AlphaMicron relocates to Centennial Research Park

Ben Wolford

State politicians attend opening

Watch Gov. Strickland and other politicians at the grand opening of AlphaMicron.

View Photos from the event.

Tim Ryan, Portage County’s U.S. congressman, poked through the sterile corridors of a high-tech laboratory.

Gov. Ted Strickland was nearby, looking at the million-times magnified portraits of liquid crystals on the starch-white walls.

U.S. Rep. John Boccieri glanced into a chemistry station where a man in a white lab coat tinkered with an Erlenmeyer flask full of dark liquid.

The three of them weren’t in Silicon Valley, liquid crystal industry capital of America. They were in Kent, on Kent State property, speaking at the grand opening of AlphaMicron’s new, bigger building yesterday afternoon.

AlphaMicron has found a niche in the liquid crystal industry by applying LCD technology – the same used in digital watches and TVs – to curved plastic, CEO Bahman Taheri said.

“The liquid crystal world is a $100 billion industry . but they’re mainly on flat glass,” he said. “To move from that to a different arena, we put everything on curved plastic. The advantage of that is it allows us an open area where there’s nobody else to compete.”

The company’s cash crops now are motorcycle helmets and ski goggles that tint the visors at the push of a button. The liquid crystals absorb light and cut out glare.

For now, the sleek-looking products are only available for retail in Germany and Italy. That’s why AlphaMicron ditched its 12,000-square-foot property on Martinel Drive in Kent and put nearly $1.6 million into retooling an old 30,000-square-foot bus garage on state Route 59 in Franklin Township at Kent State’s Centennial Research Park.

“This business was created by three professors at Kent State University and now is providing high-paying jobs for scores of people, and they are poised for growth,” Strickland said. “They are doing things at this company that can be done, according to my understanding, nowhere else on earth.”

Now they’ve got the space to do the kind of manufacturing they couldn’t do at the old place.

“We were making a few products here and there just to demonstrate the concepts,” Taheri said. “But this is a much bigger scale.”

Though AlphaMicron employs only 40 people, Ryan said the scale of production will be enough to make noticeable economic change. AlphaMicron plans to hire more, but Ryan said there will be spin-off jobs that grow out of the manufacturing.

“The key that we have in our community – northeast Ohio, western PA – we have the manufacturing,” Ryan said.

Attracting high-tech developers creating commercial products, he said, will eventually lead to blue-collar jobs.

“Other people are going to get employed. Not just the scientists, not just the Ph.D.’s – people who actually make things,” Ryan said.

But the new building and AlphaMicron don’t exactly have the startup costs of a lemonade stand.

President Lester Lefton said just replacing the roof on their building will cost the university $1 million alone. He said they’ve already begun that project – sooner than they would have if no one had moved in.

In 2008, Ryan secured $1 million in federal earmarks for the company, according to Legistorm, an Internet database that tracks federal money.

Also in 2008, AlphaMicron obtained $5 million from Ohio’s Third Frontier program, which awards grants to high-tech companies. The money went toward the development of energy-saving windows that screen sunlight with AlphaMicron’s liquid crystal film.

Taheri said Ryan visited the company while it was still in its former building.

“He said two things at that time. First, he looked at us and said, ‘This is the type of technology and this is the type of company we need in my district to change the economy,'” Taheri said. “The second thing he said is, ‘Your technology should be used for windows because it will save energy.'”

So they developed it.

Taheri was among the group of professors at the Liquid Crystal Institute who formed AlphaMicron in 1997. They made a name for themselves by creating a liquid crystal film that could be applied to curved surfaces.

Once the company gets rolling more goggles, fashionable liquid crystal sunglasses and motorcycle helmets off the assembly line, Taheri said the next product for retail will be glare-reducing automobile mirrors.

Contact public affairs reporter Ben Wolford at [email protected].