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What is the biggest challenge the Rochester region is likely to face over the next 25 years? What will downtown Rochester look like in 2037? And what will this area be known for a quarter century from now?
For the Forecast section of the Rochester Business Journal 25th Anniversary Commemorative Edition, those questions were posed to readers. Nearly 500 responded to the poll, offering a broad spectrum of ideas and opinions.
Some responses to the first question appear in the commemorative edition, which was mailed to subscribers this week, and more follow below. Responses to the other questions will be published in the next two RBJ issues. (To read the signed responses to all three questions now, go to go.rbj.net/2037.)
What is the biggest challenge this region is likely to face over the next 25 years?
Demographics. As the region ages-there are currently 11.5% more people in their 50s living in Monroe County than there are those aged 10 to 19-the ratio of retired to working age citizens will steadily increase. As that happens, the demand for governmental services will expand but there will be fewer workers around to pay for them. Consequently, the per capita tax burden shouldered by the employed will become ever greater, causing more businesses and working age people to flee the state, creating an ever increasing tax burden on the people and businesses who remain. It's a vicious cycle that has already begun. Once it begins gaining momentum it will become very, very difficult to stop. It's not too late-Albany still has a window of opportunity to lower the cost of doing business in NY State and thereby attract the jobs needed to keep and bring workers here. But time is running short. The window won't remain open much longer.
Taxes and health care costs on businesses, if the government does not shrink their size and their social benefit programs.
Creating enough jobs for our large and highly talented group of college graduates so they will stay here.
Rochester is self-contained because there is so much talent and intelligence here. The biggest chasm to cross is building social networks across the globe. The competition used to be country vs. country and now it is city vs. city. "In the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king," says Erasmus. Let us keep our humility and build bridges globally.
-Jennifer Sertl, president, Agility3R
Transition from economy dominated by a few major employers to one with more smaller employers and more nimble and diverse.
High taxes, which are problematic for business and housing.
High taxes in New York State is going to be a long-term limitation to growth of Rochester. If we ask ourselves honestly to answer this question, what does Rochester have to attract out-of-state and overseas business and investment? There is not a lot that would overcome the economic disincentive resulting from high taxes. Without investment growth therefore job opportunities and attractive income, brains would drain.
-Patrick Ho, Rochester Optical
Keeping young people!!
Leadership, mandates and taxes.
Taxation and oppressive government intervention along with total dependancy on government vs. private sector.
Job growth; retaining recent college graduates.
-Jim Haefner, Pittsford
Providing capital and community-based support for emerging technology companies all over this area-to foster their growth and overall employment in the region.
-J. Montieth Estes
Keeping younger, highly educated people in the Rochester area. The majority of college graduates don't have the experience to start their own business. The majority of individuals who started private companies had gained their experience from major companies like Kodak, Xerox and others that no longer have the presence they had before.
The biggest challenge is the same as any community this size: finding a significant company that makes something and creates wealth for themselves and the community.
Addressing inner city joblessness.
Replacing the major national corporations (i.e. Kodak) providing a base of employment in the region as they downsize and/or leave the area.
The regional economy is obviously tied in to the national economy as well. Relative to the rest of the nation I believe we will continue to shine.
-Don Eaton, Fairport
We need good leadership from our offices of mayor, city council, city school superintendent, economic and regional development agencies, health and human services, etc. All the parts need to be focused on attaining the same vision of future state. We have the talent, systems and processes ... we just need to operate as one entity. ... It is powerful!
Public education in the city, and gradual consolidation and reduction in the number of local governmental entities.
-David Lovenheim, managing director, Keystones Global LLC
Keeping young people here. Fifty years ago the brightest minds chose to work in one of several Fortune 500 companies here. We still educate bright minds (as well as any community in America) but unless they are entrepreneurial, they leave the area to begin their careers. We've got to fix that.
Pollution from fracking, large animal farms, fossil fuel emissions, etc.
We need a major company to bring money and business back to Rochester since the traditional ones have kicked the bucket.
A continued socialistic attitude and additional government interference (all levels) will/can make business and capital improvement very difficult and less attractive in NYS.
Rochester is as best as I can tell in New York State, which contains the New York State Legislature. That is the state's biggest challenge.
Not being able to keep the young talent in the region.
Create new employers and to have the talents they will need.
Poverty and illiteracy.
Development of the downtown area if tech companies continue to centralize here. Continued high taxes and a decrease in the number of professional-level people due to the aging population and the relocation out of the area of new college graduates.
Making downtown vibrant and attractive to shoppers, businesses and visitors.
Raising the bar in the public school system.
Keeping leading-edge research and development programs at our industries, universities, colleges and health care facilities.
Lack of imagination and energy. We have wonderful resources that far exceed other communities that are doing much more than we are. We have multiple waterfronts, great higher ed, strong high-tech workforce, beautiful neighborhoods, strong corporations and we're a short distance from the Finger Lakes, Niagara Falls and so much more. We need to stop griping about the weather and taxes since we can't fix either. Let's just get working to build our community to be the best destination in the Northeast.
Skilled help for machine shops
-Jim Alexander, JIT CNC Machine
The high real estate and income taxes will continue to hamper the Upstate NY region.
