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A key advantage

While the path has been uneven, the Rochester region in fact has added private-sector jobs over the last quarter-century. But this fact says little about the quality of those jobs.

Qualitative assessments, of course, are a matter of interpretation. Not everyone would define a “good job” the same way.

A recent report from the Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program, however, provides a solid benchmark for a healthy local economy by examining its advanced industries sector. These industries—characterized by technology research and development and workers with science, technology, engineering and math skills—not only pay more, but also generate more value per worker than those outside this sector.

According to the Brookings report, the Rochester area in 1980 had 113,250 people employed in advanced industries, or 26 percent of total employment. As of 2013, that number had fallen to 47,730, or 9 percent of total jobs in this region.

Clearly, the dramatic decline of employment at Eastman Kodak Co. alone accounts for much of this change. Kodak’s year-end local employment peaked in 1982 at 60,400; at the end of 2013, the company had 2,300 local workers. On a much smaller scale, many other local manufacturers also have downsized.

Perhaps the bigger eye-opening in the Brookings report is the fact that Rochester still stands among the leaders nationally in some advanced-industry rankings. It is one of only four U.S. metropolitan areas to rank in the top 50 globally in terms of patents per capita. And Rochester places fourth nationally in STEM graduates per person aged 20 to 24.

So, despite the wrenching changes of the last several decades, Rochester continues to possess competitive advantages in advanced industries.

The Brookings report makes another important point: This sector offers broad economic opportunity. Indeed, more than half of its workers nationally have less than a bachelor’s degree.

Bolstering Rochester’s advanced industry “ecosystem” should be a top priority for local leaders.

3/3/15 (c) 2015 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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