News10NBC Spotlight ~ Photonics industry employs up to 18,000 people in Rochester

No turkey here. Photonics industry employs up to 18,000 people

July 03, 2019 11:21 AM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — News10NBC investigators exposed a laughable situation with a empty building that doesn’t pay a penny in school taxes. When we were there, we found a wild turkey nesting outside the front of the building.

The building located at 115 Canal Landing Blvd. is owned by an entity called Fuller Road Management Corporation. Fuller Road Management Corporation is located at the same address at SUNY Polytechnic Institute, the state’s high tech college in Albany.

According to the corporation’s website, Fuller Road Management “plans, designs, develops, constructs, owns, operates and leases facilities” to help “promote the economic development and competitiveness of New York State by encouraging and facilitating the transfer of technology resources to the marketplace.”

But while the building in Greece may be empty, the private industry it’s connected to puts food on the table for thousands of local families.

Four years ago, News10NBC was in the now-empty building and heard the promises to employ thousands of people in something called AIM Photonics. As of late last year, seven people work for AIM.

But the private industry employs thousands.

That includes a company called Moondog Labs in Fairport. News10NBC’s Brett Davidsen highlighted the company recently in our Small Business Spotlight.

Moondog makes a device that fits on a smartphone and shoots a wide-angle video. Directors are using this to make movies.

I reached the co-founder Julie Gerstenberger on Skype. Gerstenberger started the company after 25 years at Kodak.

“Everyone would like to see something really visible, something large. You know, a Kodak,” said Gerstenberger. “A B&L employing tens of thousands of people. And instead what we have are companies employing 50 people, employing 10 people.”

Moondog employs 12 people.

Tom Battley is the Executive Director of New York Photonics. On his front steps, he showed me the map of photonics and optics companies in Rochester. He says the industry has approximately 150 companies and support companies while employing 17,000 to 18,000 people.

Chief Investigative Reporter Berkeley Brean: “Strikes me as a lot of jobs.”

Tom Battley, Executive Director New York Photonics: “(It) is 1 in 14 families in the region.”

Brean: “Involved in this industry.”

Battley: “Right.”

I talked to Battley and Gerstenberger after my story last week on the empty building in a sprawling complex in Greece. In July of 2015, it was hailed as the new home of AIM Photonics and the news was so big, it got then-Vice President Joe Biden to visit the facility with the governor, the head of SUNY Polytechnic and a who’s-who of local politicians.

But my investigation showed the building was never used and last year it paid nothing in school, town or county tax.

AIM Photonics moved to a former Kodak building on Lake Avenue where it is testing and packaging new photonics inventions. Battley likens the research of aim photonics to the Apollo moon mission.

“Nobody knew how to get there yet,” said Battley. “But we took off and created the possibility and then became experts at space exploration.”

Battley says there are currently 400 open job positions in the photonics and optics industry in Rochester and the Finger Lakes.

In a statement to me last week, Steve Ference, director of communications of SUNY Poly wrote “the building is currently being prepared for sale. We expect the RFP to be issued in the near future.”

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New York Photonics is a not-for-profit organization founded to promote and enhance the New York State optics, photonics and imaging industry by fostering the cooperation of business, academia and government.

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