Mayoral candidates Thomas Richards and Lovely Warren both say improving the performance of the Rochester City School District is their top priority, but the two Democrats differ on the best way to create and fill city jobs.
Richards and Warren debated education, economic development and jobs, the demise of Rochester's leading manufacturers, and the city's budget structure during a 90-minute visit to Rochester Business Journal offices.
Richards, 70, is running for a four-year term as mayor after winning a special election in March 2011 to fill the remainder of Robert Duffy's term. He joined Duffy's administration in 2006 as corporation counsel, became deputy mayor in 2010 and was sworn in as mayor Jan. 1, 2011, when Duffy resigned to become lieutenant governor.
Prior to that, Richards had been chairman and CEO of RGS Energy Group Inc., a predecessor to Rochester Gas and Electric Corp., and an attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP.
Warren, 36, is president of City Council and lead counsel and chief of staff for state Assemblyman David Gantt, D-Rochester.
A graduate of Albany Law School, Warren represents the city's Northeast District. She has been a council member since 2007 and its president since January 2010.
Richards announced his intention to run Feb. 6, with the support of the Monroe County Democratic Committee and its chairman, Joseph Morelle. Warren announced her campaign March 22, setting up the Sept. 10 Democratic primary election.
The winner of the primary is to run against Green Party nominee Alex White in the Nov. 5 general election.
The first half of an edited transcript of the discussion appears below. The second half will appear in the Aug. 30 edition of the paper.
ROCHESTER BUSINESS JOURNAL: What would be your No. 1 priority as mayor over the next four years, and how would you measure success or failure in achieving that goal?
LOVELY WARREN: My No. 1 goal would be to help fix our educational system. I think that is the first reason why middle-class families choose to leave our city, because of our educational system. I want to ensure that every child that's born in the city of Rochester gets a good quality education.
How you measure that success is by test scores, also by graduation rates, by how many students are actually meeting the mark in our pre-K programs, making sure we have access to those. I think the state does a good job of measuring that.
THOMAS RICHARDS: I certainly agree that's a No. 1 priority. I agree with the conclusion that many people leave the city because the educational system isn't working well. I do think the answer to it is not just focusing on the school system, though. I think the problems we have with the school system are a product of a broader environment we have here that's causing the problem.
Included in that is the quality of the employment base we have here. Included in that is the quality of the neighborhood out of which these kids come. That puts an obligation on the city to make sure we do what we can do to make that environment as good as it can be. That includes affordable housing. That includes the libraries, the rec centers. It includes public safety. All those things influence the environment in which the school exists.
If you look at what's happened in cities like this, there were two avenues out of poverty: a manufacturing job and the public education system. A manufacturing job provided a stable income, which provided a stable family, which provided a stable neighborhood. And the public school system existed in that environment.
What we have now is we've lost the manufacturing base. And we're not the only ones. In fact, in some ways we lost it later than others did. But it's gone. So that avenue is not there, and that puts more emphasis on education because the new jobs require more education. At the same time, the public school system is performing poorly, so that avenue isn't working either right now. And we have to attack it in that sense.
WARREN: What would the solution be? That's the biggest thing. We can all talk about what the problems are and why it's the way that it is. However, what's the plan to overcome it? I think that's very important here. How do we, as a city, recognize that we have these issues and these concerns, and what do we do to try to fix it?
We cannot continue to do what we have been doing, because it's not working. We know that. That's why I released an education plan first, to try to move the mark forward when it comes to the education of our children.
RBJ: Is the mayoral control initiative proposed by Duffy no longer an option?
RICHARDS: As a practical matter, yes, it is. We don't control that decision, which is what we found out here. It's controlled by Albany. Unless there's the political will in Albany to change the system-and I suspect that would have to be broader than Rochester; I don't expect anymore that it would be done uniquely for us-then I don't think that's an avenue we can pursue usefully.
And I'm disinclined to spend another year fighting over it, because I feel we spent a lot of time and energy on that, and we were at the end of that discussion actually worse than we were when we started in terms of performance. I don't want to take a year off fighting over it.
