Rochester job creation continues to lag nearly all large U.S. metropolitan areas. From 2018 through August 2019, the Rochester metro’s lackluster record placed it 87th among the 100 largest metros.
The chart above tells the tale: As a group, the large metros outpaced Rochester every year except during the housing- and finance-led Great Recession. By not having participated in the housing/construction bubble, Rochester was insulated from the worst of that downturn.
Rochester came back from the Great Recession, although employment grew only 6 percent since 2010. That’s a third of the 18 percent increase experienced by the comparison group. Our job count today is nearly identical to that of two decades ago.
The bright spot in Rochester’s recent economic history has been education and health care. Combined, these sectors added 40,000 jobs from 2000 forward, offsetting a large share of the 48,000-job decline in manufacturing. Even here, however, relative job gains haven’t kept pace with the rest of the metro economies. “Eds & meds” grew 45 percent in Rochester, compared with an increase of 63 percent in the other big metros, which added seven million new jobs. The share of local employment in manufacturing fell from 20 percent in 2000 to 11 percent today with education and health care rising to 25 percent from 18 percent. The remaining sectors have largely retained their same employment shares.
What can we do?
There is no obvious tonic for Rochester’s lethargy. We can no longer blame this on Kodak.
We share our stagnation with the rest of Upstate. Buffalo’s job creation since 2000 is only slightly better than Rochester’s, ranking 88th out of 100. Its 2018-19 rank is 85th to Rochester’s 87th. Albany has done better over the long haul, yet still ranks only 73rd for job creation since 2000 and 83rd for the most recent year. Despite Syracuse’s 91st ranking from 2000-2019, a 1.1 percent job spurt 2018-19 placed it 49th in the nation.
That Rochester shares its malaise with other upstate cities suggests that the state is part of the problem. It is fair to argue that the state’s tax, labor and regulatory policies are adapted to wealthy downstate and ruinous for the upstate economy.
As I’ve argued in previous posts, it is time to reintroduce ourselves to the nation and refocus Rochester’s image. The current tagline used by Visit Rochester, “Limitless,” includes everything, thus nothing. Our cultural identity is strong, authentic and unique. Let’s build on it.
We don’t simply suffer from poor marketing, of course. A new image and a bold ad campaign aren’t sufficient. We must continue to build on our conspicuous strengths, such as our highly-regarded higher-ed sector, and tackle our conspicuous failures, particularly persistent poverty and the associated challenges of the city school district.
I’ve lived here for nearly 30 years and have no plans to leave. For all those years I have been anticipating the day when the Rochester economy turns around and begins to achieve its potential. And I still am.
Kent Gardner is Rochester Beacon opinion editor.