Initially I was motivated to read Jump-Starting America by J. Gruber and S. Johnson upon a recommendation by a friend. And, of course, I was intrigued by its designation of Rochester, NY as the number 1 geographical location in the USA for possessing all the foundational elements to being an innovation technology hub.
I hurriedly ordered the hardcover version of the book and immediately downloaded the audio to begin listening. A six hour trip back and forth from Rochester to Bethesda, Md. got me through two complete listens.
Primarily the book is the story of the post WWII economic success of the USA as the world’s economic engine. Although the recap in detail of that history was interesting in reinforcing and highlighting the almost perfect storm of the public/private/academic partnership, I was more intrigued by the thing I really cared about which was on page 234 Appendix 1. There I found Rochester, NY listed as #1, of 102 US cities possessing the ingredients for recreating this perfect storm.
Listening to the book stimulated my reaching out to the authors. That reaching out stimulated a follow up from them which resulted in a conversation that went something like this.
“I loved your book. I lived and worked professionally in Rochester for over 50 years. Your characterization of the potential here is, in my observation, spot on. Indeed, I view your book and designation as a gift to my community. That said, what I know about leadership in Rochester is that we will find a way to screw it up or miss the opportunity that’s been provided. What’s needed is a grass roots or bottom up effort in the community to stimulate and insist that leadership in the public/private/academic sectors come along.”
Well, Jonathan Gruber stopped me stone cold when he said “Bruce. You are absolutely right. What can we do to help?”
Now, I’ve lived in Rochester, NY for over 50 years. When I moved to Rochester, the Eastman Kodak company employed almost 70,000 workers locally. It wasn’t long after that Xerox employed an additional 30,000 people locally. Fast forward to today. Kodak employs fewer than 3,000 and Xerox less than 10,000 people. The backstory for how all this occurred is far beyond my ken.
There are some wonderful aspects and things to be proud of as a community. The Kodak legacy has so much to commend it, but its demise has left a difficult cultural imprint of confusion about who we are. There was a time when we had the best healthcare system in the country... and more. That status devolved into a City Center with among the highest poverty and worst school systems by any measure in the country.
If you ask people about Rochester it would take literally seconds to come off their lips “oh, it’s really cold there and snows a lot.“
Stay tuned for Part 2 ...