The decade ahead

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(Photo by Paul Ericson)

Rob Sands thinks the Rochester region’s “enhanced and coordinated approach to economic development” has it poised for growth.

David Munson sees “strong evidence of economic resurgence, led by companies of all sizes, including startups, and fueled by talent from local universities and colleges.”

Monroe County Sheriff Todd Baxter is hopeful that as the economy improves, it will “pull all of us up and reduce poverty.” 

These community leaders, like most other respondents to a Rochester Beacon survey, share an upbeat view of Rochester’s future. More than three-quarters of those participating in the survey expressed optimism about the prospects for our region in the decade ahead, with 20 percent saying they are very optimistic. Only 6 percent said they are very pessimistic.

Nearly 125 readers and community leaders took part in the survey, conducted Dec. 20-27. In addition to questions gauging their optimism or pessimism about Rochester’s future, respondents were asked to identify the top challenge facing our community in this decade. Reducing poverty was cited most often, followed by fixing problems in the education system, especially the Rochester City School District.

A number of survey participants explained their optimism about Rochester’s economy by pointing to the region’s assets—in particular, its colleges and universities—and growing evidence of collaboration among leaders spanning the private and public sectors.

Sands, executive chair of Constellation Brands and chairman of the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce, said his optimism stemmed from the fact that “we now have a well-funded and significantly enhanced and coordinated approach to economic development with ROC2025 through its sister organizations GRE, the Chamber, RDDC and Visit Rochester, and a strong executional evidence-based plan.”

United Way president and CEO Jaime Saunders also pointed to the impact of partnerships: “There appears to be a greater sense and willingness to collaborate throughout the community on addressing issues we face.”

Munson, president of Rochester Institute of Technology, cited the important role played by the region’s higher education institutions, while also citing assets such as “outstanding arts and culture, high-quality healthcare, endless outdoor opportunities, and an attractive urban core that is being renewed.”

Steve Dubnik, president and CEO of The Strong, National Museum of Play, also noted the resurgence of the center city. “The investments downtown are making Rochester a more attractive place to live and work and are resulting in more startup activity which is leveraging our intellectual capital,” he responded.

Andy Gallina, whose firm has been a leader in downtown redevelopment efforts, voiced optimism tempered by concerns about the strength of the local economy. He expects “moderate improvement,” but added that “our region needs to do more to spur growth.”

CGR president and CEO Erika Rosenberg said she is “somewhat optimistic” about Rochester’s prospects in the decade ahead “because Rochester’s challenges, while not unique to our region, are significant and not easily solved.” Those challenges include “poverty, race- and class-based disparities, and unequal access to quality educational experiences.”

Poverty, inequality and the failure to deliver quality education to all students were frequently mentioned in the responses to the survey’s final question: What is the biggest challenge our region is likely to face over the next 10 years?

“Improving Rochester city schools and reducing poverty,” wrote RIT’s Munson.

Jim Senall, NextCorps president and Rochester Angel Network managing director, echoed him: “Poverty and the school districts will likely remain as big issues we need to work on as a community.”

Mike Manikowski of Ontario County Economic Development believes the No. 1 challenge will be “developing, attracting, retaining talent across all levels.”

Greater Rochester Enterprise president and CEO Matt Hurlbutt shares that view. He wrote: “Accelerating talent development to help people from every background obtain the skills needed for real economic success.”

For Terry Taber, chief technical officer and president, Advanced Materials & 3D Printing, at Kodak, the key will be achieving and maintaining a relatively stable upstate “given the political, economic, and social issues facing New York State and beyond our state boundaries.” 

Kit Miller, M.K. Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence director, believes the top challenge is one that’s global in scope: climate disruption. Its consequences “will likely include population increase, upward pressure on housing and other expenses in our historically moderate cost of living, and interruptions to supply chain for area employers.”

The following are the complete signed written responses of survey participants. Many additional unsigned responses were submitted. As a matter of policy, the Beacon does not post unsigned comments.

Why are you optimistic or pessimistic about the Rochester region’s prospects for the next decade?

Due to the fact that we now have a well-funded and significantly enhanced and coordinated approach to economic development with ROC2025 through its sister organizations GRE, the Chamber, RDDC and Visit Rochester, and a strong executional evidence-based plan.

