Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance to Align Optics Companies

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

  • AGL Lasers, Jacksonville
  • BEI Precision Systems & Space Co. Inc., Maumelle
  • InvoTek Inc., Alma
  • LaCroix Optical Inc., Batesville
  • LaserAim Tools Inc., Little Rock
  • LaserTools Co. Inc., Little Rock
  • Power Technology Co. Inc., Alexander
  • Scan Solutions of North America Inc., Royal
  • Snap-On Tools Co. LLC, Conway
  • Space Photonics Inc., Fayetteville
  • Vivione Biosciences, Pine Bluff

These companies have a wide range of products: BEI builds optical encoders that are used by NASA and the U.S. military. Space Photonics develops laser and fiber optic communications systems, and in June it won a $332,000 contract from the U.S. Department of Defense. Vivione uses photonic tech to detect infectious diseases.

Some of the others build photonics products, but they aren’t the company’s primary revenue source.

“We have a laser-sensing keyboard we make, so we’ve done some work in that area, but it’s a small part of all the things we do,” said Tom Jakobs, president of InvoTek.

But InvoTek qualified for the list because it’s involved in manufacturing photonics, even if it’s a small part of the company’s business.

“What we did is we felt that photonics should be led by industry, and we’re primarily an economic development group that wants to enhance the companies that are here,” Burgess said. “So we looked at who manufactures products here in the state.”

He said there are a few other companies in the state that sell, but do not manufacture, photonics products. There’s an even longer list — around 1,000 companies — that use photonics products, including big names like Verizon, Windstream Corp. and L’Oreal.

Burgess said the cluster will also include many of the colleges and universities in the state, but he said that’s not his first priority. Warden said he wants the cluster to be industry driven.

“We don’t want to be just a purely academic, theoretical group,” Burgess said. “We want to be action-oriented.”

After the list was made, Burgess and Warden attempted to hold the cluster’s first meeting at the Arkansas Small Business & Technology Development Center at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and the university voiced support, but very few of the companies showed up.

“We have tried to convene some meetings with companies that we’ve listed, but they haven’t been really well-attended,” Burgess said. “We’re in a phase where we’re trying to build membership and build a consensus among which members we should tackle.”

So why the low attendance?

“Geography plays a big role in it,” Burgess said. “A lot of the companies are spread out from Jonesboro to northwest Arkansas. It takes a lot to drive three hours to come to a meeting that’s only a couple hours long. We think that particular issue cropped up in some early meetings. We’re now looking for ways for technology to bring us together.”



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