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Marketplace’s story on Rochester this week really took me back.  It’s about the impact of the demise of Kodak as a local employer, both in terms of numbers (from over 60,000 to under 2,000) and in terms of perks and local clout.  

I grew up there in the 70’s and 80’s.  Most of my classmates’ dads worked at Kodak.  It was a simply dominant force in the area.  Now, the parts of Kodak Park (a sprawling complex of factories) that haven’t been torn down have been rented out.

In the 70’s and 80’s, the story goes, the top three local employers were in manufacturing: Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb.  Now, the top three local employers are the University of Rochester, Strong Memorial Hospital, and Wegman’s.  That’s it, in a nutshell.

Hearing the local accent again was fun.  TW tells me the only time she hears it in me is when I pronounce “Rochester.”  People who aren’t from there pronounce the second syllable slowly, and like “chess.”  Natives pronounce it quickly, and like “chiss.”  If you hear the audio, the difference is between Kai Ryssdal’s pronunciation and the way the guys on the softball team say it.  I say it like the guys on the softball team.

After three-plus decades of decline, it’s trying to reinvent itself with startups. Admitting some hometown bias, I think it has a shot.  It always had weirdly good public schools in the suburbs, and Monroe Community College is a national leader.  (The U of R and RIT are nothing to sneeze at, either.)  It has a lot of place-bound engineers and techies who left, or were laid off from, Kodak or Xerox.  Heaven knows it has office and industrial space.  When I lived there, the culture could not be described as “entrepreneurial,” but that was a long time ago.  The winters are an acquired taste that I never really acquired, but at least there’s a strong and steady supply of water.

If it can let go of the past, it may have a chance.  I’m rooting for it.  The generation coming up has no memory of the big manufacturing years; if the city tries too hard to cling to the past, it will lose its talented young, just as it lost most of the best of my generation.  But if enough startups have enough room to move, and keep enough of the talented youth, the raw material is there.  Even if everyone else pronounces it wrong.


Last week I was able to provide a reference for one of the best people I’ve ever worked with.  There’s something satisfying about helping one of the good ones.  Hope it worked...


“Colleges are lavishing more financial aid on wealthy students.”

Two thoughts:

First, why do we accept without blinking that scholarships for a good jump shot are okay, but scholarships for good grades are not?  I’d rather reward the latter than the former.

Second, if you force public institutions to act like private businesses, then that is exactly what they will do.  Public institutions are institutions, with all of the obligations that term implies.  By dint of being public, they could be somewhat autonomous from the market.  To the extent that we take that autonomy away, we should not be surprised to see them behave like market actors.  They’re simply adapting to the environment.

If we want public colleges and universities to direct resources towards low-income students, we need to fund them accordingly.  At a minimum, that should involve directing more funding towards the colleges with the lowest-income students.  To the extent that we force colleges to get their funding from students, we reward them for cherry picking their students.  

Don’t just condemn the adaption.  Change the environment.

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