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TVThere will never be another Don Alhart.

He’s a great news anchor and a great man. He’s contributed a tremendous amount to the Rochester community. That alone puts him in a category by himself.

But there’s something he’s done that few journalists, if anyone, from the Millennial population will be able to achieve: Staying at the same Rochester news outlet for 50 years.

There are fewer jobs these days in television, print and radio, thanks to the Internet and a shrinking ad market. (And corporate greed?) These jobs also pay much less. Consider the fact there are 25-year-old television reporters in Rochester earning $30,000 a year. That’s less money than I earned when I was their age 15 years ago. (WROC had a union back then. Only WHEC has a union for on-air talent.) That’s an astonishing drop in pay, especially when you factor in inflation. I know a veteran reporter in her 40’s who wanted to come back to TV, but was only offered $35,000.

As I said in a speech a few weeks ago to the Rochester Media Association, I was fortunate to have had a choice to remain in Rochester and build a career. My generation, The Gen X-ers, is the last to be able to stay here. I equated our pay roughly to teachers or police officers (without the nice benefits). But younger journalists won’t be able to make the same choice to stay and make a decent living. They will have to move on to bigger cities. Many moved on before the wage free-fall, but at least they had a choice to stay in Rochester.

Yes, wages have dropped and jobs have been cut in many industries. Our community has felt the pain all too well. But there’s a unique consequence when journalists can’t stick around and build a career. Institutional knowledge is lost, if it’s ever really gained. Reporters will often come from more affluent families that can subsidize their earnings. Public officials won’t be held as accountable, as young reporters, even the best ones, won’t know what questions to ask or whom to ask. In the worst case, stories will be done that will hurt people through inaccuracies or imbalance.

We need a strong, thriving journalism community in Rochester. I don’t think we’re done seeing the disruption caused by digital media, cord-cutting and live streaming. There are many, many talented, hard-working reporters in Rochester. I hope they can stay.

Alain Kaloyeros

Alain Kaloyeros

University of Rochester President Joel Seligman and Assemblyman Joe Morelle are probably sitting back and saying, “I told you so.”

The pair was concerned about SUNY Polytechnic wielding too much power over the Rochester photonics initiative. Yes, it’s a federal program, but the state is kicking in $250 million and is a major stakeholder. Seligman and Morelle unsuccessfully fought SUNY Polytechnic and its powerful leader, Alain Kaloyeros, over where the headquarters would be located. The governor clearly sided with Kaloyeros, who enlisted Bob Duffy’s help in the fight. ( I explained the dynamic of this power struggle here, one that was mischaracterized by local media as local leaders infighting. It was always Rochester v. Albany.) The dispute may have cost Seligman his co-chairmanship of the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council.

Now there are new questions about whether SUNY Polytechnic should control photonics.

That’s because SUNY Polytechnic may have done shady things in its stewardship of the Buffalo Billion project. The program is under federal investigation for bid-rigging and conflicts of interest among lobbyists and others involved in the project. SUNY Polytechnic used nonprofits to issue contracts and these contracts were not open to public scrutiny. For months, reporters had been questioning the total lack of transparency involved in Buffalo Billion.

I asked the governor last week if Kaloyeros and SUNY Polytechnic should remain in charge. He said there’s no proof anyone did anything wrong. But Danny Wegman said the investigation is slowing things down.

There’s a simple solution. Don’t allow SUNY Polytechnic to run photonics, or at least allow the entity to structure deals in the same manner. Even if the probe finds nothing criminal, it’s clear the state erred in the way it manages some of these large economic development contracts. Too much power is in the hands of too few people, who operate behind closed doors. Seligman, Morelle and other local leaders should renew their call for more local control. They should also demand more transparency moving forward.

Pew Research Center

Pew Research Center

 

The Pew Research Center came out with a study showing the American middle class is shrinking. This is true in many metropolitan areas, including Rochester.

Between 2000 and 2014, the Rochester region’s share of lower income people went up from 22.2 to 25.2 percent. The share of middle income people went down from 59.6 to 56.7. The share of upper income people remained the same, down only .2 percent to 18 percent.

Here is how middle class is defined, nationally:

 

pew1

 

In Rochester, as in most Rust Belt cities, middle income people account for a majority. Income inequality is not as pervasive as it is in some major cities.

When you look at household income, you see big losses for Rochester individuals and families. These dollar figures are adjusted for 2014. The median household income for middle class people was $8,000 more in 1999. The median household income for everyone is down nearly $10,000.

Rochester:

 

1999 Median 2014 Median
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
72,711 26,996 79,587 178,250 63,220 26,016 71,278 159,074

 

The losses in Rochester were worse compared to New York State as a whole:

 

1999 2014
All Lower Middle Upper All Lower Middle Upper
60,868 23,974 76,377 193,166 59,844 21,834 73,227 175,267

 

Rochester is not alone. Pew finds:

The decline in household incomes at the national level reflected nearly universal losses across U.S. metropolitan areas. Middle-income households lost ground financially in 222 of 229 metropolitan areas from 1999 to 2014. Meanwhile, the median income of lower-income households slipped in 221 metropolitan areas and the median for upper-income households fell in 215 areas.

The trends in income point to economic pressures on the middle class, including in areas where it still holds a large share of the population.

Buffalo to Rochester MapHow does the state decide where to lure companies with lavish government grants and tax incentives?

TThe state announced last year it’s spending $55 million to help IBM set up a data center in downtown Buffalo. It’s eventually supposed employ 500 workers. Aside from questions about the contracts awarded to the governor’s donors, there’s another question raised by a recent Buffalo News article. Why on earth did the state pick Buffalo?

“The skills we’re looking for are hard to find anyway. If we were sitting in the Silicon Valley, it still would be very hard to find,” Goodwyn said. A big part of IBM’s workforce development plan is to bring in a sizable number of entry-level workers by building ties with colleges from across upstate, from the University at Buffalo to the Rochester Institute of Technology and the University of Rochester, to Cornell University and Clarkson University, Goodwyn said. UB lacks a specific data analytics major within its computer science and engineering school, but other schools, like RIT and the University of Rochester, have it.

