It’s 1998, and life is still as pleasant and routine as ever across most of the city of Rochester, NY. Pleasant, because few pay much attention that their giving tree, Eastman Kodak, is beginning to report its first serious loss of profits. There’s no way to be sure if it’s a matter of naive ignorance, lack of foresight, or an unwavering show of faith, for what had been their economic pillar of light, strength, and resource for nearly a century. Either way, none knew how rocky the terrain beyond a Kodak-less Rochester could get.
Eighteen dark, declining years later: A refracted light at the end of the tunnel.
Over the past, near two decades, the city of Rochester has been ahead of the curve in all the wrong ways. The demise of the Kodak we knew (which at the time had grown to be most of all we knew), the center piece of much of our history, the place where your parents worked and you were going to work too, had left a gaping void of confusion. In what seemed to be very sudden, residents were out of jobs that had been their entire lives. Careers wiped from slates, and those slates then disposed of. The economic ripple effect soon after slammed other businesses and families. By the time the nationwide recession in the late 2000’s had come to light, Kodak had eliminated nearly 30,000 jobs, and demolished 80 buildings. They’re still coming down today, one being erased just 6 weeks ago. By the time the rest of the nation began suffering, Rochester, being one of the least impacted cities, had graduated to Greeter, welcoming others at the door, offering coffee and snacks, saying “Pull up a chair, welcome to the club.” For so long the people of our city have been wandering aimlessly, grasping for straws, and clamoring for anything resembling economic stability.
Enter stage left, Joe Biden.
The Vice President came to Rochester on Monday July 25th to officially announce what some had began reporting just briefly prior, that Rochester won. WE WON! TAKE THAT! THINK WE AIN’T GOT NOTHIN’ TO OFFER! WE SHOWED- wait, what did we win? We won a competitive country wide race to receive a nearly 700 million dollar federal grant to be the U.S.’s hub for the research, development, and manufacturing of photonic technology. Nearly no one knew, but we had a horse in this race for some time.
Cool. But what the hell is “Photonics”? You’re not here for a science lesson, so we won’t delve too deeply into the nitty gritty points and details. Photonics is a complicated manipulation of light, through lenses, lasers, and much more optic technology, focused, and harnessed. The basis of photonics started nearly 50 years ago with the development of fiber optics. Communications? Social media, and that internet you love so dearly? All early optic technology. It’s a science of refracting light into many different resources. Namely, power. It can be used for anything as complex and integrated as military weaponry, to something as simple as a battery.
Pick up your phone. If it’s a “modern” phone, it’s something along the lines of an iPhone, or a Galaxy/Android type of deal. Now, think to yourself, how long does the battery of that phone last? On a full charge, how far through the day do you get? Does it even last the day? Half the day even? What if someone told you that your iPhone/Galaxy could go for nearly TWO MONTHS on a single charge?
Two months? How often are you looking for your charger? A whole lot less often if your battery is still in the green after four weeks of regular use. A photonic battery, on paper (and in development), could power a modern day phone for nearly 60 days on a single charge. SIXTY DAYS. Throw away the ideas and commonalities of constant searches for electric life. And that is something as simple, and miniscule as a cell phone battery. What does one do with that kind of power and technology in say, a vehicle? Or a missile…
Again, we’re not here to try and teach you the science of photonics. We’re not handing out degrees. But we are here to discuss the bigger picture. What does all this nonsense really mean to us, and our city? To be blunt, a lot. It’s difficult to put into words what an industry like this means to Rochester. Mostly because we’ve lost that sense of our identity. The Flower City, birthplace of Kodak, home of the photographical technology boom, no longer has an industry of our own. We’ve gone without a local engine the likes of Kodak.
Photonics is here to quell that spell. With a business plan in place to create several development sites, including the Sibley building downtown, and business parks in Greece and elsewhere, there are thousands of jobs in creation. Jobs that generations before us grew up knowing, and more importantly, expecting. This could be the beginning of the end of Rochester’s economic joke. The culmination of our aimless treading water. Rochester, as a city, as a community, and as a whole, can regain an identity. A new identity. One we lost long ago, with the demise of a company that helped build who we are, and also ripped us down with its own collapse. This is an opportunity to refuel a populace burning with ambition, to reignite a nationally recognizable fire, that will be a part of a world wide technological revolution.