WARREN: I tend to agree with the mayor on that stance as it pertains to right now. You have a superintendent who has said that this is our last chance, that we're going to do everything right now to try to fix this problem. I'm inclined to give him the opportunity to do that before pushing for mayoral control. That's why the plan that I propose outlines ways in which the mayor's office can become more involved in the education of our children without having mayoral control.
RBJ: What in your approach to education would make a difference in terms of student achievement?
RICHARDS: The system has been destabilized now for the better part of 10 years. We've gone through superintendents every two years. We've had a new program every two years. We've had a shifting of programs and moved kids around from school to school. None of those have been particularly successful. And, quite frankly, we didn't stick with any of them long enough to know whether they're going to be successful.
Our kids come from an environment that's sometimes unstable, and putting them into a school program that's also unstable isn't going to work. But it does have to change. We have to go to a significantly extended school day. We have the shortest school day in the county, which doesn't make any sense. It should be the other way around.
And that adds other things to schools. It doesn't just add time in your seat, learning. It adds some of the enrichment aspects that have been pushed out of the school system as the day got shorter and the requirements got higher, so that school has an attraction and provides things to people, not just study-things like art, like education, like music, all the things that used to be in the school system that had been forced out.
We have to get kids to go. No matter what program you have, if they're not there, they're not going to learn anything. That sounds so fundamental, but it is fundamental and it's something that the school district over time lost track of. They're trying now to get back to it.
We actually have decent pre-K ability in this city, but it's not used as much as it should be. We're trying to promote that, so when kids get to school, particularly kindergarten-we have all-day kindergarten now-they're better prepared to take advantage of it, they're not behind.
In terms of the emphasis on our system with respect to learning, I think it should be placed in the beginning. If you learn to read by third or fourth grade, you have a reasonable shot at doing well at school. If you don't, you do not. That's why extended day is important. That's why the pre-K is important. And that's why focusing on that's important. And that's a place the city can help. We can do it through our rec centers. We can do it through our libraries, which we've done this summer. We can reinforce that whole issue to make it possible.
That gets us to the community school issues. We've actually had some community schools here that have been successful. The Ryan Center is an example of it. The school in the Josana neighborhood was an example of it. It's being rebuilt, and we're going back to it now, so we provide not just a school but an environment that supports kids. It has after-school programs. It has clinics. It has all of those things that meet that package of needs that kids have.
This community is rich in those resources, but the resources get dissipated. They don't get applied in a way that we can begin to functionally do it. Using that school building, that school facility, as a center of that is a good place to do it.
WARREN: My education plan focuses on seven items. (The first is) empowering parents with greater educational choices and greater transparency. If you're a parent in the city school district or in charter schools today, or even in private schools today, you may not know how to really navigate having access to the test scores. The city having a greater input on our website of making sure the test scores and information is available to parents is imperative.
Also, making sure that parents have options, choices in where their children are being educated. That means charter schools. That means private schools. That also means public schools. Parents deserve choices in where and how they want to educate their child. I also agree with expanding access to high-quality early education for our children. We all know that pre-K is important to our children when they enter into kindergarten, making sure they have the foundation by going to pre-K.
Also, launching the Mayor's Beacon Schools Program, which is the community school program, on a wider level. I currently live right around the corner from Northeast/Northwest Prep, where last year they had sort of an extended-day program but it really was only for their particular students. These children in the neighborhood who could have wanted to access tutors or mentors could not get access, and the school was closed down to outside children who were not part of the school. We need to reuse our schools in such a way that when children are bused and bused home, they can go to the neighborhood and get tutoring or other community service programs that may be available to them.
I also believe that we can have a hand in recruiting extraordinary teachers, maybe promote it on our city website, help with recruiting teachers from historically black colleges as well as places like Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. We recognize that there may be some concerns with people that are coming with English as a second language and (need to) make sure there are teachers readily available to help them with that and make that transition smoother.
