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Schumer Doubles Down On Boosting Rochester As A Tech Research Hub; Following His Invitation, Senator Brings NSF Top Brass To University of Rochester To See How Finger Lakes Region Can Drive American Innovation and Jobs

Schumer’s U.S. Innovation & Competition Act Is Slated To Significantly Increase Federal Investment In Research And Workers, Strengthen Domestic Manufacturing To Fix Supply Chains And Lower Costs for Working Families

Schumer To National Science Foundation: From Rochester Laser Lab To A Topnotch Tech Workforce, The Finger Lakes Region Is Ready To Supercharge U.S. Tech Leadership

Following his personal invitation, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer today brought Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, Director of the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) to the University of Rochester to tour their research facilities and meet their students and researchers to show the NSF how the Finger Lakes region is ready to drive America’s tech leadership. On the tour, Schumer explained that his bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act will make significant investments in federal research and development (R&D), STEM education and workforce training, and domestic manufacturing. The senator said that Rochester and Upstate New York are very well positioned to compete for investment from these programs to help surge U.S. innovation, which is why he brought  the NSF Director to the area to show him firsthand the region’s incredible research facilities that, with further federal backing, can continue to make groundbreaking discoveries to ensure the U.S. continues to lead in critical technologies.

“We must increase investment in research and manufacturing to boost our nation’s global competitiveness and create good-paying jobs for working families across the Finger Lakes region and Upstate New York. That is why I wrote the bipartisan U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which will significantly scale support for research hubs like Rochester to ensure the nation remains on the cutting-edge of new innovations. I personally brought NSF Director, Dr. Sethuraman Panchanathan, to the University of Rochester to see firsthand how uniquely suited the Finger Lakes region is to receive further federal investment and drive not only the Upstate economy into the future, but the entire nation’s,” said Senator Schumer.

Schumer added, “The stakes are enormous. If we do not invest now in the research, development, and manufacturing of the technologies of today and of the future, we will be vulnerable to continued supply chain challenges that raise costs on working families and jeopardize U.S. jobs, U.S. competitiveness, and national security.”

On the tour, Schumer explained that the United States’ position as the unequivocal global leader in innovation is under pressure from other countries, like China. U.S. competitiveness and national security are being threatened by decades of U.S. underinvestment in research, manufacturing, and workforce development, coupled with foreign competitors stealing American intellectual property and aggressively investing to dominate the key technology fields of today and of the future. Schumer said that without a significant and sustained increase in investment in research, education and training, technology transfer and entrepreneurship, manufacturing, and the broader U.S. innovation ecosystem across the nation, it is only a matter of time before America’s global competitors overtake the U.S. in terms of technological primacy, threatening domestic supply chains, national security, and economic growth.

“NSF’s vision for the future of discovery and innovation is built around the idea of creating robust innovation ecosystems across the country that can drive science and engineering to new heights of success. What we have seen here today is an embodiment of this vision. I want to thank Majority Leader Schumer for his strong support of our mission and keeping this country in the vanguard of competitiveness,” said NSF Director Dr. Panchanathan.

When discussing why Rochester is uniquely suited for investment, Schumer cited a recent study authored by MIT Economists Dr. Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson in their book, “Jump-Starting America: How Breakthrough Science Can Revive Economic Growth and the American Dream”, that concluded millions of new jobs could be created through a new federal effort to boost federal funding for the sciences.  They analyzed 102 regions to determine which are best poised to become new Tech-Economy hubs if provided federal scientific research & development investment and determined that Rochester, NY ranked No. 1 as the nation's top region ripe for technological and economic growth. The authors argued for the creation of a bold new federal investment in science and technology, which Schumer has now proposed with his bipartisan jobs and competitiveness legislation, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (USICA).

“I’m thrilled to join Senator Schumer in welcoming NSF Director Panchanatham to Rochester to showcase the extraordinary work being done in our community, particularly in the high-tech innovation sphere,” said Congressman Joe Morelle. “As we seek to leverage Rochester’s many unique assets to benefit our national economy, I’m honored to have been appointed to the Conference Committee to advance the America COMPETES and USICA legislation. I look forward to the work ahead to strengthen America's global competitiveness, grow our economic interests, and bolster our workforce.”

