Terry Towe, left, a product engineer, and test engineer Jerry Knight-Rubino set up a testing station at Oclaro Inc.'s new design center in Oro Valley's Foothills Business Park. The facility will be formally opened today. MAMTA POPAT / ARIZONA DAILY STAR

When California-based Oclaro Inc. announced it would acquire the local operations of Spectra-Physics in June 2009, the company said it was committed to the Tucson area, despite the planned move of manufacturing jobs to Europe.

Today, Oclaro follows through on that commitment, as it formally opens a new 14,000-square-foot laser device-design center in Oro Valley and announces a new local scholarship program.

About 30 people, including physicists and engineers, are working to develop laser-diode technologies at the new Oclaro facility at 10831 N. Mavinee Drive, off North Oracle Road north of North First Avenue.

That compares with about 100 people who worked at Spectra-Physics' former location on Tucson's south side at 3321 E. Global Loop, at the time of the acquisition through an asset exchange with Newport Corp. in June 2009.

Many of those jobs were lost as Oclaro consolidated fabrication work at its locations in Caswell, England, and Zurich, Switzerland.

But the Tucson area benefited from some consolidation as well, as Oclaro decided to centralize its high-powered-laser diode-design work in Oro Valley.

"We had similar (worker) skill sets we were trying to develop in Europe, and we realized that Tucson was a better place," said Yves LeMaitre, Oclaro executive vice president and division manager.

He cited the presence of the University of Arizona top-tier College of Optical Sciences and a strong cluster of optics firms - including some Oclaro customers as well as competitors.

"So the same way we moved some of the manufacturing jobs away from Tucson to Europe, we moved some engineering jobs away from Europe to Tucson. And I think that's what you see in the global economy: You really have to find these areas where you have a very high level of skills and specialties; you identify them and you invest in them," he said. "It works both ways."

Scott Dunbar, general manager of Oclaro's Oro Valley center and a former Spectra-Physics manager, said the center is focused on developing high-powered laser diodes - small devices that use layers of semiconductors to generate laser beams - and associated hardware for medical devices, and devices used for materials processing and printing.

For example, Oclaro's products find uses in devices used for laser hair-removal and laser welding of plastics or metals and for etching computer-generated printing plates.

While the company expects to benefit from its ties to the UA - several of its engineers are UA grads - officials say the new location should attract outside talent as well.

To further strengthen its ties to the UA and the community, Oclaro also announced the award of two scholarships to UA optics students.

Hacene Chaouch, a graduate student in optical sciences, was awarded a $5,000 scholarship, while Kevin Newman, an undergraduate student in optics and engineering, was awarded a $2,000 undergrad scholarship.

Contact Assistant Business Editor David Wichner at dwichner@azstarnet.com or 573-4181.