I believe we should expand college access. A lot of times, if guidance counselors are not providing the information, children that are currently in high school that are looking at college may not know where to go. I believe, on our city's website, we can do more about expanding college access and attainment.
I also believe that as a city we could have internship programs. We have a lot of departments, from engineering to entry-level secretarial to being out cleaning the streets. I think we could create opportunities where we can have an internship program for those people that are in college that are looking at careers in city government, accounting, anything like that.
I also believe we have to strengthen and expand the pathways to careers. Growing up, for me Edison Tech was the technology school. That was the school where, if you did not feel like college was an option for you, you could go to your home school half the time and go to Edison to pick up a trade. They had automotive, aviation, cosmetology, accounting. We don't have that anymore.
I believe we can be instrumental in ei-ther trying to recruit a charter school to do that or help the school district decide that they are going to bring back a program that is really geared toward those students that feel like college is not an option. We have to keep them engaged because we need them to graduate from high school.
RBJ: Assuming you had four years to put these prospective plans in place, what is your target for the graduation rate at the end of four years?
WARREN: That's hard to say. The school district has a school board that would be assigned to do that. My job as mayor is to make sure we're doing everything we can to help, not to hurt. The current superintendent said it'll take 20 years to fix the current system. I don't believe we have 20 years to wait. That's why I say we try to do everything we can right now.
We need to make sure we're helping the school district and not necessarily trying to hurt them. We're aiding them in this problem that we have with our students. It is the root of many of our problems, whether it's crime, unemployment, access to housing, education. We've had at least two generations of people that we've failed.
RICHARDS: The school district does have a very elaborate system of accessing on the Internet data for students: Parent Connect. It's quite sophisticated. I don't think we need to create another one, but I agree with Lovely that people aren't using it the way they should. Something about the way it's currently organized-and there's an effort under way in the school district to deal with that-needs to be dealt with. The information is there, and it's quite elaborate and quite complete. But it's not being accessed by enough people.
Edison Tech is also an issue I agree with. Actually, I put some personal time into it through the Robert Brown School of Construction, which leads you to the union construction trades. The school district is reorganizing it. In fact, there's a charter school that should be up and running by 2014 that's going to take that career approach. That's a group that's had some success around the country, so there's reason to believe they'll be successful at it here. It won't be huge, but it'll provide an alternative.
I believe in the charter schools. I believe we need to have them. I believe they provide an important alternative. But I think we have to be a little careful about running pell-mell into that as the solution.
First of all, we've found out with charter schools that it's hard to run a school. Good intentions are not enough. I think in the beginning people approached charter schools like, "I was in school once; I know how to run one." And it's a little harder than that. While there are some that are very good, the results overall have been a little bit mixed. So we have to be careful about that and not just run to it because we're so exasperated with the public school system.
(Second), we have to think about what's happening here to the system in total. We've had some examples in this country recently. It's going on in Philadelphia today as we speak, where without any real thought process the charter school movement got so large, and the school system did not react to it, that you had a sort of catastrophic failure where you had to close 30 schools in a big district like that and be in a situation where you ran a gigantic deficit that you were unable to manage.
And so, in total, what's happened with that approach, without thinking your way through the balance, is you've done more harm than good. Even if it's 50 percent, you've still got tens of thousands of children in this public school system, and you've got to think about what you're doing to them if you have this process get out of control. So I think it's going to take some careful thought and some balance and, quite frankly, some political will to make sure we don't do more harm than good here.
WARREN: We don't stop middle-class families and say you can't put up your house for sale because you want a better education for your children. I don't believe that income should determine whether you have a good quality education for your children. Basically, that's what we're doing to parents that don't have a choice in the matter.
If public school is their only option, they are stuck in a failing system. And we're saying we don't want to create another system to help you, and I think that's wrong.
Second of all, when we look at even the Robert Brown School of Construction, I was at the table when it was first thought of and first named, and when they started the construction project they built two new homes. These kids were so excited about coming to school, working hand-in-hand next to these skilled tradesmen and everything for two years.
