Last week Dan Smith, the City’s Economic Development Director, was the featured speaker at the monthly Chamber luncheon. He provided an engaging update on the progress of the City’s key economic initiatives — from downtown redevelopment to job retention and job growth. He had a lot to cover that day so he didn’t get a chance to dive into great detail on any one of the success stories but with Governor Strickland’s caravan rolling into Kent today to join us in celebrating the official grand opening of the new Alpha Micron technology building on SR 59 he took time to write up a synopsis of the evolution of Alpha Micron from it’s humble roots in Kent State’s Liquid Crystal Institute labs to being recognized as a global leader in the field with their home base in our hometown of Kent Ohio. Here’s Dan’s summary.
City of Kent & Kent State University Partner to Keep AlphaMicron Local:
Start-up & Incubation
AlphaMicron, Inc. started their journey into the world of commercializing liquid crystal technologies in the City of Kent over a decade ago. The venture was founded in 1997 by three faculty members from Kent State University’s Liquid Crystal Institute in order to fulfill a U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) contract. The group worked with the Kent Regional Business Alliance (KRBA) and began R & D and assembling proto-type visors in the KRBA business incubator facility located on Martinel Drive.
Since that time, their creative commercialization of liquid crystal technologies has continued and they have expanded their products and patents to include digital lenses and eye ware, automotive dimming mirrors, electronic windows and fashion & design applications. The company currently employees over thirty employees and is continuing to experience rapid growth as well as a $5 million award in the most recent round of Ohio Third Frontier grants for their continued product development.
AlphaMicron, at from start-up through today, has been supported with ongoing help from the Kent Regional Business Alliance, Kent State University and the City of Kent. AlphaMicron was one of the original tenants the KRBA’s Incubator program. From modest beginnings, the company continued to invest and expand at the site as they created a clean room, various labs and assembly rooms. In 2003, the City of Kent continued to provide support with a forgivable loan to assist Alpha Micron’s ongoing expansion and push for product commercialization.
Normally a company will “graduate” from an incubator program into a new site located within the community. It was soon realized that AlphaMicron was experiencing such tremendous growth and commercial success that it required immediate new square footage for expansion. Due to the significant investments that had already been made at the Martinel site, leadership from the KRBA and City of Kent decided turn control of the entire incubator facility over to Dr. Taheri and AlphaMicron to insure they would remain a Kent firm and continue to build upon their initial successes.
Fast Forward- Time to grow again…..enter Team Kent !
Early in 2008, officials from Kent State University, the City of Kent and other various community stakeholders began exploring how we could enhance the local climate for business start-ups and support additional entrepreneurial activities. The discussion quickly turned to Kent State University as an economic engine and how key players and local assets could be better organized in support of capturing knowledge economy opportunities. The team consisted of Kent City Council members, the Mayor, Kent City Manager, ED & Community Development staffers, Kent State University V.P.s and Office of Technology Transfer Officials as well as the Portage County office of Economic Development and the Ohio Department of Development.
With AlphaMicron’s ongoing innovation, product development and commercialization successes came recognition. Without question, AlphaMicron was gaining attention on the national and world stage and economic development officials from around Ohio and beyond took notice of their success and tremendous potential for future growth. By 2008 the company was once again bursting at the seams and began exploring all of the options for yet another major expansion.
Recognizing the significant positive economic impacts, potential for future growth, as well as the immediate threat of losing the venture to the aggressive lobbying of other regional or state players, “Team Kent” mobilized to work out a plan to keep AlphaMicron local and continue to build synergy with Kent State University and the City of Kent.
Team Kent learned that AlphaMicron had immediate needs to expand their facilities as well as enhance their manufacturing capabilities and image to capture additional opportunities in global markets. With the knowledge that other regions and states were aggressively working to attract AlphaMicron to their communities, the circumstances provided the opportunity for the new Team Kent initiative to go to work. An immediate meeting was set with company officials and their real estate advisor. The meeting proved to be very productive.
After exploring several available sites and finance options, an agreement was reached to relocate AlphaMicron next to the Kent State University campus in the newly created Centennial Research Park (State Route 261 & 59, former Fiala building). Dr. Lester Lefton and Kent State University officials were instrumental in creating a facility that will foster the upcoming expansion and future growth AlphaMicron. Both the City of Kent and Franklin Township will benefit from the expansion and increased tax revenues the site will create. New, high paying jobs will be achieved with completion of relocation.
Building Critical Mass- On an Economic Roll
The ability to retain AlphaMicron as well as foster their current, and ongoing expansion, is no small achievement. In addition to the AlphaMicron announcement, Crystal Diagnostics, formerly Pathogen Systems Inc., from Northeastern Ohio Universities Colleges of Medicine and Pharmacy, is also in the process of signing an agreement to locate a significant portion of its business operations in Centennial Research Park.
Crystal Diagnostics also conducts research and development work in an Applied Research Laboratory on the campus of NEOUCOM. Last year the state of Ohio awarded NEOUCOM with a $3 million Wright Project grant to further the development of the partnership with Crystal Diagnostics and Kent State University. The addition of Crystal Diagnostics to the project means that the entire Centennial Research Park facility will be occupied at 100% capacity. Kent State University and Team Kent will now set our attention on exploring sites for developing Centennial Research Park II!
The blue print and ground work have been laid for fostering additional business investment/activities with strong ties to Kent State University. AlphaMicron, Crystal Diagnostics and Kent Displays are just a few of the many local examples technology transfer and entrepreneurial activities driving the knowledge economy and Kent’s future. Team Kent’s activities will continue to offer tremendous opportunities to KSU students as well as provide much needed new employment opportunities and enhanced tax revenues for the City of Kent, Franklin Township and the greater N.E. Ohio region. Team Kent is on an economic roll.