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Corning's Next Optical Fiber Wave

By Christina Haley O'Neal, posted Aug 20, 2021
Russ Lopatka, Wilmington plant manager for Corning Inc., is shown at the company’s facility on North College Road. (Photo by Michael Cline Spencer)
A site for both manufacturing and innovation, Corning Inc.’s Wilmington plant recently released a new product this summer, adding to its continued growth.
New York-based Corning’s Wilmington site, 310 N. College Road, is home to manufacturing and research and development for a portion of the company’s optical fiber manufacturing business in the state.
Because of the 5G rollout and increasing demand for bandwidth and data, local production is ramping up to meet the growth expected this year.
In February, the company started adding engineers, technicians and other roles to keep up with production needs, said Russ Lopatka, Wilmington plant manager, who began his role in 2019. He has been with the company for 20 years and is a native to the Wilmington area.
The Wilmington operation has about 1,000 employees working at the site, which was converted from a resistor plant to an optical fiber plant in the 1970s.
Optical fiber delivers the streamlined connectivity needed for high-speed technology, internet and communications. The first optical fiber was invented in 1970 by three Corning scientists in Corning, New York.
“We are the world’s first, and we still remain one of the largest in the world for optical fiber manufacturing,” Lopatka said. “And what’s really special about Wilmington is that we aren’t just a manufacturing facility. We are an innovation center, as well. And so, the majority of Corning’s new fiber products, and the technologies that enable those products, are made and developed actually in Wilmington.”
The newest of the products coming out of the Wilmington plant is SMF-28 Contour optical fiber, a fiber with a higher bend resistance attribute, on top of many other optical fiber products, which vary in diameter and features. A single piece of optical fiber is as tiny as a hair.
“For us at Corning, growth, in general, has been very high and we do see that product [SMF-28 Contour fiber] being a key part of our growth moving forward,” Lopatka said.
There are six Corning Optical Communications plants in North Carolina, two of which – in Wilmington and in Concord – are for the business’ optical fiber manufacturing.
“Our Optical Communications segment is the largest business from a revenue standpoint within Corning. We’re seeing about 21% year-over-year sales growth. The demand is extremely strong. A lot of it is driven by the post-COVID, people working from home, a lot of online learning … and then clearly 5G. The upcoming 5G rollout is going to be a huge growth boomer for us. And then everything that we’re seeing related to Netflix and the online streaming devices is continuously growing as well,” Lopatka said.
Lopatka said he anticipates business for the company to remain strong this year.
“Corning, and Wilmington particularly, is going to be a huge part of ensuring we can provide the fiber required for 5G,” Lopatka said. “The overall growth of the business in the demand for fiber we see is very strong and, obviously, being one of the world’s largest fiber producers, that goes hand in hand with what our mission is.”

Corning Incorporated


No. of employees: Corning employs 4,500 people in North Carolina with approximately 1,000 people in Wilmington.
Year founded: The Corning facility in Wilmington dates to the mid-1960s, when Corning made transistors and electrical components at the site. After Corning invented the world’s first low-loss optical fiber in a lab in Corning, New York, in 1970, the Wilmington plant was converted to an optical fiber manufacturing facility starting in the late 1970s.
Top local official: Russ Lopatka, Wilmington plant manager
Company description: Corning is an innovator in materials science, with 170 years of inventions. Its Optical Communications division, headquartered in North Carolina, provides solutions for growing segments like outdoor and indoor 5G networks and hyperscale data centers.
Products made locally: Optical fiber
What made the company decide to make its goods locally? Russ Lopatka: “As a global technology leader operating in Wilmington for more than 50 years, we draw our strength from a diverse talent pool that lives and works here. Our ability to develop breakthrough products and innovative manufacturing processes would not be possible without that highly skilled workforce. Additionally, North Carolina’s educational system, infrastructure, quality of life and the business-friendly environment have made the state especially welcoming for Corning.”
What’s planned next? Lopatka: “As individuals and businesses use more and more data – and as connected devices continue to proliferate – Corning will continue to innovate to increase the speed and capacity of optical networks.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: To be considered for the Greater Wilmington Business Journal’s MADE feature, contact [email protected].
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