News & Opinion » News

Feds, state renew commitment to AIM Photonics


A Rochester-based collaborative intended to advance the development and production of photonics devices will be funded for another seven years, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Monday.

The American Institute of Manufacturing Photonics will receive $165 million from the Air Force Research Laboratory and $156 million from an array of other sources, including governments, universities, and companies, according to a news release from Hochul’s office. New York state is putting $60 million that remains from the $250 million it put up to help fund the first five years of the institute.

“New York is already at the forefront of advanced optics and photonics, and this exciting award will further cement our place as a leader in global innovation,” House Rep. Joe Morelle said in a news release, adding that the funding presents opportunities to strengthen U.S. defense technologies.

Photonics circuits use light and optical devices in place of electricity and semiconductors. The technology is already in use, largely in telecommunications and computing, but the DOD sees potential for it to power a host of applications, from aircraft systems to high-tech imaging. Companies also see potential for consumer applications, such as imaging technologies for vehicle navigation, safety, and automation features.

Monday’s announcement, made via an e-mailed press release, differed starkly from the buzz and fanfare around the original announcement of the institute in 2015. Then-Vice President Joe Biden flew into Rochester and took to the stage with the region’s top elected leaders to announce that the Department of Defense had selected an application from a Rochester-based consortium, led by the SUNY Research Foundation but including University of Rochester and Rochester Institute of Technology, to lead a national photonics manufacturing institute.

Following several months of infighting, leaders selected a building adjacent to Eastman Business Park to serve as the institute’s headquarters and house the equipment necessary to make test runs of photonic circuits, which function using light instead of electricity. The Testing, Assembly, and Packaging Facility opened in 2018.

The DOD was to put $110 million toward the effort, while the state was to put in $250 million and another $250 million was to come from academic and industry partners and users. With the announcement came soaring promises from elected officials that the investment would create a bounty of jobs, with some predicting as many as 6,000 positions. Critics scoffed and have continued to ask how many jobs the funding created — they’ve also continued to argue that the state hasn’t gotten its money’s worth.

The state hasn’t been able to say how many jobs have grown out of the institute, beyond the 13 people that work at its Rochester headquarters, but it’s widely accepted that the number is nowhere near 6,000. Pinpointing that number is difficult to start with, since any new jobs would be with large and small companies in the region.

In May, Empire State Development and the SUNY Research Foundation responded to a CITY records request, filed in January, seeking, among other things, a breakdown of AIM Photonics’ revenues. In the responses, they reported that AIM Photonics had revenues of $355.7 million through the end of 2020. Of that funding, $129.1 million came from the federal government, $216.9 million from the state, and $9.7 million from industry and academic partners.

From the time it opened in 2018 through May 2021, the facility had 49 users in total: 17 were from academia, 15 were from large companies, and 11 were from startups. The rest were users from government or other organizations.

Jeremy Moule is CITY's news editor. He can be reached at [email protected].