“That’s part of our business plan: College and university hires,” he said.

 

 

Locating Solar City in Buffalo was also questionable. We have a giant industrial facility called Eastman Business Park that desperately wants to attract solar companies. In fact, Kodak specialized in material science and chemicals, the same stuff needed to innovate in solar. But the state chose to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to build on a brand new site.

Locating photonics in Rochester made sense. We already have a lot of photonics companies, university programs and talent.

I’m not suggesting Buffalo doesn’t deserve nice things. I’m suggesting when the state uses carrots to attract companies, it should put some analysis into where these companies would be a good fit. I’m sure there are things more suited to Buffalo than Rochester. But Albany doesn’t seem to care.

Side note on high-speed rail:

Couldn’t people commute between Rochester and Buffalo? Unless Rep. Louise Slaughter gets her wish on high speed rail, we don’t have a mega-region. There’s no way to regularly commute between Rochester and Buffalo unless you have a car. Even if high speed rail becomes a reality, the last mile is a problem. How do people get to where they’re going when they get off the train? Inter-city buses would also be an issue. Jobs are no longer concentrated in downtowns. Right now, fewer than 2,500 people commute between Erie and Monroe counties. It’s possible that number could grow as transit and job opportunities grow. Any high speed rail or inter-city transit project must consider STAMP in Genesee County, a 100 percent car-dependent project. The bottom line is our regions are not connected via transit or economic development. They probably should be. I’m skeptical we’ll see a mega-region, as described in this New York Times op-ed, in our lifetimes.

In early 2012, I wrote about the enormous government help Xerox received to open a call center at its Webster campus. The incentives were so generous, Xerox essentially didn’t pay for the retrofit of one of its buildings. Taxpayers subsidized Xerox so it could offer low-wage jobs.

Now, Xerox is getting help again. The state is kicking in money to help RTS get workers to the remote facility. RTS is reinstating a late night line, as well as weekend service.

In a press release, Heather L. Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities for Xerox Business Services, said:

“The impact of the bus reinstatement is profound. When we announced this to our employees, we were overcome by their positive and emotional response. Our employees are conscientious and do what it takes to get to work on time. In fact, one woman shared that taking the bus means she will no longer spend $50 a day to get to and from work.”

It doesn’t seem to occur to Xerox it played a role in that poor woman’s plight when it decided to open a call center where few people live, one that’s not regularly serviced by transit, and to which it is nearly impossible to walk or bike.

In the future, companies seeking government help to add jobs should be required to locate those jobs near their employee base. If they choose not to, they should be required to pay RTS for their transportation. (Some companies and nursing homes, including Xerox, already pay RTS to cover some of the cost of getting employees to work.) Xerox got another government handout when it got the state to pay for this bus line.

Here’s why the idea of locating jobs near people is important. The Brookings Institution found only two-thirds of jobs in the Rochester metropolitan region are in places served by buses. Even worse, fewer than one-third of residents can get to a job within 90 minutes on a bus. The study found people have an easier time getting to jobs in the city than in the suburbs. Almost all city residents live super close to a bus stop.

When jobs sprawl, there are costs to infrastructure and the environment. But there are also social costs. Poor people get left behind. The Democrat and Chronicle recently reported in three poor neighborhoods on the east side of the city:

Good luck finding a job in these parts of the city, where fewer than one in 10 residents is employed in the neighborhood where he or she lives. More than half of residents who do have jobs are forced to commute to the suburbs.

It’s great Xerox call center workers can now access transit. But RTS cannot do this for all jobs in the suburbs.  There has to be critical mass for regular routes. Our government leaders must take into account where jobs are located and who is expected to fill those jobs the next time a CEO comes looking for a handout.

 

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

Provided photo: New employees at the Xerox call center in Webster met today with Mike Zimmer, President of US Large Operations at Xerox, Heather Smith, Senior Vice President of Delivery Transformation and Global Capabilities at Xerox, Vincent Esposito, Regional Director of the Empire State Development Finger Lakes Regional Office, and Bill Carpenter, CEO of RTS to say thank you for the new commuter express service.

In her State of the City address Wednesday night, Mayor Lovely Warren said she wants to study filling in the northern portion of the Inner Loop. It’s not clear if she means from E. Main to N. Clinton or St. Paul or State St. It’s possible a study would explore each alternative.

There’s a reason the city decided to only fill in the eastern portion, at a cost of nearly $30 million. Traffic volumes were low between E. Main and Monroe. The cost of repairs and maintenance roughly equaled removing the highway. Land would be created in a very desirable area of the city.

The northern area of the Inner Loop is different. It’s got on and off-ramps to 490W. Many of those cars enter or leave the system at East Main St. The E. Main St. intersection has to be solved before such a project can even get off the ground.

In 2001, the city studied filling in both the eastern and northern portion of the Inner Loop. The biggest challenge to making the northern portion an at-grade boulevard was:

“…to develop an alternative that will balance the combined needs of the transportation system and the local neighborhoods. The segment of the Inner Loop from E. Main Street to North Street services a high volume of traffic and is considered a major link in the overall mobility of the area…Alternatives that consider an at-grade facility within this segment will add additional travel time and inconvenience to the existing and future users of this segment…In conclusion, the traffic analysis completed as part of the study supports an at-grade facility from Monroe Avenue to East Main Street. Based on the projected future operations from E. Main Street to North Clinton Avenue, this study suggests a grade separated facility will best accommodated the volumes within this segment.”

The recommendation was to raise the northern part of the Inner Loop, getting rid of those sloping walls that fill with trash, but keep it walled off as a highway.