—Rob Sands, Constellation Brands

I am somewhat optimistic in that as the economy improves, hopefully this will pull all of us up and reduce poverty. I am optimistic millennials will push forward our use of technology. I am optimistic that our racial divides will continue to decrease as we concentrate less on divides and more on ourselves as one community, thereby making us all stronger.

—Sheriff Todd Baxter

The Greater Rochester region is well positioned for the future. The Rochester region is a college town with 19 colleges and universities and a number of innovative companies positioned for growth such as Barilla, CloudCheckr, Datto, HP Hood, IDEX, IEC Electronics, L3Harris, Optimax and Rochester Precision Optics, just to name a few. Rochester is also headquarters to several industry leaders such as Constellation Brands, Paychex, LiDestri Food & Drink, Monro Inc. and Wegmans.

—Matt Hurlbutt, Greater Rochester Enterprise

My optimism stems from a combination of factors: 1) the wide range of technologies, services, and companies that now populate the Rochester region, 2) the region’s emphasis on workforce development and on improving overall economic conditions for all, and 3) a growing understanding and recognition of all the Rochester region has to build on—a strong foundation of success and creative, hardworking people. 

—Terry Taber, Eastman Kodak

The economy in the Rochester region bottomed out a while ago. We now see strong evidence of economic resurgence, led by companies of all sizes, including startups, and fueled by talent from local universities and colleges. We have available outstanding arts and culture, high-quality healthcare, endless outdoor opportunities, and an attractive urban core that is being renewed.

—David Munson, Rochester Institute of Technology

I believe that we will be seeing moderate improvement in the local economy, but our region needs to do more to spur growth.

—Andy Gallina, Gallina Development

Community leaders of all types (business, government, not for profit, including cultural) seem to be working better together than ever before. The investments downtown are making Rochester a more attractive place to live and work and are resulting in more startup activity which is leveraging our intellectual capital.

—Steve Dubnik, The Strong, National Museum of Play

So many things are going in the right direction! We are seeing a continued uptick in startup and entrepreneurial activity, more innovative companies are popping up in the downtown innovation zone, and more and more people are moving downtown, which is creating energy and a buzz. The future looks bright!

—Jim Senall, NextCorps

I’m optimistic because of the focus on systems and on broad-based efforts to dismantle racism. I believe these two efforts, in concert, represent the biggest boost to address long-term problems related to poverty, RCSD, etc.

—Kit Miller, M.K. Gandhi Institute

As a technology hub for several sectors, the region will continue to commercialize advanced technologies. Also, promoting and assisting the scaling of second stage businesses and finding financial help for entrepreneurial ventures bodes well for the region.

—Mike Manikowski, Ontario County Economic Development

The community has rebounded from many challenges.  

—Steven Goldstein, Strong Memorial Hospital

I am somewhat optimistic because Rochester’s challenges, while not unique to our region, are significant and not easily solved. Poverty, race- and class-based disparities, and unequal access to quality educational experiences are some of the most entrenched issues. Our community is working in collaborative ways and applying different thinking to these problems, which gives me some hope that we will make progress.

—Erika Rosenberg, CGR

There appears to be a greater sense and willingness to collaborate throughout the community on addressing issues we face. Be it poverty, education, affordable housing—there are collectives at work that are bringing together people and organizations who can contribute to the solutions.

—Jaime Saunders, United Way

Rochester already has the high-tech infrastructure in place from industry giants such as Kodak and Xerox, not to mention the world-class universities and colleges, such as U of R and RIT, which attract top talent and result in a highly educated populace. The colder weather has prevented an overcrowding problem so real estate values are not inflated like you find in cities such as Los Angeles, therefore more people can afford homes and will put down generational roots in the ROC, leading to even more stability and innovation because people are invested deeply in ROC, not only for themselves but for their families and future generations. The main reasons I stay here, despite not loving the cold weather and icy roads three months out of the year, is the great job opportunities, the wealth of things to do with my family (I’ve never seen so many festivals and arts and music and food options so that every weekend I struggle with making a choice because there are so many appealing things to choose from), the affordability of my home, and the fact that my kids can attend college at a great university nearby. I have a disabled son and he receives wonderful self-direction services and education here so that he too can join in on all the wonderful family things Rochester has to offer. 

