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For city to thrive, we must attract the right businesses to Rochester

Rochester Business Journal
June 14, 2013

It's important to attract new businesses to Rochester, but they must be businesses that provide value within the master plan and are in the sectors identified as the ones to pursue to make our city a hub of economic activity. Rochester should support only those businesses that fit our strategy, not just any business that wants to locate here.
In addition, those businesses that need support should make a clear business case for how they will help the city make progress against its strategic goals. Once we know what the job specs are for those businesses as they come on line, we then will have a clear mandate for training. Instead of some amorphous job training, either through an entrepreneur who can provide these services or through a public-private partnership such as a technical school, we can train people for the specific jobs the company will have.
There are some great examples of this approach. In her book "World Class: Thriving Locally in the Global Economy," Rosabeth Moss Kanter explains how giving customized technical training to residents of the Spartanburg-Greenville area in South Carolina-at no cost to them or to BMW, the major manufacturer attracted there-resulted in the area becoming a manufacturing center of excellence.
The Kia plant in Auburn, Ala., which I have had a chance to visit, is another example. The Auburn area gained almost 7,000 jobs at the plant and 4,000 more for providers of goods and services to it. Kia hires people who are trained specifically for the jobs at the plant.
A Dinosaur Bar-B-Que restaurant opened recently in Newark, N.J., and the grand opening was so packed that you could hardly move. What was extremely impressive to me was the fantastic customer service provided by the wait staff. They had been specifically trained for those jobs, and that is the kind of job training that makes a difference-as opposed to generalized job training that does not lead to a job.
Some of the companies with whom we work will also need customized training for their future employees. The Rochester area and other regions across the nation have a need for training that enables people to work in light manufacturing firms. Although some manufacturers, typically large ones, have moved their production to China or other parts of Asia, there remains a need for specialty manufacturing firms close to U.S. customers. Some firms are realizing they have to manufacture at home, not abroad. There is a role for someone to train the unemployed or people considered unemployable in the skills that manufacturers need.
I'm persuaded by the case of Ron Payne at Digital Equipment Corp. in the 1980s. Ken Olsen, the firm's CEO, put plants in Roxbury and Springfield, Mass., two low-income areas with high unemployment. Payne was the plant manager in Springfield, and he hired welfare mothers and other local residents in his plant. In a few years' time, his plant became Six Sigma and other DEC plants started raiding his workers!
Payne's success shows that it can be done. We need to have high expectations of workers if we want Six Sigma results. If we have high expectations, we are more likely to get good results than if we have low expectations and grudgingly train people in the skills they need. Attitude does make a difference.
Creating wealth in the urban community is complicated, complex and not a task that one organization can accomplish alone. What makes me sanguine about Rochester is the enormous goodwill, interest and caring expressed for the city of Rochester, not only among residents but by people in surrounding communities. Working together, as a village of people who want to take a collaborative and comprehensive approach that includes all the citizens of Rochester-not just the haves, but also the have-nots-we can make an economic difference for our community.

dt ogilvie is dean of the E. Philip Saunders College of Business at Rochester Institute of Technology.

6/14/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

What You're Saying 

chandramouli venkatesan at 12:55:40 PM on 6/27/2013
I would have appreciated if Prof. dt Ogilvie had mentioned what is Rochesters' " Master Plan and identified sector " that should be focused by all in the community.

David Rubin at 9:31:35 AM on 7/1/2013
Availability of customers can be an attraction for businesses. Currently the city is inundated by petty crime such as car break-ins, and petty burglaries. To add insult to injury, the red light cameras, parking restrictions, malfunctioning parking meters, and other forms o...  Read More >

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