The house they built sold for more than any other house in that particular neighborhood. And what happened? It fell apart because of bureaucracy, because the principal that was dedicated to the project, who was at the table at the beginning, was moved. The teachers were moved. So the project fell apart.
Now, two years later, we're saying we need to revamp the program. Well, the program was great to begin with. Bureaucracy prevented it from going from something that was good to something that was great. That's unacceptable. We have to make sure we're not allowing these successful programs to fall by the wayside because of bureaucracy. That's what tends to happen here.
Additionally, when I talk about charter schools, I understand our charter schools are not great schools. But I'm talking about charter schools that have a proven success rate in urban education. That's a completely different conversation. On top of that, New York State regulates their charter schools a lot differently than any other state, than Philadelphia or Pennsylvania or other places where we have this particular problem.
New York State has a strict handle on this charter school program, and it's not something where they're going to say we're going to have the charter schools take over all public schools.
We need to help. We recognize there is a problem here, and we need to do everything we can to help solve it. Twenty years is a long time to wait to fix this situation. My daughter is 3 years old. She will be 23. To me, that's unacceptable.
RICHARDS: I agree, we can't wait 20 years. I think the point (the superintendent) was trying to make is this is going to take a while. I think we all agree on that. I also agree with Lovely about what happened with the Robert Brown School. That's the poster child for the problem we talk about, and it gets me back to what I was saying about stability in the system.
One of the reasons that fell apart is exactly as she described it. They changed all the people out, and a program that was working wound up falling apart. Now, to the credit of the people who've been pushing it, including Bob Brown, they're back at it again. But that shouldn't have happened, and it is part of what happens when you have this unstable system (with) new leadership constantly coming in and deciding something new has to happen, or just losing track of it.
The charter school movement in New York is better regulated than some other places. I'm certainly not trying to deny people choices. I think those choices are good for people. But as the mayor of the city, you need to keep your eye on the fact that there are a lot of kids in that public school system and you have to make sure they, too, are getting a good education, as tough as it is.
RBJ: What's the No. 1 thing over the next four years that you would do to foster business growth and job growth in the city?
RICHARDS: I think it's a combination of what economics always is: It's the macro issue and the micro issue. The micro issue is an equity issue, really, in terms of making sure a broad spectrum of people in the city have an opportunity to participate in whatever economic growth we have here.
That's strongly influenced by the education system. Obviously, if you're not prepared in the current environment, it's going to be very tough for you to be able to do it. To the extent that the city has influence on that, it's the city's responsibility to make sure that people do participate in it. That's why we have requirements for minority hiring. We have requirements for minority businesses.
That's why both of us have supported these project labor agreements, which are ways to increase employment, not just increase business. Those are all ways of giving people opportunities who are not participating. That's evident in the statistics. The unemployment rate in the city has gone down from 11 (percent) to 9.4 (percent). But if you go in certain areas of the city it's much higher, and it's been chronically that size. Not that 9.4 is acceptable, but it shows two things.
That's the lowest rate we've had in five years, actually, largely because of this recession. But it is not equally distributed among people. But on the macro level, that is one of the principal causes of the issue that we have today. Our city has gone through a dramatic transformation with respect to its economic base.
As I said before, we've lost our manufacturing base. Even though we talk about the fact that as many people are employed here as there were when Kodak was in its mainstream, the average income is not what it was. We used to be above the national average. We're now below it. That has had a significant impact on us.
All these programs the city has, all these things we try to do, are not going to have an impact on that equity issue if we don't have activity here. Our goal is 20 percent minority. Well, 20 percent of nothing is nothing. There has to be an activity here. And I think there are two things going on about that on the macro level that I think are good.
One of them is the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council was a good idea and has worked relatively well here. It's going to take constant effort, and it's going to be an important part of what we do. I think the governor's program was good in that regard. I hope we stick to it. One of the things I'm afraid of is, if we don't produce instant results, we move on to something else. That is a regional issue. The employment base and the opportunity on the macro level to have opportunities for people is a regional issue. The city isn't going to be able to do that all by itself and doesn't need to.
