240 stakeholders converged at the Rochester Museum and Science Center’s Riedman Gallery on September 10 to interact with industry experts and thought leaders in a conversation about the National Photonics Initiative.
Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, representative 25th district, New York cohosted the meeting. Slaughter’s opening remarks emphasized Rochester’s leading role in optics, photonics and imaging for over a century, and the importance of photonics in medicine, energy research, defense and other industries. Slaughter also highlighted that in an industry so important to the 21st century, budget sequestration and threats to research dollars do little to bolster America’s competitive position internationally, but in fact destabilize research projects and the confidence of researchers in critical industries.
Steve Anderson, industry and market strategist for SPIE and Tom Hauskin, senior advisor, engineering and applications for the optical Society of America shared information with the full house about state of America’s National Photonics Initiative.
Anderson highlighted the high level and sustained level of government engagement with the photonics industry in nations like Taiwan, Korea, and the European Union, using Photonics 21, the European Union’s multinational strategic photonics roadmap as a perfect example of what America is up against competitively.
The National Photonics Initiative has identified five technical focus areas as critical to America’s competitive position:
- advanced manufacturing
- communications and IT
- defense and national security
- health and medicine
Hauskins presentation focused on a fragmented Photonics ecosystem, highlighting sources and locations of corporate R&D investment. One noteworthy revelation was that only 1 – 3% of corporate revenues go for research and development of novel products while as much as 7% goes to R&D for upgrading and mature products.
With boom era venture-capital financing on the wane and US government R&D spending flat, the president’s Council of advisors on science and technology (PCAST)issued a report in 2011 recommending the increase in R&D budgets for some national agencies, the strengthening of STEM education, and expanding the number of skilled foreign workers that may be employed by US companies.
The report suggested that America needs a coherent innovation policy. PCAST also highlighted that next generation optoelectronics, nanoscale carbon materials and nanotechnology enabled medical diagnostics, all photonics enabled technologies, were examples of promising technologies that face potential market failures in the US.
Jennifer Clark’s presentation focused upon policies that bolster economic resilience. She emphasized that the U.S. has no coherent innovation policy, the very least needed to compete with Industrial policies in other countries that have created stiff competition in markets that the U.S. once dominated.
According to Clark, America’s science, technology, and innovation (STI) policy and economic development strategies are spatially disconnected. Our STI is associated with national-scale agency funding, but economic development is at the state and local scale. This creates a large role for existing industry stakeholders — established industries, but not emerging industries.
Clark’s policy recommendations vis-a-vis the National Photonics Initiative:
- Connect national policy-making to regional specializations.
- Get serious about supporting SMEs. Invest capital in new products, not just new firms.
- Construct a distributed national network of innovation & development centers.
- Include process technologies (testing, certification, standards) Provide information.
- Invest in a specialized, skilled labor markets