In 2009, the city studied the idea again, hiring Stantec as its consultant. Here’s what filling in a part of the northern section could look like, using Scio St. as the main entry point for the Inner Loop. Stantec found there would be major traffic backups with this scenario:

 

Inner Loop Concept

 

Another option considered in 2009 was to drop E. Main St. below the new Union St. boulevard that is replacing the eastern part of the Inner Loop. But that would be ridiculously complicated and expensive:

 

Inner Loop

 

Anytime you have multiple intersections like this, it’s wise to consider roundabouts. The 2009 study found you would need some double-lane roundabouts. (Rochesterians’ heads would collectively explode.) The consultants also found there isn’t enough space between roundabouts. Roundabouts also require a lot of land and there would be significant impacts on adjacent properties. The consultants also didn’t think the roundabouts could sufficiently handle traffic flow. Here’s what the roundabout solution would look like:

 

Inner Loop

 

Stantec found the simplest thing to do to improve that E. Main St. corridor is to ‘T” University Ave., reducing the number of lights and improving flow:

inner loop

 

The bottom line is the area is super challenging. It has a ton of traffic and physical constraints. The state agreed. A state transportation official wrote in 2009:

 

Inner Loop

In point number 4, state suggested adding MORE lanes to an area that’s already a nightmare for drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. That defeats the entire purpose of getting rid of the highway. <EDIT: It’s been pointed out to me traffic volume models have changed since 2009. Induced demand is gaining more acceptance. People will just find another way to go someplace if traffic is heavy. If more capacity is added, they’ll fill it up, which doesn’t alleviate the problem. But even if you take out the issue of traffic volume, I still suspect this project will be far more costly and complex than the eastern side.)

Before we discuss whether the Inner Loop could be raised all the way to State St. (New bridge over the Genesee River, anyone?), we haven’t traveled past E. Main St. I fear this project could be $50 million to $100 million to do correctly and get any real benefits.

There’s no question our city forefathers really screwed up when they built the Inner Loop. They destroyed perfectly good neighborhoods, parks and streets. They left an ugly, trash-strewn highway in its wake. They gutted the core of our city.

We’re fixing the eastern side. But the northern side may be a lost cause. I hope I’m wrong. It’s probably worth a study that’s far more in-depth than anything done to date to find out.

<See the city’s Inner Loop documents page for source material.>

NYS Labor Department

 

Governor Andrew Cuomo came to Rochester in early January and held a campaign-style event at Tower280. He talked about how Upstate New York is on the way back and the state has more private sector jobs than ever before.

cuomoAfter his speech, I asked him how he can be so positive when Rochester has 40,000 fewer people working than it did at its peak in the late 1990s. Cuomo called me a cynic and said we’re all going to die one day. The governor was joking, of course. But new data shows the Rochester economy is no laughing matter.

First, census data shows a net loss of 25,000 people in Rochester over the last five years when you add up the number of people who moved in and the number of people who moved out. If it wasn’t for new births and international immigrants, we would be in a population free fall. People blame taxes, the weather and lack of jobs.

Speaking of jobs, data out last week from the New York State Labor Department shows Rochester had the most job losses in the state over the last year. We lost 1 percent of jobs between February 2015 and February 2016. That’s 4,700 jobs.

Meantime, in a Democrat and Chronicle article holding the state accountable about jobs promises, officials say some of their efforts to create jobs are paying off. Others will pay off in the future. And some probably won’t pay off, after all. For now, we wait.

The state’s economic development policy is to throw obnoxious amounts of money at companies and hope they create jobs. The state calls it investment, but it could also be called gambling. Most recently, Cuomo came to Rochester to announce two photonics companies are coming here. He said they would create 1,400 jobs, even though neither company makes anything right now and both have a tiny number of workers. As with other announcements on photonics, the jobs estimates are purely speculative.

As much as I love Rochester, it’s clear there’s something deeply wrong with our economic climate. Instead of focusing on making Rochester a wonderful place for all to do business, the state is focusing on only a few businesses in programs such as Start-Up NY. The big picture has been lost.

It turns out I was right to be cynical. I was also right. The region is not on the upswing, as Cuomo would have us believe.

Update: The state labor department questions its own data. Whatever the case, it’s not a pretty picture. – RB 3/29/16

Links of the Day:

 

Wegmans is once again on Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For list.

Here’s something you should know: This list is total garbage.

I’ve always wondered how a company with mostly part-time workers who start at minimum wage could rank so highly. Wegmans scored in the high 90’s on every measurement. Really?

 

Great Places to Work Institute

Great Places to Work Institute

 

It turns out, Wegmans pays to be on this list. Fortune doesn’t do the ranking and provides little information about methodology. A company called Great Place to Work Institute conducts the surveys. The minimum price of entry is $995. Companies can choose more expensive packages to become clients of GPWI. Wegmans has been a client, according to a 2011 story in 24/7wallstreet.  This kind of relationship taints the polling process.

What really damns the survey is how it is administered. According to a manual I downloaded from the GPWI site, the surveys are not scientific. Companies like Wegmans select the workers who will take the surveys. Companies administer the surveys themselves. Companies also get to choose when they administer the survey. GPWI says the surveys must be done at random and provides a guide to companies on how to choose a good sample. (Wegmans chose 722 workers, according to GPWI.) There’s no way any reputable polling firm would conduct a survey in this manner.

 

GPWI handbook

Great Places to Work Institute

 

GPWI’s website encourages companies to get on their list to “strengthen your brand.” GPWI will provide winners PR tips for how to maximize the recognition. The profiles of each winning company also have a “how to get hired” section, in which they make a pitch to prospective employees. This shows the list is merely a marketing and recruitment tool.

Wegmans own data shows issues with employee retention, as nearly one-third of workers have been there less than two years. Only 20 percent have been there more than 10 years. Two-thirds of workers are part-timers, who must work 30 hours a week to be eligible for benefits. The average salary for a full-time customer service worker is $34,000, including overtime. That’s not bad, but it’s not a great living.

I love shopping at Wegmans. I’m sure many employees love working at Wegmans. (I am a Wegmans alumna.) But let’s get real about this list and what it means. Absolutely nothing.