The second thing that is a real opportunity for us-and it's an immediate one-is the Eastman Business Park. (Kodak Park) used to be the largest industrial facility in the Northeast, maybe in the country. There are a little over 6,000 people employed out there. More than half of them are not employed by Eastman Kodak anymore. And that proportion will grow. It is a huge opportunity for us because it provides a unique infrastructure for a lot of the kinds of activities that do, in fact, generate significant numbers of jobs.
But it won't be that if we don't get some issues out there straightened out. One of them is the utility system, which provides this unique infrastructure, and the other one is the environmental issue, which requires the park to deal with it to continue to function properly. I put a lot of personal time into that in the last year, and we believe we've come to a solution for those two problems. They're not completely in place, but we believe we have them.
That'll give us the opportunity to market it and provide that opportunity broadly to bring people to this area or to generate in this area with the people who are already there significant numbers of additional jobs. We have something unique to offer, and we need something unique to offer if we're to be successful here.
RBJ: Have the recent concerns of the Environmental Protection Agency regarding potential contamination issues and adequate funding for abatement been resolved?
RICHARDS: I think it's largely behind us. The EPA issue was a matter of the EPA not accepting the solution that had been put in place in terms of the adequacy of the support for it. The state stepped up and provided another level of support on top of it, and they did not object to that solution.
Now, Eastman Kodak wanted some things, like a covenant not to sue, that they're not going to get from the EPA. But in terms of what we do there, and as it affects the community, I think that's been largely solved under that solution. We have to keep our eye on it. It's a constant issue. We have to make sure somebody is paying attention to it.
On that issue, the state has been good. We need to recognize that they stepped up to it, and it's made a huge difference for us. That's an interesting problem, like a lot of things we deal with. On the one side, it could be a wonderful opportunity. But if we don't get the basics straightened out, it could be just the opposite. It could shift from an asset to a liability overnight.
WARREN: The problem is complex, of course, because we also have what we call a skill-set deficiency here. Because of our failing educational system, we have a number of people who are unemployed. In some of our neighborhoods, the unemployment rate is greater than it was during the Great Depression. We have to recognize that.
For me, it's imperative that we work with the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center as well as Monroe Community College to deal with this skill-set deficiency. There are jobs currently available that we just don't have the people with the right skills and the right training to work in. We have to get that message out there to the people in the city of Rochester that we can create a program where we try to deal with this skill-set deficiency by working with the institutions we currently have.
The other thing is, when we look at construction jobs, making sure we have people that can work on those jobs. It's 2013, and we still have to put goals in. We still have to do project labor agreements and make sure women and minorities get an opportunity to participate in the economic recovery of the city. I find that disheartening, that we still have to do that.
But we need to make sure that when we do that, whenever we invest taxpayer dollars in a project, everyone gets the opportunity to participate, and we make sure we hold people accountable on the front end, that we do not give money away freely without getting something back in return, like jobs.
Genesee Brew House, for example. Even though we didn't necessarily give a whole lot of money to that project, the support of the community there, when Genesee Brewery wanted to do the brew house and they got a lot of opposition from people that lived outside of that neighborhood, I thought it was imperative that you get the neighborhood involved.
What did they want? There's high unemployment in that area, so the conversation was 'We'll support that project, we believe in it, but we're unemployed over here. Can you at least open up opportunities for us to apply for jobs and be interviewed?' Out of that, people were hired, because you have people in that community available to fill these positions.
We currently have (the County of Monroe Industrial Development Agency). For me, my focus is the city of Rochester first. The people in our city are suffering. We're seventh in the nation for childhood poverty. Infant mortality is that of a Third World country. We're last in the nation when it comes to graduating African-American young men, and second to last when it comes to graduating Latino men. So when you look at all the statistics, the people in the city are suffering the most.
