Imagine using a smartphone application to do an eye exam from the comfort of your couch and then sending the results to the doctor.
Being innovative and ahead of the latest eyewear technology is the goal of VSP Vision Care’s new midtown think tank – called The Shop. VSP was Google’s original vision care provider and teamed up with the tech giant in early 2013 on Google Glass. VSP does all of the lenses for Google Glass and has trained 6,000 doctors in its use.
The goal of the new facility is to test ideas, the kind of “changes that will disrupt the industry, but that we want to be in front of,” said VSP President Jim McGrann. He offered the smartphone eye exam as a hypothetical example of the type of change VSP is looking to exploit, though he said the company is not working on such an app.
“You can be disrupted or you can disrupt,” McGrann said.
The company wouldn’t provide specifics of what projects it intends to pursue in The Shop.
The Shop, at 1630 I St., was officially welcomed into the community Wednesday in a ribbon cutting ceremony attended by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, state Assemblyman Roger Dickinson and Midtown Business Association Executive Director Emily Baime Michaels.
“It dovetailed so well with the energy and character of midtown,” Dickinson said.
The Shop is hiring to fill more than 100 jobs and will hire another 200-250 when VSP opens its planned lens grinding facility in Folsom. The company already employs 2,500 people in the Sacramento region.
By putting its innovation hub in midtown, VSP is aiming to tap into the energy of the lively district, home to young companies and artists.
“This is one of the most vibrant zones to have an opportunity to blow out,” said Jay Sales, whose title is innovation strategist.
The 1950s building, a former Chevrolet dealership, with large glass walls facing I Street, has served as a dance studio, furniture store and a political campaign headquarters in recent years. It has been redone with lots of color, retractable shades on the windows and encouraging posters about innovation.
VSP began in Sacramento 45 years ago and now has 6,600 employees worldwide. Over the years, it has grown from being simply a provider of vision benefits and services – the company has 71 million subscribers – to an enterprise involved in all aspects of the vision industry, including glasses and customized lenses.
About 2,000 VSP Global employees work in five buildings in and around the square-mile campus in Rancho Cordova, and VSP Global companies operate in 100 countries on six continents.
McGrann said Sacramento is a good place to innovate because of the city’s proximity to Silicon Valley, San Francisco, Napa Valley and Tahoe, and nearby colleges UC Davis and California State University, Sacramento.
“I do not understand why more business aren’t headquartered in Sacramento,” McGrann said.
Call The Bee’s Quinn Western, (916) 321-1031.