Northeast Ohio Develops Plan to Become Global Epicenter of Flexible Electronics Industry

(Nanowerk News) NorTech, a regional nonprofit technology-based economic development organization, announced today the completion of a shared vision and action plan to accelerate the growth of Northeast Ohio's emerging flexible electronics industry.
The global electronics industry demands small, low cost devices that consume less power with more functionality that are integrated into a consumer's everyday life, including apparel and mobile devices. The flexible electronics industry has emerged to address those demands. According to the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI), the global flexible electronics market is estimated to grow to $250B by 2025.
The Northeast Ohio Flexible Electronics roadmap outlines strategies and initiatives to develop low-cost manufacturing of electronic devices printed on flexible materials with multiple global market applications. NorTech led the strategic roadmapping process in partnership with 23 technology and industry experts from Northeast Ohio research institutions, manufacturers, material suppliers, and product developers.
During the process, roadmap participants set a vision for Northeast Ohio -- to become a global epicenter of flexible electronics innovation and manufacturing, attracting customers, talent, commercialization partners, and investors from around the world. The ultimate goal is to add 1,500 jobs, $75M in payroll, and $100M in capital to Northeast Ohio by 2017.
"Executing the strategies and action items outlined in the roadmap will help Northeast Ohio leverage its research and industry assets to become a global competitor in the emerging flexible electronics industry," said Rebecca O. Bagley, president and chief executive officer of NorTech. "Further developing this industry will help us diversify our regional economy and ultimately create jobs, attract capital and have a positive economic impact in Northeast Ohio."
The roadmap, which was developed using a proven methodology to produce industry-centric strategies, outlines five key initiatives to achieve the vision and goals recognized by roadmap participants. They include: identifying and pursuing market opportunities; increasing public funding and private investment; strengthening cluster alignment, communication and partnering; improving visibility and recognition; and monitoring and reporting cluster growth and outcomes. These initiatives will be executed through extensive collaboration by NorTech and roadmap participants. The roadmap is a living document that will capture technology shifts, changes in market dynamics, and new growth opportunities. It will serve as a powerful tool to support the development, communication, implementation, and execution of strategies necessary for sustained cluster growth.
Northeast Ohio's flexible electronics cluster is rooted in the world-renown, breakthrough work of the Liquid Crystal Institute (LCI) at Kent State University and the globally recognized advances in polymer science by the University of Akron.
"In the 1970s, the first twisted nematic liquid crystal displays were invented at Kent State's Liquid Crystal Institute, which initiated the multi-billion dollar flat panel display industry," said Kent State President Lester A. Lefton. "With the LCD applications in flexible electronics, Northeast Ohio's economy and workforce will benefit from the next evolution of this technology."
"The University of Akron will continue to play an active role in the flexible electronics cluster, given our world class polymer science and engineering research capabilities and educational commitment to producing top engineering talent for industry in Northeast Ohio," said Dr. Luis M. Proenza, president of The University of Akron.
Northeast Ohio is also home to companies with technical expertise in polymers and advanced materials, flexible displays, printed sensors and circuits, organic photovoltaics, and organic light emitting diode (OLED) lighting, all of which are developing a new class of flexible electronic devices. Product applications for these devices can be applied to healthcare, advanced energy, military, industrial/commercial and consumer markets around the world.
NorTech and other partners have given the brand name FlexMatters to the Northeast Ohio cluster of interconnected businesses, suppliers, service providers, and associated institutions within the flexible electronics industry. Since 2006, NorTech has convened FlexMatters cluster members; conducted workshops, presentations, and promotions; and helped to attract funding for the cluster. Companies and organizations are registering to become part of the FlexMatters cluster to leverage their collective capabilities and to help grow the cluster.
"As a FlexMatters cluster member, I see great value for Five Star in working with other companies in the region on collaborative projects and products," said Timothy Fahey, President and CEO of Five Star Technologies. He continued, "When material suppliers, component builders, and OEMs work together, it creates a win-win situation that will accelerate growth for our company, the cluster, and the entire region. Our efforts will also raise the visibility of Northeast Ohio to be a global player in the flexible electronics industry."
Recently, the FlexMatters cluster has gained recognition and support from the federal government, Ohio's Third Frontier Program, as well as regional philanthropic and economic development organizations, which has accelerated the cluster's growth. In September, FlexMatters received a boost in the form of a $500,000 contract from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Innovative Economies initiative. The contract, awarded to NorTech, will fund the implementation of a key recommendation from the roadmap - a cluster sourcing program that will connect small Northeast Ohio businesses to market opportunities in the flexible electronics industry.
"As a small company, Akron Polymer Systems is interested in participating in roadmap activities, specifically the cluster sourcing program, so we can connect and work collaboratively with mid to large size companies, institutions, and researchers that want to develop new flexible polymer materials," said Matthew Graham, Vice President of Business Development, Akron Polymer Systems, Inc. He continued, "The roadmap initiatives will help us develop a sustainable flexible electronics industry in Northeast Ohio that will accelerate revenue and funding for companies and lead to job creation and economic impact."
An executive summary of the Flexible Electronics Strategic Roadmap is available at
NorTech is a regional nonprofit technology-based economic development organization serving 21 counties in Northeast Ohio. As a catalyst for growing Northeast Ohio's emerging technology industries, NorTech is leading efforts to develop regional innovation clusters that create jobs, attract capital and have a long-term, positive economic impact. NorTech FlexMatters is a cluster initiative established in 2006 to grow the region's flexible electronics industry.
Source: NorTech (press release)
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