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August 24. 2013 2:01AM

Optics 1 to move to Bedford headquarters


Optics 1, which produces advanced optical equipment primarily for the military, is moving its headquarters to Cooper Lane in Bedford. (BARBARA TAORMINA/Union Leader Correspondent)

BEDFORD - The staff, research team and company leaders at Optics 1 are stretching out and settling into a new corporate headquarters on Cooper Lane in Bedford.

The company designs and builds advanced optical systems and equipment, primarily for the U.S. military. Optics 1 will leave its home on Holt Avenue in Manchester and move in with its Swiss parent company, Vectronix, which has been manufacturing optical equipment for the defense and security industries for more than 25 years. While Optics 1 and Vectronix are separate companies, they both fall under the umbrella of the Safran Group, a Paris-based multinational conglomerate that specializes in aerospace, defense and security equipment and systems.

Although the U.S. military is scheduled to cut about $500 billion from its budget over the next decade, Optics 1 also specializes in surveillance systems for unmanned aerial vehicles, UAVs, or drones, which are now being approved for commercial use. The Federal Aviation Administration expects between 10,000 and 30,000 to be hovering in the skies over the next several years, and Optics 1 is ready to take advantage of those new opportunities.

The official ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new building will be Thursday, and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte will join company and town officials to celebrate the expansion.

"Bedford is a fantastic community and we're thrilled to be here," said Optics 1 spokeswoman Karen Hoffman. "We're excited to be able to serve our customers, our state and our country."

And the feeling is mutual.

"We're very happy they chose to locate in Bedford," said Town Planning Director Rick Sawyer. "We expect them to be here for a long, long time."

The size of Optic 1's new home base suggests the company has plans to stay and grow. The building, constructed and owned by Manchester-based Anagnost Companies, is set on 8.7 acres, has two floors and a partial third floor for long-distance equipment testing.

Phase 1 of the project will provide more than 52,000 square feet of space.

The Planning Board has approved a phase two addition that would add another 29,000 square feet of space and would be built when, and if, Optics 1 outgrows it current space.

Hoffman said about 100 people will be working at the company's new Bedford site. Those jobs, which have been described as high-paying career positions, will result from growth and consolidation as Optics 1 brings work from other facilities in southern New Hampshire under one roof.

"Our company primarily focuses on research and development," Hoffman said. "We do have the capability to do some small assembly."

Optics 1 was founded in 1987 by Robert Fischer, a California-based optical engineer, designer and former chief scientist for Hughes Aircraft. The Safran Group acquired the company, through Vectronix, in 2009 to pursue more opportunities in the U.S. market.

Optics 1 is known for its high-performance night vision goggles produced for the military.

"We develop thermal and optical systems and subsystems," Hoffman says. "We also produce clip-on sights that produce thermal images."

In 2010, the company was awarded a $37 million contract to produce Clip On Thermal Imager (COTI) systems for special operations forces for the Naval Surface Warfare Center. Last June, the Warfare Center signed a $46 million contract with the company for improved night/day all-weather observation devices.

Hoffman said that the company is also designing and developing a "myriad of products and programs" that could be used by the commercial drone industry.

Commercial drones are expected to evolve into a multibillion dollar industry. Although the FAA has limited approval for drones to the military and law enforcement agencies, energy companies surveying terrain, emergency responders searching for victims and farmers who want to track growing crops make up a short list of potential customers for the unmanned surveillance aircraft.

However, for now, Optics 1 is concentrating on its government work.

"Our big focus is thermal and optical equipment for the military," Hoffman said. "We ask them what they need, and that's what we develop."


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