Specifically, Schumer highlighted several programs in USICA that could bolster current research and manufacturing efforts in Rochester, including:

  • Increasing investment for NSF Research and Development Programs and science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education and training programs. Schumer said that research institutions like the University of Rochester and technical training schools like Monroe Community College are in a strong position to compete for these federal funds. The legislation also incorporates a series of new programs, including programs for STEM education for underrepresented populations and skilled technical education to prepare workers for tech jobs.
  • Launching a new Directorate of Technology and Innovation at the NSF to support R&D in key technologies by increasing STEM education, building regional innovation centers, and supporting technology transfer and entrepreneurship programs. Schumer said that a major increase in this kind of federal support puts cutting-edge facilities like the OMEGA Laser Facility at University of Rochester and the region’s other research institutions in a unique position to benefit from further federal investment. 
  • Scaling up federal investment in supply chains and American manufacturing, including $2.4 billion for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership and $1.2 billion for the Manufacturing USA program. This investment would nearly quadruple the Department of Commerce’s Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), which funds centers like NextCorps in Rochester to assist small and mid-sized manufacturers. Schumer’s bill also includes $52 billion in federal funds to expand domestic semiconductor manufacturing, including at sites like AIM Photonics in Rochester and STAMP in Genesee County, and the bill creates a supply chain resiliency program to bring manufacturing back to America and help address supply chain vulnerabilities that are driving up costs on working families and disrupting the economy.
  • Create a new $10 billion Regional Technology Hubs program through the Department of Commerce to support regional economic development efforts to build hubs around the country to not only research and innovate technologies but also manufacture them here in America. The technology hubs would carry out efforts on strengthening manufacturing and domestic supply chains, workforce training, business and entrepreneur development, technology transfer and commercialization, and infrastructure improvements to boost innovation and manufacturing across the country.

Specifically Schumer touted work being done at the following Rochester research facilities and tech programs as further examples of what could be supercharged to create new good-paying jobs via new investment provided through USICA:

  • The University of Rochester Laser Lab which supports nearly 900 Rochester jobs for scientists, engineers and technicians.  As a premier institution training the next generation of leaders in the fields of physics, optics, and material science, LLE is an economic development magnet that spins off local high tech jobs and attracts scientific talent to Rochester. Many Rochester companies including Sydor Technologies, QED Technologies, and Lucid were created as a result of the Lab and now employ hundreds of workers. 
  • The NextCorps High Tech business incubator located in the Sibley Building downtown which has helped create over 1,200 new jobs by helping over 350 local manufacturers and high tech start-ups to grow – businesses like Plug Power which just opened a new 380-job Green Hydrogen Gigafactory in Henrietta.
  • UR’s Center for Quantum Electrodynamics – Rochester researchers here are pushing the boundaries to use quantum advances to make transformative new molecules and catalysts.  Plus they are developing the foundational building blocks needed to make quantum computing a reality. 
  • UR’s Center for Matter at Atomic Pressures which is one of only 11 NSF Physics Frontier Centers nationwide that is making groundbreaking discovery in physics. 

Schumer led USICA to Senate passage in June of last year. The House passed its companion legislation, the America COMPETES Act this past January. Last week Senator Schumer took an important step to the bill advancing to final passage, announcing Conferees to the Conference Committee to reconcile differences between the Senate- and House-passed bills in order to send final legislation to the President to sign into law.

A copy of Schumer’s original letter inviting Dr. Panchanathan, Director of the National Science Foundation to Upstate New York appears below:

Dear Dr. Panchanathan:

As the National Science Foundation (NSF) prepares to make major investments in boosting U.S. innovation and technological competitiveness, including through the newly established Directorate for Technology, Innovation and Partnerships that I have been proud to work with you on, I invite you to visit the University of Rochester in order to see first-hand how Upstate New York communities like Rochester are uniquely poised to lead these efforts and learn more about how investments by NSF are pushing the frontiers of science.

New York State has long been on the cutting-edge of science and technology. In particular, the City of Rochester has a storied history of innovation, as the birth place of major companies including Eastman-Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb. In fact, Rochester was highlighted as the top ranked community for potential new technology hubs in MIT Professors Jonathan Gruber and Simon Johnson’s Jump-Starting America and was also highlighted in the Brookings report, The Case for Growth Centers. A major reason behind these rankings is the combination of major research assets like the University of Rochester with a technologically sophisticated community capable of conducting world-class research and translating that research into new businesses and American leadership in innovation.

As an example, a 2018 report by the National Academies warned that the U.S. is at risk of losing its global leadership in intense ultrafast lasers, an approximately $2 trillion market that is important to a wide range of industry, medicine, scientific and commercial applications. While the technique that makes these lasers possible was invented at the University of Rochester, at present, 80 to 90 percent of high-intensity laser systems are now overseas. In response, scientists from the University of Rochester’s Laboratory for Laser Energetics (LLE) led the organization of the Brightest Light Initiative (BLI) workshop to develop a national strategy. In addition, LLE, already home to the most powerful laser systems found at any academic institution in the world, has proposed EP-OPAL a next-generation user facility that would achieve powers 5 times greater, with focused intensities up to 100 times greater, than any currently operating laser. This effort is indicative of the kind of leadership Rochester and Upstate NY can provide to ensure the U.S. out-competes the world in critical technologies.

I hope you will join me in the near future in Rochester to tour the Laboratory for Laser Energetics to see this potential first-hand, learn what the needs may be for federal investment and partnership, and to meet the University of Rochester’s amazing scientists, staff, and students working to ensure continued U.S. science and technology leadership.