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The future imagined

Who could have imagined a quarter-century ago that Eastman Kodak Co. today would be in bankruptcy and getting out of the photography business? Who in 1987 would have imagined a future in which Rochester’s Big Three-Kodak, Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc.-together would employ roughly 12,500 people locally, down from more than 60,000?
Few people, no doubt. Yet back then it certainly was possible to identify trends and forces that likely would shape the next 25 years-from the declining role of manufacturing to increased globalization to the hollowing of Rochester’s urban core.
The same is true today, as the Rochester Business Journal marks 25 years of covering local business and economic news. It’s not known what people, companies and events will loom large between now and 2037, but the key underlying trends are not completely hidden from view.
One of them is the rise of the post-Kodak economy. The once-towering company may succeed in its attempt to reinvent itself, but its days as Rochester’s dominant employer are over. More broadly, the Big Three-and the manufacturing sector as a whole-likely will be further diminished locally.
Rochester’s transition to a knowledge economy-already well under way-will continue in the coming decades. The region’s ability to further enhance its assets in education, health care, information technology and other sectors will be essential to job and wealth creation.
Another trend is the unrelieved burden of state and local taxes. The Tax Foundation this week reported that New York’s individual income tax ranks worst nationwide and its property taxes are sixth-worst. This combined burden, built over many years, will not be remedied anytime soon, especially with the fiscal mess at the federal level.
These factors and others-many outlined by RBJ readers in response to a special 25th-anniversary poll-will play a big role in defining the Rochester area’s opportunities and challenges.

What’s needed is a new generation of growth-oriented companies and community leaders who believe our combined assets, if used wisely, are more than sufficient to build a prosperous future for the community.

10/12/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email rbj@rbj.net.


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