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Tuesday, 3 September, 2002, 13:09 GMT 14:09 UK
Hi-tech centre of excellence to open
Fibre optic cabling
Opto-electronics firms are trying to ride a slump
Wales' optical electronics sector is to converge on the north east from the autumn, when work begins on a 15m resource to house new businesses and researchers.

At the key industry convention Photon02 in Cardiff, Economic Development Minister Andrew Davies announced that millions of pounds in European Union Objective One money will bankroll the Optic Technium at St Asaph, Denbighshire.

It means construction can begin on the Welsh Development Agency's latest Technium centre - a nationwide network of industry-specific academia/business partnerships designed to concentrate relevant expertise.

Sir Terry Matthews, telecoms entrepreneur
Sir Terry Matthews invested in a Technium-based company
The latest in the chain, the optical electronics facility, will group fibre optics, laser, and sensor designers and manufacturers on one campus and hopes to foster innovative new ideas.

Mr Davies said the new centre would be a private sector-led project.

"We have got a real cluster of excellence in north Wales," he added.

The Technium centre will bolster the region's already-ample opto-electronics sector.

Over 2,000 are employed at firms like defence company Thales Optics in St Asaph and Bodelwyddan.

The first Technium was purpose-built at Swansea's Prince of Wales Dock for the general technology sector for 2m in 2000.

Clustering optics

The partnership with academics and entrepreneurs at the University of Wales' Innovation Centre advice provides advice on tap, telecommunications connections, venture finance and a co-work ethos.

It is now fully let to 12 technology companies.

Technium centres
AutoTechnium - Pembrey
BioTechnium - National Botanic Gardens
DigitalTechnium - Swansea University
MediaTechnium - Gelli Aur
OptoTechnium - St Asaph
Technium 1 and 2 - Swansea
Upon its success, the Welsh Development Agency decided in October 2001 to roll out four more centres for new media, digital business, biotech and automotive sectors and another for technology in Swansea.

AutoTechnium is for performance engineering and motorsport.

It is based around Llanelli, which has several car components manufacturers, and at Pembrey Circuit.

MediaTechnium, for budding digital media professionals, is operating from the historic Gelli Aur stately home near Llandeilo, Carmarthenshire.

Riding the storm

Denbighshire's OpTIC Technium is set for construction in the autumn and opening late 2003.

But it comes amid the slump in the electronics and telecoms industry.

US fibre optics manufacturer Corning Optical shut its Deeside plant - in the very same region targeted by the new programme - in October with the loss of 436 jobs, blaming a "difficult market environment".

St Asaph's Technium will seek to carry Welsh talent through the economic blues with a mixture of research and development for in-demand new products and aggressive marketing of existing strengths.

If the programme is successful, it could mean the creation of jobs for the region.

The Welsh Development Agency said this week in a statement: "Opto-electronics is already a significant element in the Welsh economy.

"OpTIC Technium is set to play a key role in the national economic development strategy to build a knowledge-based economy through the promotion of high value-added products and services."

BBC Wales' Matthew Richards
"North Wales is harnessing the potential of opto-electronics"

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