How can I help a region if I can't help myself? How can I look at the Greater Rochester region if the people I am in charge of protecting and working and governing are the ones that are suffering the most? I would propose that the state Legislature decide to do a Rochester IDA for the specific reason that at least 30 percent of the jobs be for Rochester residents. There's no real way for us to do that now, based on the way that the current law is written.
I would also like to help small businesses grow. We have a number of small businesses that may have their pulse on that next great idea. We have to realize and recognize that. Fortune 500 companies were built right here in Rochester.
We have the talent and the brains right here to possibly create that next Fortune 500 business. I would love to be able to help them by providing them the support in City Hall to grow their business. A lot of times, with small businesses today, it may take a year, two years, to get financing, even working through the city. I think we need to do a better job of making sure that we have rapid financing opportunities.
I also want to look at industry. When you look nationally at what's happening around health care and green jobs, those are two areas, nationally and worldwide, that people are looking at. How do we position ourselves as a city and as a community to take advantage of that?
We have the Golisano Institute for Sustainability at RIT. We should be talking to them. We should be asking them, 'What's the next thing? Do we have businesses locally that can work with you to institute and bring green jobs, green manufacturing jobs, or even that green technology, to our community?'
Or even with health care, we have the University of Rochester, which is our No. 1 employer here. But for me, it's not just about the highly skilled and technical jobs that we don't have a problem with employing. It's about those low-skilled jobs. I think our skill-set deficiency is one of the barriers here that we must overcome.
RICHARDS: I think the Genesee Brewery is a good example of what I was talking about before. And I agree with Lovely about the brew house and her role in it, for that matter. But the real story there is in the plant.
The brewery itself was very close to financial failure. It was taken over by a group of (private-equity) people you'd ordinarily be afraid of but in this particular case did a good job. It was essentially a leveraged buyout of that company. And they did invest in it. So they've doubled their employment there. And that employment is Teamsters. Those are unionized jobs. They pay well. There's a good racial balance in the plant.
The brew house itself was really a recognition of the success. The reason they wanted to do it is they wanted to demonstrate that, in fact, they are now successful, and this is an example of it. But the real contribution to the community that was of longstanding value was what happened in that plant, what saved that business. And the city contributed to it, the county contributed to it; a lot of people took a chance on it. But it is an example of what we need to have.
I think Lovely and I probably disagree on the issue of how we focus in terms of providing opportunities here, and the difference between looking at this from the city point of view and a regional point of view. We both agree, obviously, that we're trying to provide these opportunities, but the question is how do we do it.
I am concerned that if we focus and we put a lot of limitations on the way in which people can be employed-they have to be from the city-that that kind of process of imposing those limitations will then spread. So if you get a job in Greece, you have to be from Greece. If you get a job in Henrietta, you have to be from Henrietta. We're the ones who need the jobs. She's right. We need to make sure our people have as broad a spectrum of opportunity as they can have. Focusing in on the city, as the city, isn't broad enough. That's not the way the economy works.
We may have been able to get away with that when we had this big manufacturing base here, but we can't anymore. I'm concerned that that will distort the way in which these opportunities are provided. We have to have these opportunities, but we have to look at it in a way that it naturally grows so we can take advantage of it. The city needs a broader constituency, not a narrower constituency. We need people to support the city and invest in the city who are from all over the place, not just us ourselves.
I do think the skill-set issue that she brings up is a good one, and we support that. One of the things that Eastman Business Park has the potential for, quite frankly, is in green jobs. A lot of the alternative fuels, alternative ways of making various industrial products, are actually large chemical processes. Those chemical processes can be done well at Eastman Business Park if the infrastructure to support them is there. Some of the industries that we're looking at to do that with, we're looking at (doing it) there.
We do need to get our universities to invest in us. We need to make them part of the city. I think health care is the single biggest industry we have right now. It's actually doing fairly well. RIT has taken the Rochester Community Savings Bank, and what they're going to do in that bank-and it's a beautiful building-is create an institute for urban entrepreneurship.
