Nobel Prize Winner's Lighting Firm Opening Factory in Syracuse

  • LED-maker Soraa founded by Shuji Nakamura bringing 400 jobs
  • Federal prosecutors investigating bids in related project

Soraa Inc., whose founder Shuji Nakamura won the Nobel Prize in physics last year for his invention of the blue light-emitting diode, is opening a factory that will bring an estimated 400 jobs to Syracuse, New York.

The plant will join a network of firms opening manufacturing facilities in upstate New York that are attracted by research at the state’s SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany. Fremont, California-based Soraa had planned to open a factory in Buffalo in 2013, but was pushed out when billionaire Elon Musk’s SolarCity moved in with a project five times larger.

The Buffalo deal is the subject of a federal investigation into bids handled by a nonprofit organization set up by the Polytechnic Institute to own and manage the project and others like it, according to two people familiar with the investigation. The institute is led by Alain Kaloyeros, 59, who has built a $43 billion empire with more than 300 corporate partners using a model of knowledge and resources shared between government and industry.

It has been the key to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effort to revive upstate New York’s economy as the region becomes a hub for nanotechnology, the manipulation of atoms and molecules for science and medicine. Cuomo praised Kaloyeros at the Thursday event in Syracuse announcing the state’s $90 million investment, and $1.3 billion from the private sector, in the Soraa factory.

“Dr. Kaloyeros really has been the father of this entire nano vision,” Cuomo said. “He has brought single-handedly a world-class industry to the state of New York that’s reaping more and more dividends.”

In June, Polytechnic and the Empire State Development Corp., a state agency, received subpoenas from Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, according to two people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the documents aren’t public. Bharara is conducting a wide-reaching probe of Albany corruption. Already this year, his indictments have toppled the state’s top two lawmakers from their leadership posts.

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