—Jerri Lynn Sparks

I’m optimistic because we have a highly educated workforce in Rochester. I temper my optimism because of state and local governments that seem intent on destroying NYS.

—Jeff Luellen

We’ve got anything and everything a company or resident would need. Excellent schools, world class health care, convenient expressways/Thruway, culture, history, lakes and, of course, Wegmans. Downtown, for example, is exploding with new apartments and new residents. Housing drives everything and without it, nothing succeeds. I’m very excited about the growth of downtown and Rochester as a whole. 

—Jason Sumner          

Rochester has a history of surviving the big problems. I’ve been in this community since 1963, and with each new crisis that has hit us, we don’t seem to have gone down as far as the national average. The major staff reductions of our major companies (EK, Xerox, B&L, and others) has resulted in startup companies. We have a highly technical and educated workforce and we have community organizations that are looking for potential startups and are able to help and guide them. In addition, academia is ready, willing and able to respond to the changing needs of our business community.

—Frederick (Rick) Iekel

My optimism is based in the rising progressive activism in the communities of the Greater Rochester region. Today’s movements for justice and equality are broader and deeper than those of the 1960s.

—Tom Perry  

There seems to be plethora of various new technology firms in the early to emerging stages that will help boost the local economy in terms of jobs and revenue brought into the region.

—Bob Volpe

Great colleges and universities and philanthropy to support their key growth areas. This well-educated workforce is well suited to the new economy. Development of neighborhoods and activities attractive to Gen X, millennials, etc.

—James M. Genthner

Rochester is emerging from the shadow of the Kodak/Xerox debacles with many promising smaller companies now growing here. Also, the effects of climate change may be somewhat milder here than will hit many other areas of the U.S. and world.

—Peter Collinge         

When I try to imagine a positive future for the Rochester region, I imagine first of all a center, in this case the city itself. The city cannot be a center without certain successful systems, including a public school system. Without that alone, the city cannot attract residents. Without residents—families with school-age children—the population cannot flourish. Its existing residents—largely impoverished families, minimum-wage workers with or without children, unemployed of all ages—don’t have the means to fight for anything beyond their own survival.

—Karen Beadling

Small businesses are starting and developing well. We are belatedly, but surely converting from a Fortune 500 town to a much more diversified economy.

—Rob Brown

There is so much growth in the downtown area, it is feeling revitalized. Only somewhat optimistic as there is still so much poverty in the city.

—Kathleen M. Jensen

Actions to address failing Rochester city schools.

—Stephen Gaudioso

I am optimistic because we are finally investing in our region, RCSD is being restructured, and intentional, structural racism practices are being exposed and acknowledged. Poverty is killing our people—in Rochester and in rural areas (Common Ground Health, 2019).

—Lynn M. Lubecki  

We have the four key elements to enable business success as startups and established enterprises: Intellectual underpinning. Established and welcoming ecosystems. Experienced leadership. Increasing capital resources.

—Larry Grumer

Our region has great foundational natural, human and cultural resources.

—James Yarrington

Rochester tends to lag behind the rest of the country both during economic upturns and downturns. With our real estate being undervalued and major efforts to enhance downtown the fundamentals are there for an upturn.

—Frank Orienter        

We just don’t seem to have a coherent strategy to move the city forward. The city schools are a mess and poverty is rampant.

—Remy Fenster

While the area seems stable in terms of the economy, there remain many areas in need. Specifically, addressing poverty, city school performance and budget issues, lack of responsive government on the city/county/state levels demonstrating that they are working for the majority of the population vs. special interests such as developers and large businesses. All of the above remaining unaddressed will further divide and stratify our residents into the “haves” and “have-nots.”

—Bob Thompson

Somewhat optimistic about the health of downtown because of increased housing, restaurants, cultural venues and retail. Wonderful to see so many food trucks and activity around on weekday lunch hours.

—Robin Cass

Downtown is flourishing and there are positive national articles about us in several places.

—Roslyn Bakst Goldman

The potential is huge and with the likelihood of new leadership on the horizon, I am hopeful.