Update: A Wegmans spokesperson took huge issue with my mention of retention. Many of the workers are teenagers and many have just been hired at new stores. That skews the numbers. Totally fair points! But on the methodology, Wegmans didn’t have anything to add, except that it follows Fortune’s protocols. As I’ve pointed out, Fortune’s protocols are not scientific. Wegmans stands by its participation in the survey and notes it’s widely recognized.

Another update: Wegmans followed up again, saying GPWI provides envelopes for workers to send back the surveys. Wegmans emphasizes it’s not doing anything devious here. I hope that’s not what I’m implying. I’m only saying the survey is not independently administered. Wegmans picks the workers. If you really want to find out what employees think, you’ll have an independent firm conduct such a survey from start to finish.
Links of the Day:

 

 

Rochester Love:

 

Economic Innovation Group

Economic Innovation Group

Many residents of the city of Rochester have been left behind by the economic recovery, according to a report from the Economic Innovation Group. The group looked at seven measurements of a city’s health from 2010 to 2013. Those measurements include adults without a high school degree, income, poverty rate, housing vacancy rate, businesses lost or gained, jobs lost or gained and percentage of adults not working. Distressed cities were given a score, with 100 being the maximum distress level.

In Rochester, most zip codes in the city had a distress score over 90 percent. Consider 14613, which encompasses Maplewood and Edgerton. One out of five adults doesn’t have a high school degree. One out of four homes is vacant. One out of 10 businesses closed. The employment rate fell 9 percent. This zip code is among the 500 most distressed in the entire country. Its distress score is 98.

Go over to 14605, the neighborhood just to the northeast of downtown and you see 60 percent of adults without jobs and half of residents living in poverty. Although employment ticked up 1 percent, incomes remain one-third of the median.

Looking at the map, you see things change dramatically as you cross city lines. The suburbs recovered nicely from the economic downturn. In Brighton, employment increased 11.5 percent. The number of businesses went up 3.5 percent. Residents earn 139 percent of the median income. The poverty rate is 7 percent. Brighton has a distress score of 6.5

In Penfield, employment went up 10.5 percent and the number of businesses increased 5.5 percent. The housing vacancy rate is 3 percent. The community’s distress score is 4.1.

These stark inequalities put Monroe County among the top 20 most unequal counties in the entire country. Erie County is also on this list.

Also of note, Utica is among the country’s 10 most distressed cities and Buffalo is among 10 largest distressed cities. Some rural areas are very distressed, including Albion and Lyons.

The authors of the report write:

“The analysis finds that for those living in distressed zip codes, the years of overall U.S. economic recovery have looked much more like an ongoing downturn. Large swathes of the country are indeed being left behind by economic growth and change. The phenomenon is taking place at many different scales: Well-being diverges between cities and states but even more starkly within cities and at the neighborhood level.”

The New York Times reported:

“It’s almost like you are looking at two different countries,” said Steve Glickman, executive director of the Economic Innovation Group…

“The most prosperous areas have enjoyed rocket-shiplike growth,” said John Lettieri, senior director for policy and strategy at the Economic Innovation Group. “There you are very unlikely to run into someone without a high school diploma, a person living below the poverty line or a vacant house. That is just not part of your experience.”

By contrast, in places the recovery has passed by, things look very different.

Monroe County is trying to tackle these inequities through the anti-poverty initiative. Rochester’s mayor is also exploring worker-owned businesses.

Links of the Day:

 

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

Every time a new downtown luxury apartment complex is announced, many people wonder, “Where are the people coming from to fill them up?”

There’s a big shift happening in Rochester and around the country. This is a demographic shift. This is a lifestyle shift. This is a shift of expectations when it comes to housing.
Here is why we need more apartments, who is likely filling the units and why downtown is an attractive option.

There are more households without children. In 2000 there were 102,033 homes without kids in Monroe County. In 2014, there were 121,016. That’s a 19 percent increase of childless households. If you don’t have children, you can get by with less space. You don’t have to live in a suburb to access good schools. You may have more disposable income.

The population is aging. Between 2000 and 2014, the median age in Monroe County went from 36.1 to 39 years old. Between 2000 and 2014, the share of the population claimed by people over 65 went from 13 percent to 15.5 percent. Seniors often like to downsize. They often sell their homes for an easier lifestyle. During this time period, the number of seniors in childless homes grew by 8,000. But the number of childless households went up by nearly 20,000. Who is making up the gap?

The Millennials are a force. The percentage of the population between 20 and 34 years old went from 19.8 percent in 2000 to 21.3 percent in 2014. That’s an additional 15,000 young people in Monroe County. Data shows they’re trending toward city living. Although they can afford houses in many cases, they prefer to rent.

There are more people not married and living alone. In 2000, 82,042 people, or 11.5 percent of the population, lived alone. In 2014, 99,959 people, or 13.3 percent lived by themselves. On the marriage front, in 2013, 44.2 percent of the population in Monroe County was married. That’s down from 51.3 percent in 2000. If you live alone, you’re less likely to want or need a house.

Home ownership rate is falling. All of the above demographic factors have led to a lower home ownership rate in Monroe County. In 2000, 70 percent of households were owner-occupied. In 2014, 64 percent of households were owner-occupied.

Good apartments in demand: The 2014 Census shows there is a 7.7 rental vacancy rate. But where are these vacant units? I suspect landlords of lower-quality apartments and apartments in less desirable and convenient areas are suffering. Rents are on the rise in Rochester. Downtown’s rental market shows a vacancy rate of 3 percent, which is considered a very healthy market.

But downtown rents are so expensive! Newer downtown units are starting at $1,000 and up. But that’s comparable to some newer suburban apartment complexes. Downtown living is easier for those who will be closer to work and entertainment. That saves time otherwise spent in a car and money on gas. The units coming online downtown are unique and special. You can’t find the views or the ambiance anywhere else.

