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The Business Page

Welcome to the business page, a blog where I'll take you behind the scenes of greater Rochester's fast-changing economy. My name is Ben Rand, and I intend to introduce you to some of the personalities, concepts and events that make news in business here. I've been a business reporter for eight years in Rochester and a journalist for 18, working in four states. I grew up in Pittsford, but moved away after college for about a decade. My wife and I live in Irondequoit with our two children.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Rochester Rotary and Economic Predictions

The Rochester chapter of the Rotary Club met over lunch today to hear from Sandy Parker, the chief executive officer of the Rochester Business Alliance. Parker has delivered "Parker's Predictions" to a Rotary audience in each of the last eight years. It's become one of the Rotary's most-anticipated events.

Most notable this year, perhaps, is Parker's change of tone. Historically the RBA chief has tried to present an optimistic picture while frankly discussing the region's challenges. For example:
  • In 2005 she spoke of "opportunity" in predicting that greater Rochester would add 5,000 jobs. She noted, however, that those job gains would be offset by continued downsizing.
  • In 2003 she pronounced herself "cautiously optimistic" about a recovery in the second half of the year. But Parker again noted ongoing restructuring at major employers.
  • In 2001 she pointed to the resiliency of the local economy in overcoming job cuts.

Her speech today was far blunter. "We are in trouble," she told the 150 people at the luncheon, noting that upstate New York has trailed the state and nation in job and population growth. "Clearly our community has no choice but to figure out how to change direction."

The frank talk comes in the midst of a new campaign designed to get business leaders across upstate to unite behind a single agenda for reform.

Other notable observations from the Rotary lunch:

  • Don Alhart, longtime anchor at 13WHAM-TV, either has a sweet tooth or an offbeat sense of humor. Alhart, a longtime Rotarian, kicked off the luncheon with an in-person newscast. He concluded with mid-day stock prices for various local companies....but then, for good measure, threw in a quote for Tootsie Roll Industries. OK, I'll admit it: Among the companies that I wouldn't expect to be publicly traded, Tootsie Roll ranks rather high. Wrong! Tootsie Roll is a $420 million company that also makes Double Bubble, Charleston Chew, Dots, Junior Mints, Charms Blow Pops and Fluffy Stuff cotton candy. In case you were curious as an investor, though, Tootsie's stock has fluctuated between $28 and $38 a share for several years.
  • Rotarians have creative social coordinators. Try and top the group's upcoming social event, March 4: An outing at the Rochester Curling Club. For a fee, members will get dinner, instruction and the chance to participate in a real game of curling, a boutique Winter Olympics sport. Curling, developed in the 1500s, involves teams competing to slide 42-pound granite rocks down a sheet of ice toward a target.


Blogger Brian Bell said...

And yet, what is the discussion today? Whether we should borrow $100 million plus against future tobacco settlement proceeds to cover operational gaps (oh, I mean unfunded mandates) in future budget years.

We know the issues...

"From 1990 to 2003, private sector job growth across Upstate New York's six largest metropolitan areas was 1.5%, significantly less than the national increase of 19.0%. Job growth lags far behind the nation - and even behind 'Rust Belt' competitors like Ohio and Michigan"

MAYBE....Rochester, Monroe County and ALL OF UPSTATE should look outside its borders to Michigan and other states who are dedicating tens of millions of dollars per year in tobacco settlement money to GROW NEW BUSINESSES AND COMMERCIALIZE LOCAL TECHNOLOGY.

People seem to forget that the largest markets for venture capital (San Jose, Boston, San Diego) are located in HIGHLY TAXED STATES as well.

When intellectual capital is the primary business value, and not labor or energy cost per widget, you can grow businesses in industries in hostile environments.

But politicians work on a much shorter timeframe than needed, so we spend all the energy attracting the easy 500 jobs from an established manufacturer, BY BUILDING ANOTHER CHAMBER OF COMMERCE AND ANOTHER IDA PROGRAM TO GIVE THEM LOTS OF PILOT OR ENERGY INCENTIVES.

But if you want to grow 50,000 jobs, like San Diego did, BUILD A CLUSTER and use your tobacco money more intelligently.

10:20 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Behind The Business Page said...

It's the proverbial Catch-22, a series of competing interests -- you have a gaping budget deficit and a stated goal of not raising taxes and a source of money, so you go that route versus investing for the long term. I think it's fair to say there are no easy answers.

10:42 AM, January 23, 2006  
Blogger Brian Bell said...

Is that not a situation calling for true leadership in this increasingly polarizing political climate?

When I see on the front page of the City and County websites a benchmarked ranking for every municipal service and how efficiently its provided locally vs. all other NYS municipalities, and Rochester/Monroe places in the top 5% of every category, I'll listen.

Should we be asking for anything less?

10:04 AM, February 09, 2006  
Blogger Behind The Business Page said...

No. We should not. But there certain seems to be an aversion in this community to "thinking big."

11:49 AM, February 09, 2006  

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