—Monique Patenaude

Natural beauty and resources, educated employment base, manageable population size. People wanting to live in a warmer climate with lower taxes but not realizing the full implications of such places. 

—Carlos Mercado

(Somewhat pessimistic because of) the direction of the Rochester City School District.

—Richard Hannon

The city school’s morass of failures and non-competitive tax rates won’t bode well for local growth—despite our reviving entrepreneurial activity when and if the current economic expansion slows or shrinks.

—David Lovenheim

I believe infrastructure wise and public institution wise we are overbuilt for the current and expected future population. I think we have an economic planning mentality rather than an entrepreneurial and dynamic mentality, and demographic and cultural trends do not seem to be pointing in our favorable direction.

—Michael Rizzo, University of Rochester

Schools, local business scene, revitalizing downtown and other positives, offset by Blue State tax regime.

—Harry Howe

Rochester has never before had more startup funding and support systems in place, and startups are a critical precursor to economic growth. We made it this far with far less, so the future seems bright.

—Jeff Valentine

Next recession will wipe out jobs that won’t be refilled. Too, automation will eliminate positions. School and poverty spending doesn’t seem to have an impact at reversing grinding poverty.

—Jared Kopp

 I think that until we address on a systemic level the  causes and impacts of racism, poverty, and the growing gap between those with wealth and everyone else (on education, employment, health, etc.) we will not be able to make truly significant steps forward overall. Instead we will do fits and starts that don’t change the big picture. While we have many people of good will concerned about and working on these issues, that has been happening for all of the 37 years I have been in Rochester and it still isn’t making a big enough impact.  

—Jane Bleeg

What is the biggest challenge our region is likely to face over the next 10 years?

We must start seeing workforce growth which fundamentally means workforce age population growth. This means attracting talent to the region from elsewhere or retaining graduating students from our higher ed institutions. Workforce growth, GDP and thus economic development are highly correlated. The RCSD also needs to be dealt with. The inability of the RCSD to deliver a quality education to our city residents is a serious inhibition to the development of the urban core of our region. 

—Rob Sands, Constellation Brands

The politicization of almost every social and economic consideration is going to play a significant part dividing us. I believe it is intentional on behalf of some who look to divide—call names, hyper critique. These folks will continue to try to divide us. I challenge folks to look to see what leaders in our community have created or built. Has their work improved us as a community? If the answer is no, I would challenge you to second guess their leadership over you. At best they are taking up much-needed energy. Simply put, this is our biggest challenge because together we all gain, divided we all fall. Perfect no, room for improvement, yes, but let’s not divide, let’s build each other.

—Sheriff Todd Baxter

Accelerating talent development to help people from every background obtain the skills needed for real economic success—whether that means securing the skills needed for positions in the trades, mechatronics, software development or becoming a CEO of an innovative small business. Solving this challenge will take meaningful collaboration with a focus on execution among business, community and government leaders to create the alignment we need for demonstrable success in a very competitive global economy.

—Matt Hurlbutt, Greater Rochester Enterprise

While acknowledging a big concern currently is the Rochester City School District, I believe this will be resolved well before a decade passes. Over the next 10 years, I believe our biggest challenge will be to achieve and maintain a relatively stable environment for upstate/Western NY given the political, economic, and social issues facing New York State and beyond our state boundaries. I see this as our biggest challenge since control and influence to resolve these issues are not directly in our hands only.

—Terry Taber, Eastman Kodak

Improving Rochester city schools and reducing poverty.

—David Munson, Rochester Institute of Technology

We need growth, both in our local workforce and our local economy, and without substantial focus on increasing local GDP, we will simply plug along and underperform in comparison with our peers.   

—Andy Gallina, Gallina Development

The negative perception of NY State business climate in general and upstate NY in particular are our major obstacles to overcome. 

—Steve Dubnik, The Strong, National Museum of Play

Poverty and the school districts will likely remain as big issues we need to work on as a community. Those issues are complex and require long-term efforts. But there are many people in town working on them, so I am optimistic.

