This story appeared in the RBJ’s commemorative 30th Anniversary section. See more content related to the RBJ’s anniversary here.
The past 30 years have seen significant change in the Rochester-area economy.
The Big Three have been in continuous decline, but many smaller firms have sprung up to help the community survive. Manufacturing once led the way for Rochester jobs, but health care and services now provide the greatest impetus for the Rochester economy. Downtown Rochester experienced a lengthy downturn but is now seeing a promising revival.
What will the next 30 years bring? The Rochester Business Journal recently asked readers to share their views on the area’s long-term economic outlook and to name the biggest challenge this region is likely to face from now until 2047.
Results of the economic outlook poll appear here; more than 60 percent of the 300-plus respondents are optimistic about the future. Following the results are some of the comments — edited for space — on the biggest challenge Rochester is likely to face.
Very optimistic: 15%
Somewhat optimistic: 46%
Not very optimistic: 27%
Not at all optimistic: 11%
With all the positive efforts being put forth by our business community, there is no reason for us to not be in a very strong position in our 10 year future and beyond. If we can get our political leaders to work together from a positive note, no matter their Political Party, the future is ours!
– Victor E. Salerno, CEO, O’Connell Electric Company, Inc.
Among challenges for future economic strength include the following obstacles and needs: educational outcomes in the City School District, job training to develop the skills needed for existing job vacancies and anticipated future needs, and the concentration of poverty. Our region also has many assets that will contribute to future economic strength: well educated regional workforce, strong arts & culture and parks that contribute to quality of life, plentiful fresh water, relatively easy commuter travel, excellent healthcare, good regional schools and higher education, and small exposure to extreme weather.
– Hon. Sandra L. Frankel
The biggest challenge continues to be the oppressive regulatory environment at the state and local levels. New business development, job growth and corporate health will continue to be lukewarm for this reason.
– Lew Pulvino
Rochester has a bright future with great technical resources and an evolving but positive outlook for its manufacturing base. The biggest challenge for the next thirty years, as it has been for the last thirty, is revitalization of the city school system. We need to educate, so that we can enable all citizens of the region to be full participants in our prosperity.
– Bill Pollock, Optimation Technology, Inc.
Unfunded governmental spending. It’s out of control and we keep kicking the can down the street. Stop spending on cosmetic improvements at the airport, Parcel 5 development with an Arts Center which will never break even. Just like most people, live with a bit less and pay down the community’s debt. Insist on a balanced debt without any additional borrowing. Let’s not leave our children with a huge bill.
– John J Cogan, CEO, Vantage Benefits Group Inc
The biggest challenge to the Rochester metro area will be employment. We need to continue courting new business opportunities for continued growth. I am optimistic we are moving in the right direction with new IT startups, various photonics/mechatronics development and agri-business-related growth.
– Bernard P. Fallon, Fallon Associates Realty Inc.
Poverty, low graduation rates and growing income inequality (intertwined issues) may become our biggest challenges both as problems in-and-of themselves but also as individuals and families considering our area see the increasing evidence of such issues in our neighborhoods, crime, labor pool and growing draw on social services & tax base which could diminish their potential interest in our otherwise appealing community.
– Thomas E Schnorr, President, RE/MAX Realty Group
Outside of our taxes, the biggest challenge Rochester will face is the Rochester City Schools. They are in need of innovative ideas on how to educate the children in the city. The children come from poor socio-economic homes. The program needs to be all encompassing for positive growth and development.
– Jennifer Apetz
I think the biggest challenge will be to maintain the residency of our young professionals as well as the established business leaders. The young professionals need to have a reason to stay revolving around good paying jobs, a vibrant downtown and diverse opportunities for entertainment. As residents age more and more are choosing to move out of NYS due to the high tax rates. In our business in particular we are seeing many high net worth individuals moving to other states to avoid the NYS income taxes. With the way the state is being run I believe this problem will only get worse if not dealt with in the next three to five years. We also need a resurgence in some of the old guard companies such as Xerox, Kodak and Frontier along with continued growth at the new leaders such as U of R and Paychex.
