Photonics HQ confusion exposes lack of unified vision, leadership in Rochester region

Legacy Tower is at the center of a public debate between Rochester leaders on the pending location of a photonics center.
Legacy Tower is at the center of a public debate between Rochester leaders on the pending location of a photonics center.

An edited version of this blog also appeared
via Democrat and Chronicle on Aug. 18, 2015 and in print on Aug. 22, 2015 p. 17A, “Consider the big picture.”

Last night, the Albany bureau of the Democrat and Chronicle reported on public announcements from opposing sides of the debate on where to locate a proposed headquarters for AIM Photonics. This public and embarrassing display of disconnect among area business and community leaders demonstrates why Rochester remains as dysfunctional as ever. More importantly, it exposes community-wide shortcomings for a region in dire need of a refreshed economic development policy.

The photonics center is expected to initially employ an estimated staff of 100 employees comprised of both subject-matter experts and scientists. However, on Aug. 3, a panel on WXXI’s Connections with Evan Dawson concluded many of the job opportunities related to the photonics center may emerge from adjacent areas, including the design and manufacture of precision tools. This assessment corresponds with a nationwide call for the growth and development of much-needed “middle-skills” jobs.

Instead of hand wringing over the location of a single building, area leaders should invest valuable time and media coverage into a comprehensive plan that integrates area resources into a strategic roadmap for economic advancement in the Rochester region. These assets include Rochester’s Federal designation as a “manufacturing community” and ongoing work at Monroe Community College and Finger Lakes Community College to enhance middle-skills training. Instead, this recent debacle continues Rochester’s tradition of crafting headlines on the parochial needs of commercial real estate investment versus the needs of workers, residents, and small business owners.

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