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As U.S. Defense Systems Become Increasingly Reliant On Advanced Precision Optics Tech, Partnership Between AmeriCOM And DoD Will Address Precision Optics Supply Chain And Workforce Development Issues

Reps Say Partnership Between Federal Government, Private Industry, And Academia Will Help Meet Nationwide Demand For Skilled Optics Technicians

Reps: Public-Private Partnership Will Make Rochester Optics Industry A Sight To See

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, and U.S. Congressman Joseph Morelle today announced that the Rochester-based American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM) has been selected for a five year $34 million grant from the Department of Defense’s (DoD) Office of Industrial Policy program to launch a nationwide public-private Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership – also known as the Defense Precision Optics Workforce Development and Technology Ecosystem Project – between the U.S. government, industry, and academia. The partnership will boost the domestic precision optics industry by identifying gaps in the precision optics defense industrial base and undertaking new R&D to solve the industry’s technical challenges, thereby securing the supply chain.  Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Congressman Morelle secured $11.5 million in the Fiscal Year 2020 and 2021 omnibus appropriations legislation for the DoD to stand up this pilot program.

Additionally, as part of the partnership and as precision optics manufacturers experience a critical workforce shortage, AmeiCOM aims to create a nationwide network to attract and train specialists for the industry, especially skilled optics technicians. The representatives revealed that even in a optics industry hub like Rochester, the region suffers a shortage of more than 550 precisions optics technicians per, proving the dire need for the AmeriCOM project.

“Rochester is a proven leader in the precision optics industry, and the AmeriCOM partnership with the DoD means that in addition to securing the domestic supply chain, the region will play a direct hand in preparing Upstate New Yorkers for good-paying, in-demand jobs that are vital to our national security,” said Senator Schumer. “The funding announced today will boost the domestic precision optics industry and revolutionize optics tech and manufacturing, as well as the Finger Lakes workforce. It’s the first step to ensuring that all of New York and the entire nation has the workforce it needs to attract, build, and sustain a strong precision optics industry.”

“Precision optics manufacturers have long experienced a shortage of skilled workers, and Rochester will play a uniquely important role in sustaining this ever growing industry that is critical to national defense,” said Senator Gillibrand, chair of the Senate Armed Services Personnel Subcommittee. “Our national defense is increasingly reliant on optics tech and specialized technicians, and this AmeriCOM partnership with the DoD will help meet the demand of the moment, train the next generation of optic specialists, and bring career opportunities to Rochester, the Finger Lakes, and Upstate New York. Rochester remains one of the world’s greatest destinations for the precision optics industry and I’m proud to deliver this funding for the region.”

“Our community has long been a leader within the optics industry and this multi-year, public-private partnership with AmeriCOM will further bolster our regional economy, ensuring we remain competitive on the global stage,” said Congressman Morelle. “Investments in innovation and emerging technologies are critical to the future success of our nation and the optics companies in my district whose work is in high demand. That is why I helped create the Congressional Optics and Photonics Caucus and why I am proud to have helped secure this award that will strengthen our national security, create critically needed, good-paying jobs, and ensure a brighter future for the entire Rochester community.”

“Monroe Community College is committed to addressing the growing need for a skilled optics workforce,” said Dr. Todd Oldham, Vice President, Economic and Workforce Development and Career Technical Education at MCC. “We are leading the way in our region and across the nation to expand optics education and shine a light on the importance of optics to the national workforce.”

“The precision optical systems that our Armed Forces depend upon in the air, on the water, and on the ground, also permeate the average citizen's daily lives in their cars, on their phones, in public safety, and in consumer products,” said Tom Battley, AmeriCOM Vice President. “One cannot overstate the importance of maintaining a strong competitive posture in this industry. That includes new manufacturing technologies as well as the highly skilled technicians to implement them. That's the AmeriCOM mission.” 

The funding announced today was awarded from the DoD’s Industrial Base Analysis and Sustainment (IBAS) Program. Schumer, Gillibrand, and Morelle previously worked to secure $7.5 million in funding into the DoD’s FY2020 budget and $4 million in its FY2021 budget to create the DoD’s precision optics manufacturing pilot program in order to address the precision optics industry’s supply chain and workforce development issues.

Optics technology is ubiquitous in American society, in everything from barcode scanners and glasses to high-power lasers and nuclear threat identification. In the military, defense, and security sectors specifically, precision optical devices are used for night vision capabilities, surveillance systems, airborne telescope systems, infrared, high-resolution imaging by reconnaissance planes and satellites, missile guidance and deterrence, and etc. The representatives noted, given the importance of optics technology in the military, programs like the one being funded today are critical to the nation’s national security and defense needs.

Senator Schumer, Senator Gillibrand, and Representative Morelle’s original letter to the DoD on behalf of AmeriCOM appears below:

Dear Under Secretary Lord, 

We are pleased to write in support of the American Center for Optics Manufacturing (AmeriCOM) proposal to strengthen and advance America’s optics industry to meet the critical needs of our defense readiness. AmeriCOM would leverage the established optics industry in the Rochester, NY region with partners from industry and leading academic institutions in locations across the nation to attract and train next-generation workers for skilled precision optics jobs and to support innovation.

As defense systems are becoming increasingly reliant on advanced precision optics technology, we appreciate the Department of Defenses’ (DoD) efforts to help America’s precision optics manufacturers foster a skilled optics industry workforce and support the manufacturing needed to maintain U.S. leadership in this technology.  Currently, precision optics manufacturers are experiencing a critical workforce shortage, especially in filling skilled optical technician positions. A report released by Monroe Community College revealed that even in optics industry hubs like Rochester, the region suffers from a shortage of more than 550 precision optics technicians per year. However, increasing demand from the DoD is driving the need for new innovative advances in precision optics, pushing U.S. optics manufacturers to increase R&D and production. This new demand for optics technology is welcomed, but requires support to assist industry in scaling production, including expanding their skilled workforce.

AmeriCOM’s proposal addresses these challenges by creating a nationwide public-private Defense Precision Optics Consortium partnership between the U.S. Government, industry, and academia to identify gaps in the precision optics defense industrial base and undertake new R&D to solve industry’s technical challenges. Additionally, AmeriCOM would create a nationwide network to attract and train a specialized workforce for the industry, focusing specifically on meeting the nationwide demand for skilled optics technicians. 

We believe AmeriCOM’s proposal is well suited to advance the objectives of the DoD’s National Imperative for the Industrial Skills (NIIS) Cornerstone Initiative Request (CIR CS-20-1601. We are pleased to offer our support and thank you for your consideration.