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TheStreet Open House

Rochester's Rise Amid Kodak's Demise

Stock quotes in this article: EK, AAPL, JNJ, MSFT, XRX

The deal is with Optimation's Kingsbury Corp., which Pollock said he purchased for a good price as the company was struggling. Pollock said the touch sensor industry is projected over the next "four or five years" to be worth $150 billion.

All tablet interfaces, including Apple (AAPL) iPads and iPhones, Microsoft (MSFT) Windows-based tablets, emerging touch-screen monitors, and other touch technology require these sensors so that capacitors can respond to your finger movements.

Until recently, most touch-screen sensors have used indium tin oxide (ITO). ITO is transparent, so you see through it when you're on, say, your iPad. But ITO is brittle and rare.

This is where Kodak and Kingsbury come in.

The silver halide-based sensors aren't as transparent as the ITO ones, but Pollock argued that the sensors are ultra-thin and invisible to the naked eye. Silver halide's advantages are that it's more common and less expensive than ITO.

When asked why no one had been producing silver halide sensors before, Pollock said it's because the demand for touch screens wasn't outrunning the supply of ITO sensors. Now, with major tech companies ramping up touch screen products, producers are rushing to find other sensor conductors, like silver -- some are even experimenting with copper.

Kingsbury has the ability to produce Kodak's technology, which would have been difficult for the imaging company to handle because it has very little capital to start up new product wings as it emerges from bankruptcy. Pollock would not say exactly how long the licensing agreement was for, but did say it would be for "several years." Optimation's 2012 revenue was in the $60 million to $70 million range.

***

If the July bankruptcy of Detroit revived worries about the state of manufacturing jobs in U.S., Senall, the High Tech Rochester head, spends his time in Kodak's shadow on the front lines of what could be a renaissance.

In a global marketplace that can quickly make pioneering products all but obsolete, as was the case with Kodak's film business, Rochester's unheralded breed of startups may occupy a niche in manufacturing and technology markets that can sustain skilled workers.

Senall, who currently works with about 25 businesses and helps to advise 250 entrepreneurs a year, says Rochester's entrepreneurial future rests on businesses that serve specialized imaging, biofuel, technological fabrication, optics and medical device markets.

Incidentally, for the first time in a generation, Kodak may be moving in the same direction as Rochester, after the company shed over 40,000 workers in the past decade but the city saw employment hold up steady.

As Kodak exits bankruptcy, investors in the company say it will be marketed as at a convergence between technology and manufacturing.

Kodak will emerge as a commercial printing company that has the capability to manufacture high-end battery, circuitry, packaging, digital imaging and semiconductor products. Unlike film or consumer printing, those markets are expected to see stable growth in coming years and could position Kodak for its first growth spurt in over a decade.

If the last people heard of Rochester was Kodak's bankruptcy, the city and its corporate icon deserve a second look, said Senall.

California, Boston, Austin, Texas and New York City are seen as hotbeds of entrepreneurs and venture and seed capital investors. Rochester, so far, has garnered the interest of investors with funds of about $10 million. Senall said larger funds have been sniffing around Rochester in recent years, however, it could take a $50 million-to-$100 million seed capital fund to really peak outside interest.

" My job is to be a little bullish on the economy, but with what I see every day, I really think that it is exciting," Senall said.

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