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business story

The biggest 
business story

RBJ readers overwhelmingly select the decline of Kodak
as the top headline

This story appeared in the RBJ’s commemorative 30th Anniversary section. See more content related to the RBJ’s anniversary here.

When 1987 ended, Eastman Kodak employed nearly 45,000 local employees. It was a business icon globally and the Great Yellow Father locally.

By 2012—when RBJ readers overwhelmingly said Kodak’s decline ranked as the top story of the previously 25 years—the company’s local employment had fallen to 5,000 and the company was in bankruptcy. While the company emerged from Chapter 11 in 2013, its employment has continued to shrink. The company finished 2016 with 1,640 local employees. That ranked Kodak, which was the region’s largest employer for decades, 16th on the RBJ 75 list of the region’s largest employers. Its companywide employment was just over 6,000.

This year’s survey of readers on the biggest story of the past 30 years resulted in Kodak’s decline ranking No. 1 by an overwhelming margin—61 percent, compared with 59 percent five years ago. More than 500 responded to the poll conducted in late July.


Kodakís collapse directly affected tens of thousands of local residents. What goes with this is that the community, while feeling the pain of this massive shift, did not collapse. This is almost miraculous. So I feel that the story of Kodakís collapse and the resilience of the local economy are indelibly connected!

–  Paul Haney

Kodak is a classic business failure from complacency and top management looking to line their pockets instead of looking out for shareholders and employees. Combining with incompetent and myopic executives not willing to take risk with innovation turned one of the most successful companies into a wasteland. The Kodak experience is something all businesses should learn what NOT to do.

–  Patrick Ho, Rochester Optical

The rise of Midtown after the slow and painful demise as the light switch that turned the page forward on our failing downtown.

– Ira Korn, Genesee Commercial Real Estate

The decline and fall of Eastman Kodak has to be the top story. Kodak and Rochester were once synonymous. The entire community has changed dramatically as a result.

– Peter Deane M.D., Allergy Asthma 
Immunology of Rochester P.C.

Paychex is a nationally and internationally, public corporation headquartered here with a $20-plus billion market capitalization and founder Tom Golisano leads the way as one of Rochesterís most prominent and generous benefactors of our time. Thank you TG for all you have done for our community.

Molly Johnson

I donít see how you cannot see the impact of Kodakís decline where tens of thousands employees lost jobs and where reverberations of many dependent businesses were also felt as anything but the top story of the last 30 years. Multiple universities, including Cornell, Boston University, are now studying Kodak as a case study for mistakes made. Perhaps from their numerous missteps others may learn.

– Joanne Greene-Blose

The decline, destruction and bankruptcy of the Eastman Kodak Co. AND the 8,000-plus small business/vendors destroyed in the process is an unfortunate local business reality. Rochester local business history will never compensate for this tragedy!

– David Brooks

While the growth has been unprecedented, is it all good? Can our area sustain the growth by supporting all these new, and old, businesses? Has the state been unfair in opening up the beer and cider industries to basically unregulated sales, while holding back wineries with limited sales outlets and opportunities?

–  Ted Marks,  Atwater Estate Vineyards

Kodak was at a high point 30 years ago, and Kodakís decline and bankruptcy has played out like a Simon Business School case study over the last 30 years. The manufacturing and living wage jobs that were lost have proven nearly impossible to replace. Had most of the other stories taken place without the decline of Kodak, Rochester would be booming today. Photonics will be the story of the next 30 years-if we can grow businesses that create living wage jobs for more than Ph.D.s.

– Dana Miller, Rochester City Council vice president

Kodakís decline and eventual bankruptcy is by far the most significant business event. Not only was Kodakís decline a major influence on the Rochester economy; but more importantly, it was an early example of the new, fast-changing economic environment we find ourselves in today. Kodak is not alone. Volatility and unprecedented business disruption has adversely impacted a growing number of Fortune 500 firms during the past decade years.  The trend continues to accelerate. This accelerating pace of change and disruption is likely to be the business story of our generation. Kodakís early fall foreshadowed what was to follow…the magnitude of which we likely still donít fully appreciate today.

– Bill Verhelle, Founder and former CEO of First American Equipment Finance

This is not a headline grabber, but the simple fact remains that we have been severely impacted by the state inaction on industry, along with excessive regulations, together with state and local taxes. Taking away the manufacturing base makes it very difficult to recover in the short and long term.

– Paul McCarthy, McCarthy Chemicals

The big overarching story is the significant and successful rebalancing of the areaís economy from the ìBig 3î to a wider mix of types of businesses and jobs. A side bar is the reduction of the average wage as a result of losing good paying manufacturing jobs and the relatively successful transition to a service economy. Another buffer in the transition is the support of those former Kodak, Xerox and B&L employees by their pensions so that we have a large segment of our population with stable incomes. The rest of the story is the response of the rest of the communityís employers to foster growth in a way that didnít make the Rochester area a ghost town. Thus, the big story is made up of chapters made up of all the choices you list in your question of the top story.

– Bob Volpe, retired Kodak employee, Sarasota, Fla.

We certainly have a very good selection here, whomever made this list up is on top of things. Although all topics are suitable, I still think the demise of industry in this area is the most noteworthy as having an adverse effect on all residents!

– JA DePaolis, Penfield

Though Kodakís demise is heartbreaking for many, the rise and success of Tom Golisano and (Paychex) is awesome. They have remained flexible adding complementary products as needed while expanding their core business. Their shareholder returns have been consistent and rewarding. They are a great business model for any entrepreneur or SMB to model to achieve their success.  

– Hugh Rundle, CEO, Brella Brella LLC, Webster


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