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Small business picks up where Kodak left off -- and then some

The hype-hungry media has largely postulated that the end of the Kodak Moment is the death knell for yet another rust belt city -- my city, Rochester, N.Y. But on the contrary, despite the collapse of our cherished, century-old corporate patron, the local economy is doing better than most of the country, thank you very much.

And small business, as it usually does, is leading the way.

As a local resident and business owner, and someone whose family was in the photographic industry (and did business with Kodak) for two generations, I've had a front row seat to the company's decline and inevitable bankruptcy. And as sad as it has been to watch the fall of the one-time industrial powerhouse -- and its impact on the many friends and colleagues I've known there -- I am also fortunate to witness first-hand the reinvention of this area as a best-kept-secretville of innovation, technology and smoking-hot small (and not-so-small) businesses.

For sure this is not change without pain: People and businesses have been hurt, and there will be major issues to deal with -- including what to do with a 1,400 acre industrial complex -- for years. But at the same time, as the circle of life would have it, Kodak laid much of the foundation of our nascent regional renaissance:

Companies spun off directly from Kodak:
From imaging, to medical technology, chemicals and more, former Kodak divisions have prospered as independent companies, keeping thousands of jobs in Rochester and creating more.

Companies built and grown during Kodak's glory days:
Though some businesses became victims of collateral damage, others successfully adapted and grew in other directions as their biggest customer contracted. From printers to restaurants to tool and die shops, many of these companies would not exist were it not for  a single, once-voracious buyer.

Companies started by former Kodak employees:
Kodak's intellectual and inventive power had few rivals (today its thousands of patents are thought to be worth more than the company). And many of the "big brains" that drove this innovation stayed in town and built new businesses.

Companies born of research made possible by Kodak:
Thanks in large part to Kodak, Rochester is a world research leader in medicine, photonics, nanotechnology and more. Aside from the thousands of research jobs themselves, businesses have been built on the learnings.

What the media neglects to mention is that the disintegration of Kodak -- from a peak of 60,000 local employees in the 80's to around 7,000 today -- has been "priced in" to Rochester's economy for years; it's only news to the rest of the world because of the recent stock plunge and Chapter 11 filing. In fact, local employment has seen a net gain since Kodak's slide began; it's just been less obvious than billions of red and yellow film boxes. The wealth has been spread among many dozens of startups and growing small businesses.

Uninformed observers and recklessly clueless members of the press have suggested that as went Kodak, so will go Rochester. Some have even -- out of what can only be complete ignorance -- blamed Rochester for Kodak's demise.

Though it puts up impressive stats in education, health care, and cost/quality of life, Rochester makes no claim to glamour or excitement. The skies are often gray here. With the freakish exception of this winter, there's a lot of snow. Compared to major metros, the shopping, dining and nightlife is "meh". It's a city built on smokestack industry, that has been quietly, modestly and successfully retooling into a serious player in technology and other areas.

Rochester's photo giant may be all but gone, but thanks to bright, innovative, motivated entrepreneurs, the big picture is developing just fine.