Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance to Align Optics Companies

by Luke Jones  on Monday, Aug. 12, 2013 12:00 am  

Two optics entrepreneurs are working to unite the state’s photonics manufacturing industry.

The players: Walter Burgess, vice president of sales and engineering at Power Technology Inc. in Alexander, and Kirk Warden, vice president of LaCroix Optical Co. in Batesville. About 18 months ago, the pair set out to create the Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance, a cluster of all the companies in the state that are opto-electric manufacturers. Such companies build products that involve light and vision, particularly lasers.

“I would generally describe photonics as a marriage of photons and electronics,” Burgess said.

“It goes into all sorts of different equipment,” Warden said.

Power Technology, for example, was founded in 1969 and manufactures laser diodes for several industries. LaCroix, established in 1947 in Chicago, later moved to Batesville and constructs optical glass mainly to be used in microscopes and other products, typically for the medical industry.

“Both Walter and I go to trade shows, and we are involved in our industry,” Warden said. “We see these clusters seem to work in the areas like Rochester, N.Y., Tucson, Ariz., and south Florida. It’s a really good industry, nationwide, and we’d love to see that type of industry grow in the state of Arkansas.”

Warden said the survival of the state’s photonics industry through the recession gave him hope that it could be further bolstered in the state.

“If we can promote this industry within the state, it’s good for the state,” he said. “Maybe another opto-electric manufacturer will move in and create more customers for us. Then you also have the possibility of partnering with some of these companies. The colleges may pick up on it and start developing opto-electric programs, and now you start getting a trained workforce from operators all through engineers.”

Forming the Cluster

Putting together an industrial alliance hasn’t been an easy task, however.

First, the pair identified how companies would qualify for the alliance and chose 11 that fit into their criteria. Burgess estimates their combined revenues total more than $75 million and they employ more than 500 workers.

They are:



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