The Colorado photonics industry has grown steadily over the past 30 years, and has accelerated since 1980 due to increased opportunities for photonics technologies in the marketplace. In an industry characterized by applications diversity, Colorado photonics companies have built their businesses independently, without realizing the synergy that can result from interactions with other photonics businesses. With increased global competition it has become increasingly important to develop relationships between companies. Just as groups of photonics companies in other states have taken advantage of the efficiencies of working together, the Colorado photonics companies are beginning to investigate ways they can work together by focusing their attention on industry issues.

In 1995, Dr. Brian Hooker, of the CU/CSU Optoelectronic Computing Systems Center (OCS), embarked on such a project with Gary Horvath, of the University of Colorado Business Advancement Center (CU-BAC), to understand the size and scope of the Colorado photonics industry. Their goal was to develop and qualify a list of potential optics related companies in Colorado in hopes of developing a directory.

In August 1996, the International Society for Optical Engineering (SPIE) brought their annual convention to Denver. Hooker and the other industry leaders encouraged as many Colorado companies as possible to attend this event. For the first time, Colorado was represented in the “Colorado Corral” by over 20 organizations.

Hooker also encouraged Horvath to attend the daylong session entitled “Global Networking of Regional Optics Clusters.” At this event it was evident that:

Colorado needed to develop a photonics industry cluster to maintain the existing companies in the state, further strengthen the industry infrastructure and take advantage of the support system.

Typically, the leaders in starting industry clusters were the federal labs, state agencies and universities. Ultimately, industry had to take a leadership role before the clusters would become effective.

From this conference, the message began to spread. During the latter half of 1996, executives from Colorado photonics companies met several times to discuss common problems facing their companies. They began to put aside their individual fears and investigate areas where a group of companies could have a greater impact by working together rather than alone.

On October 3, 1996, Ball Aerospace hosted a meeting of Colorado photonics companies that focused on issues of educating employees and potential employees. Topics of the discussion at this meeting included:

What are the skills needed in the Colorado photonics workforce?
What educational system should develop these skills?
How and where do Colorado companies find qualified employees?
How do Colorado companies train their employees?

At this meeting community college system officials gathered information that they would use to develop the preliminary curriculum for the Photonics and Vacuum Technology Program at the Lowry Higher Education Advanced Technology (HEAT) Center.

On November 6, 1996 the Optoelectronics Computing Systems Center at the University of Colorado brought companies together to discuss how Colorado photonics companies could benefit from the proposed Colorado Advanced Photonics Technology (CAPT) Center at the HEAT Center. This proposed facility would incorporate photonics technical education, pilot-line manufacturing, and new technology in an integrated program.

On January 28, 1997, Rocky Mountain Instruments hosted the next photonics industry meeting, which was dedicated to developing a more complete understanding of the needs of photonics companies, with an emphasis on those needs that could be best addressed by a group of companies. Areas were found where companies could work together to improve the photonics infrastructure, to develop photonics education programs, to provide opportunities for partnering, and to influence state lawmakers and decision makers on matters of importance to the Colorado photonics industry.

On April 2, 1997, the next photonics industry meeting was held at the National Institute of Science and Technology (NIST) Laboratories. Industry leaders learned how NIST assists industry and received an update on the status of the community college photonics education program. Then, industry representatives discussed the benefits of forming a formal industry association dedicated to helping Colorado photonics companies. A steering committee was formed, under the leadership of Garry Gorsuch, General Manager of Meadowlark Optics, with the mission of studying the charter and structure of an association. The steering committee indicated that they would make a recommendation by July 1997 about the feasibility of forming a Colorado Photonics Industry Association.

Rationale for Forming an Association

The infrastructure supporting Colorado photonics companies already is improving as a result of these early industry meetings. Items accomplished as a result of these meetings include:

  • An Education Advisory Committee has formed to advise the community college system on technical education issues and curriculum.
  • A photonics employment website has been created.
  • An abridged, on-line directory of Colorado photonics companies has been created.

The first edition of a complete directory detailing the Colorado photonics industry was distributed in June 1997, and a second edition was published in June 1998. More than 500 copies of the directory have been distributed worldwide to suppliers, manufacturers, economic development agencies, educators and business leaders.

Melles Griot hosted the next meeting of the embryonic association on July 17, 1997 where the Steering Committee strongly recommended the creation of a non-profit corporation called the Colorado Photonics Industry Association. An interim board of directors for the association was formed and met on a regular basis for the next four months to chart the course toward incorporation. On November 3, 1997 the CPIA was officially created.

Members of the Interim Board

The first annual meeting on February 12, 1998 at Meadowlark Optics in Fredrick, Colorado, followed by the first quarterly association meeting on April 29 at O.R. Technologies in Boulder. While all companies engaged in or supporting the photonics industry are welcome to association meetings, CPIA encourages companies to support the association by officially becoming members. CPIA has a graduated fee structure for membership based on the size of a member company.

June 1998 List of First CPIA Members

Through feedback from its members, the CPIA has identified key benefits that attract companies to the association.

1998 Benefits of Being a CPIA Member

  • Opportunities for individual members to network
  • Presence at national and regional trade shows
  • Business, technical and industry educational opportunities
  • Discounts at certain allied organizations activities
  • Opportunity to provide input into state educational and training programs
  • Information about state and federal funding opportunities
  • Access to information about potential employees from local universities
  • Participation in job fairs
  • Direct links to company home web page from the CPIA home page
  • Access to market research information and the CPIA directory