—Jim Senall, NextCorps

The biggest challenge our region will likely face are unpredictable consequences of climate disruption, even in this region where the effects are less likely to be drastic. These consequences will likely include population increase, upward pressure on housing and other expenses in our historically moderate cost of living, and interruptions to supply chain for area employers.

—Kit Miller, M.K. Gandhi Institute

Developing, attracting, retaining talent across all levels.

—Mike Manikowski, Ontario County Economic Development

Poverty, employment.

—Steven Goldstein, Strong Memorial Hospital        

I’m afraid that weak economic growth will continue to be a challenge over the next decade, which makes solving our problems of poverty, inequality and unequal access to quality education more difficult. 

—Erika Rosenberg, CGR

Adequate, equitable employment that provides secure, well-paying jobs to all. Poverty and the interconnection of issues that exacerbate it start with employment. If our fellow citizens are gainfully employed, it sets off a string of events that can positively impact being able to afford quality housing, being able to be present and active with children, and these children are more motivated to do well in school (behaviorally and academically), which then sets them up for a productive career at a secure, well-paying job, and the cycle continues. It could very well take generations to address this challenge, but there is inspiring work being done throughout our community to move us in the right direction.

—Jaime Saunders, United Way

An out-of-control government which keeps raising taxes and fees, from local property taxes, which are creating a Haves and Have Nots class divide that will only lead to crime if people can’t afford a home and therefore can’t put down roots and feel a sense of stability and ownership in their neighborhoods, to state taxes and even a recent move to increase the Thruway fees even as the government invests money in attracting visitors to New York. What a great way to draw visitors: increase how much it costs for people to travel here. I’ve heard “All states are doing it.” Do we really want to be followers? The feeling of being fleeced in the wallet is causing many people to head out of state to a lower cost of living. Washington, D.C., is a good example of what we don’t want to become: a region without a middle class because its population is transient where young families move out once they have kids. Where kids grow up forms a bond that keeps bringing them back season after season and ultimately it leads them to put down roots and invest in their hometowns. Without affordable lifestyles, people don’t put down roots in a place and it becomes neglected.

—Jerri Lynn Sparks

The tax and regulatory burden imposed by state and local governments. 

—Jeff Luellen

Taxes, regulation, taxes, politicians’ stubbornness, taxes, lack of vision by leaders, taxes.

—Jason Sumner

Educating our children. The Rochester City School District continues to be a serious problem. Money is not the answer. Superintendents have tried. I believe the two main problems are 1) the long tenure of the union president, and 2) the city school board which seems to be unable to get its act together.

—Frederick (Rick) Iekel

Racism and all the inequalities that are rooted in centuries of white supremacy culture.

—Tom Perry  

Getting the Rochester City School District to a suitable overall level of district and student performance. To me, resolving this issue will cure a lot of the community’s current ills going forward. A well-prepared future workforce of district graduates will return the vitality of a middle class lost with the devolution of Kodak, Xerox and B&L. Coincident with this challenge is to have a very transparent over-arching non-partisan community coalition of key stakeholders and others with heavy proven community leadership in driving this change. The first step (for) such a coalition (is) to have the RCSD board seats filled with responsible, future-looking change agents to make things happen. There are plenty of consulting organizations that have experience in working with school districts. Perhaps one needs to be brought in to help facilitate a change process.

—Bob Volpe

Eliminating poverty and full inclusion of all community members into a high energy, sharing economy filled with opportunity for everyone to develop their own unique being.

—James M. Genthner

Our core urban poverty and the related poor Rochester City School District performance will be the biggest challenge for our region and, unless effectively addressed, will significantly hinder our economy.

—Peter Collinge

While the school system itself is not the biggest challenge, its failure mirrors the challenges for the region: There are not enough residents in the center with the power and the foresight to rise above their own interests and together make use of what is available to forge an inclusive plan for the city, the center, this region requires.

—Karen Beadling

We need to become more and more attractive to the younger generation people who have the skills necessary to satisfy the workplace needs of our budding entrepreneurs.

—Rob Brown

Reducing the poverty in the city.

—Kathleen M Jensen

Ongoing poverty and health care issues.

—Stephen Gaudioso

Bridging the divide of social and economic inequalities.