– Bill Shaheen, President & CEO, Whitney & Company
Our region’s greatest challenge is that too many of our economic leaders have not yet internalized the impact that the downsizing of our legacy industries (not just Kodak and Xerox, but GRS, Rochester Products, General Dynamics, Gerber, and many more) has had on our economy. According to the NYS Department of Labor, the Rochester region has 40,000 fewer employed people than it did in the 1980s. We don’t have a shortage of qualified workers – we have an absolutely massive shortage of jobs. We are a Rust Best city, and we need to realize that we have a long way to go to revitalize ourselves. There is no magic wand to allow us to lower taxes – we just need to work hard to increase our tax base and employment base.
– DeWain Feller
“Brain drain” - young people moving out of the area. Our urban situation with schools, housing, and center city attractions leaves Rochester far down almost every list of cities where people want to live. For most of my life, I’m 71 years old, the state of the city has deteriorated, with money fleeing to the suburbs, and young educated people fleeing to areas where jobs were plentiful, urban life was exciting, and better climate for raising children without having to resort to expensive private schools. Monroe County needs to recognize that the city is its heart, and dig in to revitalize urban public schools, urban housing opportunities, and cultural center city life…
– Wayne Donner
We have many great assets in this area such as a well-educated workforce, high standard of living and numerous cultural and recreational opportunities but it is the high taxes and burdensome regulations that continue to hold us back.
– Eric Pedersen, EP Visualz
The “can do” attitude of the area twenty years ago, which was based on personal and corporate enterprise and investment has, unfortunately, begun to slip into an attitude of looking first to government at the local, state and federal levels for assistance in starting new ventures and expanding existing ones. If this trend continues, I would not be very optimistic for our long term future.
– Robert Zinnecker, Penfield
The biggest long-term challenge for our region is likely to continue to be the ability to attract and retain enough taxpayers to support the infrastructure we take for granted (e.g., good quality schools). We must find a way to both increase the tax-paying population (especially among those without students in the school system) and to lower our local taxes. With foresight, those in charge of economic development should be reaching out now to businesses in hurricane-prone, flood-prone, forest-fire-prone areas, etc. to attract them to our region, which is relatively free of natural disasters. And we should maintain our focus on protecting our environment, because resources like clean drinking water will only become more dear.
– Maggie Symington, Brighton
Making Rochesterians understand that Kodak, or anything like it, will not be coming back. The future, if we are to be successful, will not look like the past. We must accept that and prepare for a very different way of doing business. And very different businesses. Since we don’t know what that will look like, we must be prepared for anything. Or, if we don’t want to accept that, maybe we can all become clerks at Wal-Mart. No White Knight will be coming from somewhere else to save us. Our forefathers made Rochester a very successful community. We must do the heavy lifting of making that happen again and stop looking for smart people from elsewhere to do it for us, as we have done for decades. We already have very smart students here. We send them away because we don’t want to provide them with a place to start out or hear what they have to say. If they weren’t so deeply in debt by the time they leave our horrifically expensive universities, they could do much more. As the old saw goes, “Lead, Follow, or get out of the way!” Rochester must get out of its own way.
– Gary Bogue
Taxes…self-serving politicians…nonproductive citizens that put a drain on the working population. This is not unique to our area but it is more severe here than in many locations. That happens in a democratic society when nonworking have nots outnumber the workers and go to the polls and elect their “guy” that gives them more. What incentive is there for people to work? How about “free” healthcare for everyone…!
– Mark Williams
Rochester needs to maintain and enhance a cultural and social infrastructure that is attractive to location independent knowledge workers. We are already blessed with fine educational institutions that can easily develop geographically unbound skills, artistry and technology. We need to find a way to create, strengthen and publicize the resources, including natural resources, that make our region an easy, attractive and rewarding place for highly skilled people of all ages, and varied tastes to settle, live and work. Jobs will follow.
– Rob Brown, ESOP
The quality of the education system, especially within RCSD, is troublesome. The workforce of the future will be required to understand automation and systems that the current education system does not cover. Nonetheless, I am optimistic about this area for several reasons: 1) availability of water, which I believe will create (over the next 50 years) a reverse of the trend that sent businesses and populations to the Sun Belt. 2) presence of world-class institutions like RIT and UR/URMC. 3) the continued presence of individuals who came through the Big Three and still have a strong entrepreneurial spirit.
– S. Wyatt