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A Wall Street Journal columnist claims Rochester helped kill Kodak. Actually, we were responsible for Kodak’s fall.

In a piece called, “Kodak Didn’t Kill Rochester. It Was the Other Way Around,” Rich Karlgaard writes about how the Flower City stifled Kodak. (Never mind Kodak was born here and did just fine for a century.)

After repeating the well-known history and troubles of the company and throwing in weird “Ozzie and Harriet” references, Karlgaard finally cuts to the chase:

Kodak’s other structural problem is geography. When you study the history of great American companies that stumbled and failed, or only partially recovered, you see how difficult it is to overcome the mindset of your immediate surroundings. Businesses located in places where success is the norm, and innovation is built into the ecology, have a better chance of fixing themselves.

Karlgaard compares Kodak to Intel, which he said survived because it was located in the Silicon Valley. He also compares Kodak to IBM and talked about how that company shed a couple hundred thousand jobs.

What Mr. Gerstner did was difficult. It would have been infinitely harder to do in Rochester, because the impact on a small city and the multiplier effect of lost jobs, axed all at once, would have been a civic disaster. Of course, Kodak’s slow bleed has turned out to be a civic disaster anyway.

The world might be flat. But innovation and adaptation remain local.

Is this guy for real? Does he understand that Kodak had peak employment in Rochester of 60,000 and DID shed an enormous amount of jobs? There are only about 7,000 left locally.

Guess what, Mr. Karlgaard? We survived. And we will.

16 Responses to Wall Street Journal Column Claims Rochester Killed Kodak

  1. January 12, 2012 at 10:19 pm mercyrule responds:

    But they got rid of those 53,000 over a longer period of time.

    I don’t agree that Rochester isn’t a place in which success and innovation is expected.

  2. I’m not saying I agree with this guy or anything, but the 60,000 to 7,000 took 20-30 years, that is a slow bleed. I guess he thinks a more drastic cut earlier in the process might have left Kodak with something that worked, rather than using up capital on things that didn’t.

  3. Total BS! Kodak had technology that it shelved. Kodak killed Kodak!

  4. January 12, 2012 at 10:35 pm Woyvel Lloyce responds:

    Geographically, Rochester WAS not the greatest place to build and sustain a world-wide business when Kodak began. Albany and Buffalo may have been better suited. Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Cincinnati, etc., all have a convergence of major waterways and, at the time, railways. Rochester was the end of the line, really. Even Elmira, with it’s large rail yards connecting Cleveland, New York, Buffalo and points south, may have been a more likely bet. But Eastman’s personal choices came down to Utica and Rochester. And so “the rest is history”.

  5. Wish I could read the whole article but it’s behind a paywall. And I’m not giving the Wall Street Journal ANY money :)

  6. January 12, 2012 at 10:52 pm Eric Brown responds:

    Perhaps Mr. Karlgaard is unfamiliar with the history of Kodak and the revolutionary work that was done there. It was not because of Rochester that Kodak declined. Kodak did revolutionary research in imaging, inventing the first digital camera from parts that existed in the 70’s. It wasn’t pretty with the hardware that was available to the research engineers, but the people at the top saw what it was: a threat to their primary business, film.

    Rather than embrace the innovation that their research lab had created, Kodak filed the patents and put their digital imaging technology on the back shelf so that their film business would not be cannibalized.

  7. Pointless and hurtful to try to lay blame, particularly on a city you wouldn’t deign to visit or understand. But Mr. Karlgaard *did* receive a paycheck for his efforts, so I guess it all works out…

  8. January 13, 2012 at 8:58 am Ikejames responds:

    The Wall Street Journal has really fallen far. It’s well known that Kodak management was slow to respond to the digital age. In the era of the internet, rapid communication, and fast travel, to blame geography for the failure of a business of this magnitude shows a remarkable ignorance of how businesses operate.

  9. January 13, 2012 at 9:37 am Carlos Mercado responds:

    One of the best satirical, comedic pieces to come out of the WSJ, still showing it came even beat The Harvard lampoon when it wants to.

  10. They doth protest too much. gotta get out of ROC to understand the point of the WSJ article.

    The article is touching on the well recognized entitlement mentality prominent among locals as a result of Kodak largess.

    This is the only town who thought setting-up an incubator program out in Henrietta should be seeded with 2mil+ start-ups.

    It’s also kind of hard to design sunglasses here.

  11. I worked for a bit at Ofoto / KodakGallery in the bay area right as Kodak purchased the company Ofoto, and failed to realize quickly that online photo sharing was the wave of the future. Rochester held Ofoto back Talent left. Rochester didn’t seem to really get it. They wanted to mold Ofoto into Kodak’s image, where they may have been more successful if it had been the other way around.

  12. estelle:getting ahead in rust belt cities is overly based on whom you know, not you merits. When you get out of ROC and go to Austin, etc., you see there is much more of a compromise.

    I can’t tell you how much ridicule I heard about ROV wotking with wireless engineers about our backward land line and wireless systems in the early ’80’s. Couldn’t believe lack of data-bases for simple things like telecom circuits.

    There were engineers I worked with in NJ, VA and MD that knew back in the ’80’s that it was all going to converge into a retail wireless system, some day. Many were educated at NJ Inst. of Technology, did internships at Bell Labs, Lucent, AT&T or Bell labs.

    ROC was still installing trunked land-line office consoles on Centrex and using voice paging in the field.

    “Gotta get out of this place” to see it.

  13. January 13, 2012 at 6:48 pm Chris Wanjon responds:

    WSJ once was relevant. Pot or kettle, black’s the color.

  14. I interviewed in Rochester during the 90’s for my first job out of grad school, and was dating someone who was from there so I wanted to live there badly and I had a lot of wild ideas about new business ventures in my field of expertise.

    While I was struck by the location and surprising cultural opportunities, I eventually decided not to move there because it was not a very business friendly environment. By that I don’t necessarily mean tax structure, but the fact that it was indeed staid, had what appeared to be a nepotistic business culture, and the executives that I encountered seemed suspicious of newcomers wanting to innovate…more so than other places I interviewed (with the exception of Cincinnati, OH and Providence, RI).

    Wary of getting stuck in a community that seemed excessively insular, I moved to the West Coast and launched a very successful business. I didn’t have a crystal ball, but I certainly had the impression that I wouldn’t have been as successful in Roch.

    I have nothing against Rochester, but I honestly think those of you who are dismissive of Karlsgaard’s article should get out a bit more to other cities and see that there is (or was) a local culture that at least gives the perception that it discourages entrepreneurial newcomers and risk taking .

  15. OMG! Dead on. They’re coming out of the woodwork.

    The best hey would hasve offered you was a marketing (sales) rep job in an outside market with a lot of travel. There they could watch you to maske sure you blend in before granting you tenure.

    PS: Cleveland a lot like ROC, too. Very incestuous.

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