But a house is an investment! Maybe. Studies show people think their houses appreciate far more than they really do. Some economists think you’re better off putting the money into stocks. Houses also have big upfront costs. The New York Times calculator shows if you buy a $125,000 house with a 20 percent down payment, and spend only $2,000 the first year on fixing the place up, you’re better off renting an apartment that’s $900. This doesn’t include the cost of furniture and ongoing maintenance and home projects. You’re certainly not going to buy a house for that price downtown, in the East End or Park Ave., the most walkable neighborhoods in Rochester. Houses in good shape for that price in Swillburg or South Wedge go very quickly. The bottom line is renting can be a financially attractive option for those wanting a certain lifestyle.

There you have it. All of these things taken together are why we’re seeing more apartment complexes going up in the Rochester area, particularly downtown.

Links of the Day:

 

Credit: City of Rochester

Credit: City of Rochester

The Democrat and Chronicle released a poll showing three of four people in the Rochester area don’t know about the Rochester Monroe Anti-Poverty Initiative.

Despite the D&C’s constant attention to the RMAPI, few people are interested. In addition, the group has done very little marketing. Actually, RMAPI hasn’t done much.

RMAPI’s goal is to reduce poverty by 15 percent in five years, 30 percent in 10 years and 50 percent in 15 years. The group also wants to increase the number of families that are self-sufficient, though it admits it has no idea how it will measure success.

Already, one full year has been spent assembling numerous committees and sub-committees, developing strategies and simply taking stock of the problem. There’s still no plan to reduce poverty. There’s barely a plan to come up with a plan.

That said, placing special focus on poverty is a very, very good thing. It’s wonderful there are so many stakeholders from all segments of the community at the table. I know many people involved and they are taking this very seriously. They are giving their time and expertise. It’s great people are talking more about poverty. But as the poll showed, no one is listening.

At least not yet.

I’m cautiously optimistic about RMAPI. But I’m also worried this is already a vanity project for politicians including Governor Andrew Cuomo, Assemblyman Joe Morelle, Mayor Lovely Warren and everyone involved in the Finger Lakes Economic Development Council. The United Way also stands to benefit, as it’s steering the $500,000 initial grant. There’s already a staff, including the $95,000-a-year director. The city obtained $6.5 million in additional funding to the project. RMAPI could end up being a nice vehicle for officials to say they’re doing something without really doing anything.

There’s reason to be cynical. The governor says he’s duplicating the RMAPI in other areas of the state, using it as a model. That is ridiculous, because RMAPI hasn’t accomplished one stinking thing yet. RMAPI doesn’t even have a road map for tackling poverty, but it’s already a model? This kind of work will take undoubtedly take time.

Here’s what is happening: Elected officials are jumping on the solve poverty train because they think this will make them look good to voters. The D&C poll showed it won’t. DO something to make the lives of poor people better, and they might start paying attention.

 

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SyracuseA commission of community leaders in Syracuse and Onondaga County say it’s time to discuss metropolitan government. It released a report detailing how a merger could save $20 million immediately and taxpayers could save $200 each a year.

The commission wasn’t shy. While it stopped short of making recommendations, it discussed consolidating police, fire, EMS, public works, courts, clerks, code enforcement and governments as a whole. It says $100 million is being spent on duplicated services. The report does make the situation look ridiculous.

The commission avoided the third rail topic of schools, believing there’s no public will on that front.

The commission will now solicit feedback from the community. If Syracuse and Onondaga County were to merge, there would be just under 500,000 residents. Syracuse would be the state’s largest city outside New York City. The commission notes there are advantages beyond cost savings to residents, such as shared planning and elevation in stature.

It will be interesting to see how this discussion plays out in the Syracuse area. Past discussions on metro government in the Rochester area have been met with fierce resistance. Former mayor Bill Johnson loved to talk about metro government, even metro schools. Maggie Brooks used his support for the idea to trounce him in 2003 in the race for county executive. The GOP’s infamous Pac-Man ad showed the city gobbling up all the towns. Needless to say, people like their towns and villages. Many want no part of the city.

Governor Andrew Cuomo loves to talk government consolidation, but I don’t see the will anywhere in this community to even have a discussion. Maybe our friends in Central New York will show us a path.

 

Links of the Day:

 

 

 

refugeeIn 1938, a poll showed two-thirds of Americans believed the country should not admit Jews fleeing the Nazis. Fewer than 5 percent believed immigration quotas should be raised to help those fleeing persecution.

There was at least one place in the country where that poll would likely have produced different results: Rochester, New York.

In 2012, Mary Posman detailed our community’s remarkable interfaith and cross-cultural efforts to help Jewish refugees before and after World War II. She writes:

At a time when the nation seemed generally unmoved (at best) or anti-Semitic (at worst), supporters here pulled together to form a variety of organizations to combat hatred, advocate for changes in immigration policy, and ease the assimilation of refugees. During the 1930s and 1940s, the concern and activism of the Rochester community facilitated the successful immigration of nearly 1,000 Jews escaping Nazi tyranny. Although this number may seem small for a city whose population averaged over 300,000, it reflects a substantial effort from Rochesterians on behalf of Europe’s Jews, belying the claim that Americans were largely indifferent to their plight.

Why was Rochester different? In addition to having a long history of progressiveness and a strong tradition of helping immigrants, Rochesterians were better informed about the atrocities in Europe. That’s thanks to Rabbi Philip Bernstein, as well as the Jewish Ledger newspaper.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein photographing children at a displaced persons camp in Europe.

Rabbi Bernstein was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who settled in Rochester. He became chief rabbi at Temple B’Roth Kodesh. He was extremely active in current events and civil rights, and advocated for Jewish causes in Rochester and around the world. He traveled to Germany multiple times in the run-up to the war and brought home horror stories of what was happening to Jews. He launched a campaign to get Rochester and the nation to listen.

Posman writes:

Rabbi Bernstein understood people’s doubts and acknowledged his own initial disbelief at the hateful turn that the culturally rich nation of Germany had taken. “I could not believe it,” he admitted in a sermon, “for I did not want to believe it.”