—Larry Grumer

Foundational resources and advantages mean nothing if not cultivated, managed, leveraged and marketed effectively. There is a mixed record on these aspects, so one cannot assume that all will be managed effectively going forward. More effective regional and urban planning, better transportation planning, bold redevelopment of not just city areas but “mature” suburban areas, and amelioration of poverty and the poorly-managed City School District are key along with more sophisticated and effective marketing of regional assets including cultural and heritage tourism.

—James Yarrington

Generally, there is a remarkable lack of visionary leadership both in government and industry. The RCSD needs to be completely revamped from top to bottom. When that is accomplished it will be a harbinger of a brighter future.

—Frank Orienter

Lifting people out of poverty.

—Remy Fenster

City schools and poverty. The city will never reach its potential unless these two issues are addressed. Poverty impacts parental and student participation in schools and the overall health of our neighborhoods. (Think property condition / social services / crime.) The school system’s lack of fiscal and educational performance continues the poverty cycle as well as creates an environment in which young families are moving out of the city when children are of school age to attend better, safer schools. There is little “draw” to moving into the city if you have a young family.

—Bob Thompson

I believe the biggest challenge is the lack of support and engagement in the health of the urban center on the part of people and businesses outside of the city. The prevailing attitudes of suburban folks towards the city—dangerous, difficult to park, etc. —are so entrenched and difficult to change.

—Robin Cass

Poverty. That relates to the schools, to business and to growth. Our reputation in the category is dismal.

—Roslyn Bakst Goldman

POVERTY. Poverty. poverty. Poor education system in the city proper.

—Monique Patenaude

People wanting to live in a warmer climate with lower taxes but not realizing the full implications of such places.

—Carlos Mercado

Improving the performance and management of the RCSD.

—Richard Hannon

Racial isolation and poverty and educational failure in the city. Failure to realize the destructive cost of too many local government entities, including towns, villages and school districts. These overhead costs are not competitive with places whose business climates are far, far more favorable for population and economic growth.

—David Lovenheim

Overreliance on NYS and non-Rochester funding for innovation, basic infrastructure, education…

—Michael Rizzo, University of Rochester

Providing attractive options for a shrinking cohort of young people. The “missing” students in our colleges and universities over the next 10+ years are going to be the “missing” parents of K-12 students in the next 15-20+ years. Will the US be able to adopt a rational, Canadian-style immigration regime?

—Harry Howe

I see startup activity as step 1. Step 2 is successful exits of those startups. Step 3 is the reinvestment of wealth and talent back into new startups, completing a virtuous circle of economic growth. One of the harder parts of that is the second step, so I think we should focus on fostering series B and later private equity relationships to prevent board-influenced relocations away from Rochester of our best startups, and retaining those startups already here so they don’t look elsewhere as they grow.

—Jeff Valentine

Effects of next recession.

—Jared Kopp

The fallout from the failures of the Rochester City School District elected commissioners.

—Shenuti Nehast Kawaida

A tie between global climate change, and the  causes and impacts of racism, poverty, and the growing gap between those with wealth and everyone else (on education, employment, health, etc.).  We will not make truly significant steps forward unless/until these are seen as essential to our existence as a species, and given the priority status, resources and creative energy that are required to come up with the level of change needed.

—Jane Bleeg

Paul Ericson is Rochester Beacon executive editor.

2 thoughts on “The decade ahead

  1. There is a major difference between optimism and realism. It is not realistic to believe that we will eradicate poverty via more tech jobs, a revitalized Main Street, or financial transfers to the poor. Yes to improvements (ASAP please!) to the RCSD (to fail to educate a child is to condemn that child to a life of poverty), but what business community leadership most urgently needs to focus upon is bringing to the community jobs that individuals lacking education and/or advanced training can perform, paying a wage sufficient to allow for community advancement.

  2. And what would you expect them to say? I have lived in Rochester for forty years and I have heard it all before. Rochester will be pretty much the same as it has been. The glory days of Kodak, Bausch and Lomb and Xerox will not return. If you black you will still be poor, living in a sharply segregated urban environment with a sub-par school system.
    If you want to see what looks like a vital economy in which there appears to be prosperity with significant socio-economic diversity have a look at the costal urban areas in the south Atlantic states like Jacksonville and Tampa.

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