Although the International Day of Light (May 16) is over, the glow of the Tucson optics industry grows brighter.
For Tucson, light plays a major role in its economic development. There are so many Tucson optics and photonics businesses that they dominate the membership of the Optics Valley Committee, a statewide effort to strengthen the state’s optics industry. Another bright spot is that the University of Arizona College of Optical Sciences in Tucson educates more students in optics than any other institution in the country.
I believe these kinds of credentials led the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to fund a regional innovation cluster in optics for Arizona. The cluster, like 13 others around the U.S., encourages connections among geographically related businesses, suppliers, service providers and institutions. These efforts aim to create innovation, jobs and economic growth. I’ve detailed how and why this is in my 2019 white paper, “TUCSON, ARIZONA: ARIZONA’S OPTICS ADVANTAGE.”
The SBA awarded $500,000 with an option for four more years to foster an Optics Valley in Arizona. It was one of seven new clusters announced in April 2019, including concentrations in bioscience, agriculture and advanced energy. The contract will support the Optics Valley Committee’s effort to increase its membership and provide programs and services.
“These seven new clusters are particularly well suited to focus on rural small-business creation that will bring much-needed education, training and expertise to support small-business growth in rural locations across our country,” said Allen Gutierrez, SBA associate administrator for the office of entrepreneurial development.
This set of awards focused on supporting small-business creation and growth in rural communities and in federally designated OPPORTUNITY ZONES. Business consultancy Strategy1 was awarded the contract to lead the cluster. It will partner with the Arizona Technology Council, of which the Optics Valley Committee is an initiative. Other partners include Pima Community College and the UA’s Tech Launch Arizona and Tech Parks Arizona.
“Our goal is to position Optics Valley as the leading organization for galvanizing optics innovation and talent and to provide a central network for established optics leaders,” said Optics Valley Committee Co-Chair John Dennis. Dennis also is president and co-founder of Strategy1, which is located in Tucson.
Optics Valley plans to use the funding to:
- Help optics and photonics companies with workforce development, mentoring, coaching and professional programs.
- Support incubator programs and provide assessments and education that lead to forming and developing new entrepreneurial optics and photonics companies.
- Market the Arizona optics industry as crucial to future technological development.
“The SBA contract will provide the additional resources needed to achieve our goal of making the Arizona optics industry a recognized world leader in the innovation economy,” said Steven G. Zylestra, Arizona Technology Council president and CEO.
Tucson’s optics community will play significant roles in growing this regional innovation cluster. Aside from the local partners, several Southern Arizona supporters will be called upon: invention and technology creation are expected to come from the UA’s optical sciences college, the BIO5 Institute and the Steward Observatory.
Startup Tucson, the Southern Arizona Leadership Conference and Tucson Metro Chamber will be asked to provide networking opportunities. The Arizona Commerce Authority and the Small Business Development Corporation also are among this support community.
Optics and photonics companies can look to Tucson to find specialized commercial space to lease or buy. This includes within opportunity zones, also known as O-zones, which in Tucson include large tracts of land dedicated to high-tech and innovation operations.
Companies and startups also take advantage of an established ecosystem that includes venture capital, business development and a skilled workforce. And Tucson is well positioned as a Southwest logistics and transportation hub.
As one of those industry service providers that the SBA wants to support, I’m glad that the funding will help Optics Valley take what works in the Tucson optics community to other parts of the state. That will bring economic light to all of Arizona.
Contact MICHAEL CORETZ to learn more about the Tucson optics industry and sites that are available for lease or development.
More information: “TUCSON, ARIZONA: ARIZONA’S OPTICS ADVANTAGE”