A quarter century's defining news events, people and trends
Posted at: 10/11/2012 2:55 PM
| Updated at: 10/11/2012 3:04 PM
By: Paul Ericson, Rochester Business Journal | WHEC.com
Outside my office stand two stacks of newspapers, which together rise roughly nine feet. These stacks contain every issue of the Rochester Business Journal that has appeared since we began weekly publication on Oct. 5, 1987-roughly 1,300 issues numbering more than 50,000 pages.
When we began to plan for this commemorative edition early this year, one of my first thoughts was this question: How do we cover the full sweep of local business news that has occurred over the past quarter century? The answer: We can't.
Instead, in this special publication we have tried to focus on individuals and companies that have played significant roles in the community since 1987, as well as the era's defining events and trends. While most of the content is retrospective, the final chapter looks ahead to the next quarter century and what it might bring for Rochester.
A few months ago we asked RBJ readers to help us pick the era's top story. Their overwhelming choice will surprise no one: Eastman Kodak Co.'s decline and bankruptcy. In 1988, Kodak had 47,000 local employees; today, fewer than 5,000 area residents work there.
Kodak's downsizing, of course, is not a unique case. Xerox Corp. employed nearly 13,000 people here in 1987; today its local workforce is roughly half that size. Indeed, the region's manufacturing sector as a whole has shrunk similarly.
Yet the Rochester region today has greater employment than it did 25 years ago. And in the wake of the Great Recession, it has been recognized as one of the nation's leading job creators.
This resilience is remarkable; I think our readers were right to pick it as another of the top stories of the era.
The University of Rochester's rise to No. 1 in local employment in the past decade was a milestone in a journey that began in the early 1980s. As the knowledge economy began to take root here, sectors like education and health care became the key sources of job and wealth creation. The diversification of the local economy continues today.
Ten years ago, as we worked on our 15th-anniversary edition, I combed through back issues for telling quotes. Among those I found was one from Charles Plosser, former Simon Graduate School of Business dean and now president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.
In an RBJ roundtable discussion on the local economy in 1989, he noted: "The one characteristic of the '80s in Rochester has been that we've grown less dependent on big companies. We've had lots of smaller startup companies, lots of entrepreneurial activity. I think that's healthy."
I don't think at that time he envisioned a future in which Kodak is fighting for its life. But today, who can doubt that innovation and entrepreneurship on a broad scale are what our community needs? As the RBJ embarks on its next quarter century, we are committed to covering that story as it unfolds.
A copy of the commemorative edition has been mailed to all RBJ print subscribers. If you want to order a copy you can click here or call 585-546-8303.