Rochester and Canandaigua, the University of Rochester and RIT.
Slaughter called the announcement one of the greatest days in the history of Rochester — a game changer — saying she never fought harder to bring the manufacturing institute to Rochester.
She said more than three years ago, she begged everybody to come together to talk about photonics and the unique capabilities of the Rochester community.
“Coming together to tackle common challenges is what Rochester has always done,” Slaughter said. “Today, we take a great step forward. This is not new to us. It’s something we are extremely good at.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren said a little more than a year ago, she met with Biden in his Washington office, telling him how the city has changed and has its challenges. She said Biden told her he would do everything possible to become that beacon of hope.
She said she called Cuomo and told him Rochester could not be successful without his help and he put together the winning team.
“What a great day for the entire state and country,” said Kaloyeros. “The symbolism of Rochester can be seen here at Canal Ponds which was originally built for photonics manufacturing.”
He said the award brings Rochester full circle and back to what is does best — innovation and job creation. Kaloyeros, a professor of nanoscience, will serve as CEO of the new institute.
“What a great exciting day for our region,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, noting the total $625 million investment will be leveraged to create the jobs of tomorrow and the products of tomorrow that will be sold around the world.