Rabbi Bernstein found an engaged audience in Rochester. Posner writes:

…members of the Rochester community, both Jews and non-Jews alike, contacted him to discover ways they could support his efforts in Europe. For example the Purdys, a local Christian family, wrote to Bernstein in the spring of 1946, hoping he could connect them with a European Jewish family that they could help. “The fact that a specific family in America wishes the Jewish family well,” they hoped, “could help a little to restore their faith in humanity.”

In the 1930s, the United States had a policy that required refugees to prove they had a way to make a living. The only way to get around this requirement was to have friends or family to say they would support them. Rochester became one of the first cities in the country to come up with an ingenious plan: An entire community –  backed by the Jewish Welfare Council – would pledge to financially support the applicants. Once here, numerous interfaith groups helped the refugees get on their feet.

Posman writes that Rochester was not immune from anti-Semitism. The University of Rochester had quotas on Jewish students. Kodak was suspected of discriminating against Jewish applicants, as it had no Jews on the payroll until the late 1920s. There were anti-Semitic pamphlets that were:

…spreading derogatory lies about Jews and encouraging non-Jews to unite against the threat they allegedly posed. One such pamphlet was entitled “Why are Jews Persecuted for their Religion?” This document, the origins of which remain mysterious, pulled passages of Jewish scriptures out of context, twisted them, and then used them to “prove” that “Jewish people are not to be trusted” and should be denied the ability to become citizens or hold public office.

Posman’s summary is very relevant to the debate over refugees entering America today:

Within this context of national hostility to Jewish immigrants, Rochester serves as an example of how a community can pull together to overcome adversity. In a time of isolationism and hyper-nationalism, it is indeed impressive that so many Rochesterians were able to look beyond their city’s limits and reach out to those in need. Led in large part by Rabbi Philip Bernstein, the community proved its ability to work within the limitations of federal policy to facilitate the arrival and assimilation of hundreds of Jewish refugees. If nothing else, this effort illustrates how in a dark moment of terror, apathy, and accusations, there was still light, hope, and people willing to help one another.

 

Links of the Day:

WarrenOnly 22 percent of voters in the City of Rochester came out on Election Day. That compares to 29 percent in 2011, the last race for county executive. That’s about 6,400 fewer voters, an astonishing drop.

Can’t blame the weather. It was a beautiful, sunny day.

The county executive contest was the main reason for city Democrats to go to the polls. The citywide races were won in the primary, as Democrats outnumber Republicans in the city 6 to 1.

Maybe Sandy Frankel wasn’t the most exciting candidate, but she suffered from a weak party. The local Democrats are deeply divided. The party has a limited get-out-the-vote operation and limited funds. Mayor Lovely Warren does have a get-out-the-vote operation and a huge campaign account. But she won’t lift a finger to help. She let Sandy Frankel twist in the wind.

Doing the math, if city voters turned out at the same rate as the towns, another 8,200 people would have voted. That’s not enough to have changed the outcome in the county executive race, even if all voted for Frankel. But city voters can make a difference in countywide elections. Rep. Louise Slaughter lost the suburbs, but won the city and was able to keep her seat.

The following is a post-election Twitter exchange with several local journalists.  It discusses whether the state of the local party is to blame for Democratic losses and whether Mayor Warren is obligated to help right the ship.

 

 

 

What accounts for the horrible showing on Election Day?

 

 

 

Bolgen VargasBolgen Vargas was seen as the savior.

The district’s spirit was broken back in the spring of 2011. Outgoing Superintendent Jean-Claude Brizard had created chaos and ill will. There was a massive budget deficit and threats of hundreds of layoffs and program cuts.
Vargas was brought in to heal the wounds.

Astoundingly, no one raised a stink that a suburban guidance counselor was picked behind closed doors to head the third-largest district in the state. Though Vargas got the job because of his political connections, everyone agreed he’s a “good man” and a “nice guy.” Vargas seemed to be what the district needed at that moment.
As interim superintendent, he healed the wounds and redirected focus to education.

But when he got the permanent job, there were signs of trouble. Vargas couldn’t retain key people in his cabinet. He lost the support of administrators, who complained his expectations were always changing. He began to lose the support of teachers, who saw the climate in their schools and classrooms continue to deteriorate.

A good leader has to have followers.

Vargas made a series of decisions that angered his board, starting with his immediate hire of Patricia Malgieri as his right hand. (She was pro-mayoral control under former Mayor Bob Duffy.) There were other questionable moves, including the shuffling of principals, the inexplicable downfall of Northeast/Northwest, the dismantling of the Boys Academy and the special education “consultation” model.

It turned out, Vargas, who had never served as an administrator, wasn’t a great manager. His style was more autocratic than inclusive. That angered just about everyone who worked under him. The internal strife remained below the radar until Vargas filed a lawsuit against the board after they checked his power. It was clear the end of his tenure was near.

None of this should be a surprise to those who remember Vargas from his days on the school board.

Vargas had a model for his perfect superintendent: Clifford Janey. When Vargas was on the school board, he was a huge champion of the district’s former leader. Janey believed in a very strong superintendent and hands-off board. Assemblyman David Gantt got a law passed giving Janey and his successors more power. (Vargas had that law in mind when he sued his board.)

Until the bitter end of Janey’s tenure, Vargas was a Janey apologist and supporter, despite Janey’s horrible financial management skills and lack of transparency. Vargas helped orchestrate Janey’s resignation and large contract buyout. The deal was meant to allow Janey to save face, but the opposite happened. The board announced Janey’s resignation at a packed board meeting, prompting cheers from the crowd.

Vargas’ desire for Janey-like power and his dislike of scrutiny led to his quiet downfall. His internal problems stayed mostly under the radar, thanks to a school board that kept its exasperation to itself. The public never knew how bad things were behind the scenes.

The tragedy of Bolgen Vargas came to an end Tuesday at an awkward press conference, in which no one wanted to admit what was really going on. Vargas did learn one lesson from the Janey ordeal: Get out before they push you out in a much less graceful manner.

1366There are reasons to be hopeful about the 1366 Technologies plant in Genesee County. The company has survived when some solar companies have failed. It has a facility in Massachusetts where it says it found a way to make low-cost solar wafers, which is key to being competitive with China.

