There has been a lot of wagon circling around Rochester the past couple of days, which has come in response to an article written by Rich Karlgaard of the Wall Street Journal, in which he blamed the enduring misfortunes of Eastman Kodak squarely on the shoulders of the Rochester region. It appears that Karlgaard’s point of contention is the diminishing geographic scope of our region and its commensurate dearth of human and intellectual capital.
If there is one thing I never did believe this region lacked, it was the number of smart, well-educated people that traverse the local landscape. Perennially glowing suburban public school rankings aside, we are also home to a boat load of respectable institutions of higher learning, in addition to a legion of businesses of varying size that typically demand, attract and engage numerous highly scholarly individuals.
Kodak Killed Kodak
With that observation in mind, I do not ascribe to the notion that Rochester killed Kodak. Kodak did not need any help in repeatedly shooting itself in the foot, making a series of horrible decisions that have systematically reduced the once mighty company to a shell of its former self.
Furthermore, I never was of the opinion that Rochester was a one-company town. Sure, Kodak in its heyday employed north of 60,000 people at any one time. However, Xerox and Bausch and Lomb, between them, employed tens of thousands of people as well.
Neither the Rochester region nor Kodak had anything directly to do with the other’s slow but steady demise. As Kodak is to blame for its own chronic misgivings, Rochester only has to look in the mirror to locate and place blame for its many problems. Our overall sense of entitlement, in large part fueled by the success stories playing out at places like Kodak, Xerox and B&L, has given many here the sense that certain people and things can simply do no wrong.
And Rochester Killed Rochester
This atmosphere of privilege has also been the primary catalyst for creating the marked chasm between the “haves” and “have nots” that exists here. Local political and commercial leaders have ostensibly conspired to push forward troubling agendas that have, similar to what a string of Kodak leaders have done to its company, methodically broken this town. The end result is a downtown that in at least some ways is even worse off than it was thirty years ago; only in the past few years have a bunch of new and reconstruction projects taken hold to moderately enliven the town’s outward facade.
Some structural improvements to existing downtown buildings and the addition of a few other edifices notwithstanding, the City of Rochester continues to struggle, and the city’s issues are no more evident than in the routinely sub-par performance reviews of the Rochester City School District. One poor decision after another, along with a generally discordant local gentry, have residually taken their toll on city residents, starting with the RCSD’s inability to effectively educate (and graduate) a large share of its students.
It’s easy to target teachers for the district’s far too many concerns. Sadly, those who have continued to mislead the general public about so many other concerns would have you also believe it’s mainly the teachers’ fault that the RCSD cannot get its act together. Don’t buy it; what these people are selling is equivalent to the junk Michael Milken used to peddle back in the ’80s.
So if you are looking for someone to blame around here, you really do not have to look very far. Blaming Rochester for Kodak’s ills makes for an interesting read. Nevertheless, this is one thing Rochester cannot, or at least should not, be blamed for.
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