The new dean at the business school at RIT, Dean ogilvie, has done this in Newark (N.J.) with some success. They've already started a program at RIT, they're going to do it down here, and it's going to provide assistance to people in the urban environment who have ideas and want to build small businesses. This facility will provide the kind of support that's necessary to get yourself on your feet and get going. I'm very optimistic about that, and I think it gets to that issue.
We're lucky because we have the support and the expertise and the infrastructure that RIT can provide for that. It would be very tough for the city to do that on its own, but they're in a position to really do it. And it obviously helps our downtown to have a stable environment in that particular building.
WARREN: Currently, the broader constituency can employ people from the city of Rochester. It's not happening. Currently, people in the city of Rochester can work in Greece. They can work in Henrietta. They can work in Pittsford. They can work anywhere. It's not happening.
The mayor would be 100 percent right if people were being employed in our construction jobs all over the region. Unfortunately, what's happening is the majority of the work is currently in the city. We have to institute goals for women and minority businesses. And believe me, once those goals are met, the majority of the time those people are shelved. They're set down. If it were a situation where, all things being equal, everyone had an opportunity to participate and we're all working hand-in-hand to do something, I would agree. But currently, that's not happening.
It's insane to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different result. When we look at the statistics and it shows that unemployment in many of our neighborhoods is greater than it was during the Great Depression, that's a problem. To me, as mayor, my focus needs to be on making sure my constituents, my taxpayers, get an opportunity to participate in the economic recovery. And it's not just happening unless people are forced to do it.
RICHARDS: When I talked about the regional issue, I was talking about the COMIDA proposal. I've supported all the requirements with respect to city projects, and I continue to.
Support for businesses
RBJ: Lovely, when you talk about supporting startups, entrepreneurs and small businesses, are there funding concerns? Can it be done without creating additional budget problems?
WARREN: There are a lot of grants. The mayor has talked about the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council, which has many grants available for projects such as this.
I would be looking as a city to access those funding streams that we typically may not have access to, or for this specific purpose, and working with RIT to make sure we work hand in hand. I think we need to utilize our universities as a partner in a lot of this stuff. It's not a funding issue. I believe the money is out there through grants, and we can access consolidated funding grants to do this and provide those small, low-interest loans and create those situations where it's tied to job creation.
A number of years ago, if you hired from a certain area of the city, you would get a certain amount of credit towards the loan you received. If you hired from the city, you would get a lesser amount of credits, but you would still get some credits. If you hired from outside, you wouldn't get that same amount of credit. It was a way to drive job creation but also to be able to provide the business with the capital it needs to grow. That's something I will be looking to do through finding a grant source and developing this revolving loan program for small businesses.
RICHARDS: In terms of the small loans to start up, you can get access to the programs. The city has spent, in the last four years, almost $140 million in that area. But to grow into a business that's going to have significant employment, the financing that requires-either venture capital financing or some kind of conventional financing-is an area that is not as strong in the Rochester area as it is in other places. You hear that discussed all the time.
To really have an impact, the city is not in a position-the state isn't either-to really fund that. That's one of the reasons why things like this RIT incubator are important. One of the things they're trying to do there is prepare people to get access to that kind of funding so that people can grow from a truly small business that may sustain themselves and one or two others to a business that can sustain more people.
That has been a traditional problem in our area. That's why people bemoan the fact that all the money goes to Boston and Silicon Valley. But programs like the one I'm talking about, and several others here in town, I think can address that issue. To ultimately be successful, we're going to have to make that leap to the kind of funding that generates that kind of environment here. There are some examples that have done it, but not enough.
WARREN: I'm not talking about creating a company that has 500 employees. If you have 10 companies that can hire 10 employees, you get to 100 people. You're actually helping employ 100 people by doing it on a micro level. We don't have to always do things on a macro level, and what we tend to focus on are these big developments, big businesses.
If you focus at a micro level, you can help smaller businesses grow where they could employ 10 more people. Maybe, with RIT's help, they can grow into a 200- or 300-person firm. In the beginning, it's really about looking at it on a smaller, micro level and then over time helping them get to a larger perspective.
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