Two years ago, 1366 Technologies said it would not accept taxpayer dollars until it was sure these wafers could be scaled to a large manufacturing plant. The Boston Globe reported:

…executives said they won’t tap taxpayer money until they prove the company’s technology and products can succeed in a fiercely competitive industry increasingly dominated by low-cost Chinese manufacturers.

“Once everything works optimally, we want to scale to a larger facility,” chief executive Frank van Mierlo said. “That’s when we’ll take the [federal] money. It protects the taxpayer.”

It’s not clear what protects the taxpayer in this Genesee County deal. Taxpayers are in deeper than the private sector. 1366 Technologies is a privately-held company, which makes it hard to gauge what’s going on with its finances. But this report says the company has $69.5 million in private equity. The state is putting in $97 million. The federal government guaranteed a $150 million loan for this plant.

The state announced 1366 Technologies will eventually invest $700 million into the plant, but there’s no indication this company has this kind of money, at least not yet. The company promised to create at least 600 jobs of the promised 1,000.

(Think this is troubling? Check out the state’s investment in Buffalo’s Solar City.)

These tax dollars don’t include the cost of the Genesee County land, known as STAMP. The county IDA has been spending tax dollars to buy up farmland – without ever knowing if anyone would locate a company there. The county also committed to putting in the infrastructure. In 2013, I reported that the cost to build STAMP could be $350 million over 10 to 15 years. (STAMP is a great example of industrial sprawl, by the way. We don’t have a lot of empty buildings in Rochester? We don’t have the infrastructure already existing here? And while I’m at it, this plant will be 50 miles away from Rochester. Is this really a win for us?)

There’s no guarantee this company’s full-scale manufacturing plant will be successful.

“If you’re so convinced, why do you need our money, why don’t you go to Wall Street?” asked George Conboy of Brighton Securities. “Whenever you go to public funding like this, you don’t have the market disciplines. When you have market discipline, someone’s putting up their money. In this case, someone is putting up someone else’s money – taxpayers’ money.”

 

 

 

Which colleges give you more bang for the buck?

That’s what the White House’s College Scorecard attempts to do. It was released Saturday. You can find out how information such as how much money students are earning, on average, 10 years after graduates. Vox has a great breakdown of what this scorecard means and its limitations.

Graduates of our local four-year colleges have earnings above the national average, with Rochester Institute of Technology leading the pack at more than $56,000. More than three-quarters of RIT grads earn more than those with only a high school diploma. Of course, earnings are not the only factor when choosing a college. Tuition, graduation rates, academic programs and location are all important.

The tool also tells us how much debt each graduate accumulates. RIT students typically graduate with $27,000 in debt. Ninety percent of students are paying down that debt, well above the national average of 67 percent. Meanwhile, at Monroe Community College, students graduate with $12,000 in debt, and only 55 percent are paying it down. That jibes with studies showing borrowers with the smaller loans struggle the most, because they’re not earning as much money. Only about half of MCC graduates earn more than high school graduates.

Click here to use the College Scorecard.

College Scorecard

 

College Scorecard

 

College Scorecard

 

 

Economic Policy Institute

Economic Policy Institute

 

How much does a family need to earn in Rochester for a “secure, yet modest standard of living?” The Economic Policy Institute recently updated its Family Budget Calculator. The results show many families likely fall below the threshold.

EPI found a single person in Rochester needs to earn at least $28,774 a year. That puts us on par with many other communities and is slightly lower than the median non-family household income in Rochester. But when you start to add children to the mix, costs escalate. A household with one parent and one child needs to earn $55,530 in Rochester. Other communities see much lower costs for child care. A two-parent household with two children needs to earn $81,106 in Rochester. That’s 27 percent above the median family income here.

The EPI does this calculator to show the federal poverty threshold is not adequate to describe financial realities for families.

Do you think this calculator reflects the true cost of living here?

 

 

Economic Policy Institute

Economic Policy Institute

 

Links of the Day:

 

– “New York and other states should compete for business by cutting taxes and red tape and improving services, not cutting checks.”

– Start Up NY has yet to deny an application, records show.

– How companies make millions off lead-poisoned, poor blacks.

– Buffalo believes it’s now a primary concert market.

University of RochesterThe University of Rochester wants to create a second photonics institute.

 

Once you’ve stopped laughing, read on to hear why this second institute is probably needed more than the first one.

Word of a second photonics institute called Lightscale Research Institute, was revealed in a widely circulated email sent out by U of R photonics gurus to local people in the industry. No one appears to be authorized to talk about Lightscale on the record, so here is what I’ve been able to piece together in talks with sources.

The first institute – the AIM Photonics Institute that brought Vice President Joe Biden here – will have more than $600 million in funding. But only $130 million of that money is coming to Rochester, sources say. Fifteen million dollars is coming from the Department of Defense, $80 million is going to the U of R and $35 million is going to Rochester Institute of Technology.

AIM Photonics is a national effort, but that effort is too restrictive to exploit Rochester’s true potential in photonics. AIM can only do integrated photonics, which is the use of optical fibers to move data at high rates of speed. In addition to AIM’s narrow focus, it’s a federal effort, which means it doesn’t have a singular focus on creating jobs in Rochester.

(A huge irony is that Rochester’s colleges and industries don’t even specialize in integrated photonics. But it’s not a stretch to make the leap, especially with SUNY Polytechnic as a partner. “We have transferrable skills,” one source said.)

Here’s where Lightscale comes in. This second photonics institute is hoping Rochester wins the $500 million Upstate Hunger Games competition, and it gets a $100 million cut. Unlike AIM, Lightscale would have a broad focus on many different kinds of photonics, including optics, lasers and imaging. It would have a regional focus and would create regional jobs.

