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Laboratory for Laser Energetics at the University of Rochester (Photo courtesy of UR)

Idea Power

By SHEILA LIVADAS

Since its earliest days as the flour-milling center of the nation, Rochester has built a reputation for turning innovative ideas into reality.

"We have a long history of entrepreneurs that goes back to Bausch & Lomb, Kodak and Xerox," says Sandra Parker, president and CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance. "That legacy has really stayed with us, and what we've seen is that those big companies have spurred other investors and other entrepreneurs to start other companies.

"That's our strength-and that's quite frankly why we haven't folded our tent."

Not to mention a highly skilled workforce, she adds.

"Our workforce has a high work ethic and are proven risk takers. That's all worked to our advantage."

Rochester's top employers are health care, education, manufacturing and telecom-a healthy mix of  different sectors.

"That diversity and high output of goods and services are why Brookings Institution recently named Rochester the third-best economy in the United States," says Mark Peterson, president and CEO of Greater Rochester Enterprise Inc.

In optics and imaging, three homegrown companies-Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc.-built a base for the industry to soar: Rochester's Optimax Systems Inc. participates in many NASA programs. It provided the camera and instrument optics for Curiosity, the latest Mars rover-thus giving the Flower City truly universal impact.   Rochester also leads the charge in optics education and research. Founded in 1929 with a grant from Kodak and Bausch & Lomb, the University of Rochester's Institute of Optics has awarded roughly half of the field's degrees nationwide. UR's Laboratory for Laser Energetics houses two of the most powerful lasers in existence. It operates as a research hub for scientists from around the globe.

One industry on a roll: food and beverage manufacturing. Constellation Brands Inc., LiDestri Foods Inc., Barilla America Inc., Kraft Foods Inc. and Alpina Foods LLC have discovered the advantages of having access to the region's affordable, fertile land and 7 percent of the world's freshwater. Agriculture is the top industry in New York, and Greater Rochester leads the state in the sector.

"We are No. 1 in New York State in sales of food crops, milk and other animal products," Peterson says. "In addition, we're conveniently located within 500 miles of one-third of the U.S. and Canadian population."

Business services prosper; Paychex Inc. is proof. Thomas Golisano founded the company in 1971 with $3,000 and one employee. Today Paychex has some 564,000 payroll clients and more than 100 offices in the U.S. and Europe.

An already strong telecom sector has made further strides with Earthlink Inc.'s decision to make Rochester its largest single center of business. The Atlanta-based telecom and Internet-services firm plans a $12 million investment in local operations over the next several years.

The evolution of Rochester's economy can be seen in the successful adaptation of the former Kodak Park. With an eye to the future, local companies are conserving resources and making way for green business in Eastman Business Park, Kodak's former imaging and research site, now a clean-technology facility housing more than 30 companies. Other examples are the painstaking renovations of century-old factories in the High Falls and Cascade districts and on University Avenue, and of the former Genesee Hospital site on Alexander Street.

© Rochester Business Journal

 

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