Rochester's political and business leaders have failed for many years to make the right case in Albany. You have to wonder why this is. At the same time, the region continues to prosper in very difficult circumstances. So we get the benefits of neither: We portray ourselves as the victim and we have a level of innovation that doesn't get the attention it should.
-Brian A. Kane, Three Lakes Consulting
We need to attract young people AND keep our senior citizens. We also need to reduce/tear down the barriers to equal education, health care and employment opportunity in the metropolitan area. The barriers for the lower-income urban citizens are enormous.
-Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
Attracting and keeping talented young people working in this community.
-Ray Del Monte
Despite the politicians' claims, Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature have failed to make any structural changes in taxes or regulations, which would make NYS more competitive. Holding the line on the budget is a good first step, but it's a long way from raising NYS from the bottom of the barrel to competitive class. Until you back off the mandates, lower taxes, repeal the Triborough Amendment and change the anti-business culture at DEC, you'll see the continued decline of our region's economy.
The biggest challenge will be holding on to the younger middle class. Rochester and environs were always considered first-rate for raising a family. As a result, we maintained many educated people with families, or upwardly mobile people with families. The energy and optimism of the middle class ensured stability, order and productivity. A community needs such young families to maintain vibrancy and vitality. Unfortunately, the city of Rochester has lost these families to the suburbs over the last quarter century, and there is no reasonable expectation that they will return in the near future.
Lack of population growth.
Keeping current industry/businesses in the region or attracting new ones.
Rochester's biggest challenge in the future is to increase its manufacturing base to create good-paying jobs. The retention of its talent base and the retention of young, future and technical savvy employees will be (necessary) to attract larger firms to Rochester to provide economic stability. We will not have the same stability, success and progression with startups or service industries. They do not employ enough of the right talent, pay well, or have the ability to attract people to the area. You need to increase employment with significant jobs to better the economic conditions here and attract new employees. The technology base must be sustained with the current big players and more. We need to provide the right incentives for companies to come here and replace the Kodaks and Xeroxes to survive. This must follow the consumer and technology trends to be successful. In about eight years, we should also look at what the government will need so we can be better suppliers to them as the economy strengthens. We can't rely on the old stalwarts like Kodak any more so we need to reinvent ourselves with some sustainable businesses.
Aging population, making the region even less attractive to new employers.
The challenges of doing business in New York State continue to hamper growth throughout the state and encourage workers and companies to locate elsewhere.
-J.P. Gleason, Gleason Fund Raising Consultants
I think that there are two challenges tied for first place: First, the longstanding breach between the city of Rochester and Monroe County towns both in terms of politics and wealth. Secondly, the high property tax rates in Monroe County show no signs of lessening despite halfhearted efforts at the state level to curtail the velocity of property tax increases.
-Wayne Donner, Rush
Satisfying people's expectations. That is, the community has gotten used to the compensation that Kodak, General Motors and Xerox paid their employees at all levels. These companies have gone or are going away. Other companies pay less, and our community is having a problem with that. People need to change their expectations but don't want to accept the fact that times have changed and that they need to change their expectations.
The biggest challenge is reducing income taxes, property taxes, Thruway tolls, sales taxes, electricity tax, natural gas tax, gasoline tax, deed tax, mortgage tax, fire district, special districts fees, fees for hundreds of government functions that aren't included in income/property taxes, yada! yada! yada! yada! The governor and the state Legislature bragged about the biggest tax cut in New York State history at the end of 2011. The tax cut did encompass a large amount of middle-income taxpayers, but it was for less than 1% on the average. What the governor and state Legislature didn't tell you is that the actual income tax increase was almost $2 billion, which came on the backs of the high income earners who are the job producers. You don't increase taxes in a recession. That is basic economics. The result is the unemployment rate in Upstate New York is near 9%. The Rochester region is not far behind. In contrast, Ohio cut government employment and taxes, which resulted in a budget surplus of $500 million and a much lower unemployment rate. The productive will continue to leave upstate and the dependent will continue to move in. Wake up Rochester and New York State, you're being fooled again!
-John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy &Associates Inc.
Over-regulation and red tape. Little to no job growth. We are not attracting enough business to the area. We all love this area, but it is easier to start and run a business in other parts of the country. We need greater power generation, a more stable power grid and stable energy costs, coupled with a change in thinking by our leaders.
New York State taxes, regulations and downstate politicians.
1. Keeping and attracting the best younger talent for growing high tech, value added and services organizaitons. 2. National and international reputation of the community and its vitality.
NYS high tech business platform and incentives to grow a multitude of businesses throughout NYS. A tighter mandate for energy suppliers to not only have product but state-of-the-art energy supplier transport facilities and equipment. Stop politics as usual-this costs every constituent valuable dollars. After an election, unity on an approach to issues is key without fear of political backlash for the right decisions and there will be even more difficult decisions ahead.
The obvious corruption of politics by the Supreme Court's Citizens United decision, which allows huge secret donations that pervert the outcomes of local elections.
The loss of knowledge due to the baby boomers retiring and the issue of finding employees with a good work ethic and education to replace them.
Withstanding the cost of HMOs.
Protection of our ecosystems would be vital to the health and sustainability of Rochester and its environs over the next 25 years.
TAXES!!!! No government has ever taxed their way to prosperity.
10/12/12 (c) 2012 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.