Economic development through the growth and strengthening of the state's 13 photonics companies was the focus of the Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance's first statewide conference on Sept. 25, which was attended by industry representatives, members of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC) and other state officials. The photonics industry employs more than 500 people throughout the state, delivers more than $27 million in wages and contributes more than $77 million of economic impact, the alliance said. The newly formed coalition will help publicly identify the 13 manufacturers and their academic peers as a single industry for the first time. Paul McManamon (standing), former SPIE President and co-chairman of the National Academy of Sciences study on "Harnessing Light," emphasized the importance of photonics to the U.S. economy during a keynote at the first conference of the Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance in September. Arkansas-based photonics companies include AGL Lasers, BEI Precision Systems & Space, InvoTek, LaCroix Optical, LaserTools, Power Technology and Space Photonics. "The Arkansas Economic Development Commission is proud to support the Arkansas Photonics Industry Alliance. The photonics industry is a very important, enabling technology in Arkansas, with tremendous growth potential," said Tom Chilton, AEDC's director of technology development. In his keynote address, Paul McManamon, former SPIE president and co-chairman of the National Academy of Sciences study Optics and Photonics: Essential Technologies for Our Nation emphasized the importance of photonics nationally and discussed the National Photonics Initiative in depth. "There seemed to be strong interest in developing the appropriate workforce education programs in Arkansas, especially at the two-year technician level. I doubt most states would have received this level of interest across the various economic development agencies," McManamon said after the meeting. Four financial contributions to support the alliance were also announced at the meeting.