Kodak was good at systems. Kodak could make components, such as lenses, but its bread and butter was cameras. AIM is components. Lightscale is systems. Lightscale is the stuff Rochester is really good at doing. Lightscale is the stuff that makes systems closer to consumers – next generation platform, 3D systems, virtual reality, etc. The closer you get to consumers, the more jobs you create. “It’s moving up the value chain,” as one source put it.

Does AIM have the potential to create 5,000 to 10,000 jobs in Rochester, as SUNY Polytechnic head Dr. Alain Kaloyeros suggested?  The odds are way better working with Lightscale, sources say. AIM’s focus is too narrow and it’s mission is national.

That’s the reasoning behind Lightscale, a second photonics institute. That’s why University of Rochester went ballistic when Kaloyeros tried to take over the whole AIM project. U of R has its own photonics vision – and it might be a heck of lot bigger than anyone realized.

 

Below is the email describing Lightscale from U of R’s Paul Ballentine and Mark Bocko.

Dear Friends,

As you probably know by now, on July 27th Vice President Biden came to Rochester to announce our region has been chosen as the home to the national Integrated Photonics Institute for Manufacturing Innovation (IP-IMI).  This is part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).  This event was the culmination of over three years of hard work and careful planning to: (a) have the U.S. government identify photonics as a topic for an NNMI Institute AND (b) make sure that institute is headquartered in Rochester.  An early step toward this achievement was taken on December 17, 2012 when over 100 key stakeholders gathered joined CEIS at the UR Alumni Center for a full day of discussions on what an NNMI institute for photonics should look like. At the time, we called the proposed institute POMATech (Photonics and Optics MAnufacturing TECHnology).  The idea was to have an institute that covered a range of optics, photonics, and imaging technologies – one that would leverage the wide range of skills and resources in our community.  As it turned out, the original proposal by the Obama administration to have NIST fund the institutes and allow proposing entities recommend the topics was not funded. Instead, individual agencies have been funding NNMI Institutes for topics of their choosing.  After over two years of lobbying by the Rochester photonics community, our congressional delegation, RRPC, the Optical Society of America, SPIE, the National Photonics Initiative, and many other individuals and organizations, the Department of Defense issued a call for proposals in 2014 for an NNMI Institute for integrated photonics.  This was one of the six areas we discussed in the 12/12 workshop.

The New York proposal for the IP-IMI won out over proposals from Central Florida and Southern California.  The New York institute, called AIM Photonics, will be led by the University of Rochester, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and SUNY Polytechnic Institute. Other participating universities include  MIT, the University of Arizona, and UC Santa Barbara. Participating companies include Intel, IBM, and many others.  Over 20 Rochester area optics and photonics companies are also supporting the institute.  The DOD is providing $110M in funding over five years and New York State is providing $250M of matching funds.  The total funding, including matching grants from other states and company contributions is over $600 million.  Of that total, $130M will be spent in the Rochester area. Rochester was chosen as the headquarters for AIM Photonics based on the region¹s strengths in both the technical, educational, and business aspects of photonics.  In addition to the headquarters, Rochester will be the center of the packaging and sensor efforts of AIM Photonics.  Rochester will also play leading roles in education, workforce training, and design automation.

The NNMI award is only part of the progress we have made in getting federal support for the region¹s photonics industry.  Over the past 3 years, Rochester has been awarded grants for all four of President Obama¹s manufacturing jobs initiatives:  The Advanced Manufacturing Jobs and Innovation Accelerator Challenge (CEIS), the Advanced Manufacturing Technology program (CEIS), the Investing in Manufacturing Communities Partnership program (the City of Rochester)) and the NNMI program (AIM Photonics).  All four of these are based on optics, photonics, and imaging.  This is a tremendous achievement for the region, and one in which we should share a sense of community pride.  We are also fortunate that New York State continues to support CEIS as the Center for Advanced Technology (CAT) for optics, photonics, and imaging.  These are important parts of the  effort to re establish Rochester as the leading center for optics, photonics, and imaging in the world.

Our work is not done.  CEIS is currently working with the Rochester photonics community to establish a second major photonics institute in Rochester.  This proposed Institute, called the Lightscale Research Institute, will be part of the region¹s proposal for one of the $500M Upstate New York Revitalization Initiative (URI) grants.  Why two institutes?  LRI will differ from AIM Photonics in two important ways.  First, the focus of LRI will be on a broad range of light-based technologies other than integrated photonics, including advanced optics, lasers, and  imaging/multimedia platforms.  AIM Photonics is restricted to integrated photonics by the DOD.  Second, LRI will be a NY State institute while AIM Photonics is a federal institute.  There will be different fiduciary responsibilities for public funds.  AIM Photonics, while heavily subsidized by New York State, will be a federal institute.  LRI will be more focused on regional economic development, although it will benefit the entire optics industry and have national and international participation by companies that are committed to invest in the Rochester region.

While we greatly appreciate the attention photonics is getting, it is important to work closely with those who have created these opportunities.  The strategies required to turn these developments into real economic growth are complex.  We all need to work together in a coordinated, comprehensive, and consistent way if we want to control our own destiny and turn these public investments into real economic growth,

A lot of people have contributed to these efforts and are continuing to do so. In particular Congresswoman Louise Slaughter has been a strong and steady supporter of the Rochester optics, photonics, and imaging industry for decades and provided the original impetus for this activity.  And Jay Eastman has been involved from the start and has volunteered a considerable amount of his time over the last 3 years.  Jay continues to play a leading role in the effort to rebuild the Rochester photonics industry through his role as co-chair of the Optics and Photonics Work Group of the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council.

AIM Photonics and LRI (if funded) will be pillars upon which a healthy optics, photonics, and imaging industry in Rochester can grow.  The real goal of these efforts is to see substantial private investment leading to the incubation, growth, and attraction of optics, photonics, and imaging companies.  These companies will provide well paying jobs and help address the poverty situation in the Rochester region.

We appreciate your continued support in this effort.  If you have any questions or would like to become more involved, please don¹t hesitate to call or send us at CEIS or send us an email.

Regards,

Mark Bocko, Director

Paul Ballentine, Executive Director

The Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences
University of Rochester