Image source: Corning.

Glassmaking specialist Corning (NYSE:GLW) has been on the cutting edge of innovation in technology for decades. Its work in fiber optics changed the way the telecom industry functions, and products like its Gorilla Glass for mobile devices have been an important component in promoting durability and function. From a share-price perspective, though, Corning has had a horrible year, falling 23% since early 2015. In order for Corning to bounce back, it will need to prove that it can move forward on some of its growth initiatives and reverse the setbacks that have held it in check. Let's look more closely at three things that could send Corning stock higher.

Corning takes the direct approach
One way to get stock prices moving back higher is to change the supply and demand equation for shares, and recently, Corning took steps to do exactly that. Last October, Corning announced a capital allocation plan that included a huge component to return money to shareholders.

Corning will do two things to enhance shareholder value. First, it intends to raise its dividend by 10% per year through 2019. Second, it increased its stock repurchase authorization by $4 billion, and announced plans for an accelerated share repurchase program during the fourth quarter of 2015. All told, Corning expects to return $10 billion of capital to its investors.

Corning's buyback isn't the largest in the industry. But for a company with a market capitalization of just $20 billion, the magnitude of the repurchase and dividend increases should have a substantial impact on Corning stock in the long run.

Reinvestment in Corning's core businesses
At the same time, Corning unveiled a four-year strategic plan that will involve taking another $10 billion and reinvesting it back into its most important business lines. The company said that it would focus around Corning's core mission to invent, make, and sell important and innovative new products and technologies.

The new framework is built on several categories. Corning plans to feature three core technologies, which include glass science, ceramic science, and optical physics, in its strategic plan going forward. At the same time, Corning highlighted four manufacturing and engineering platforms that it intends to drill down on in the next three years, which include vapor deposition, fusion, extrusion, and precision forming. Finally, Corning expects to apply its innovations in five market-access platforms: optical communications, mobile consumer electronics, display, automotive, and life sciences vessels.

Overall, Corning expects to devote more than 80% of its resources on opportunities that fall into at least two of those categories. As CEO Wendell Weeks said, "Our probability of success increases as we apply more of these best-in-the-world capabilities," and Corning believes that it can find new growth opportunities by devoting itself wholeheartedly to this strategic vision.

Global economic awakening
Finally, Corning's stock has been weak in part because some of the highest-growth areas of the world have struggled under tough economic conditions. Recessionary conditions in Europe have held back developed economies there, and emerging markets like China and Brazil have felt the impact of plunging commodity prices and weaker economic growth rates. That in turn has put pressure on the manufacturers of products that include Corning's materials.

Many expect tough times to continue, but others are pointing to some early signs that the global economy could finally start to turn around and accelerate again. When that happens, demand for important products such as large displays should pick up. That in turn will drive greater use of Corning's materials, and resulting growth in revenue and earnings would likely push shares higher.

Corning doesn't face an easy road to prosperity, but it has the vision and determination to keep making progress. The moves that Corning is making now have the potential to pay off in solid returns for shareholders for years to come.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.