Creative destruction will continue to wreak havoc across the global economy. The experience of Rochester, San Diego, Pittsburgh and other cities in surviving offers several lessons.
The first is to make better use of local intellectual capital, starting with universities. One challenge Rochester faces is replacing the young people who once came to work in Kodak’s laboratories. Here’s where higher education comes in handy: public and private organizations should build connections with students through internships and other efforts that give graduates a reason to stick around.
Moreover, universities provide stability in a rough economy by drawing in state and federal dollars, which can compensate for the decline of a major employer.
Of course, private companies need to be part of the game as well. Those left behind when a dominant employer disappears must be willing to pivot to a longer view, as Kodak did for generations. Instead of managing quarter to quarter, they must help reinforce the local work force, as well as invest in the community so as to keep it attractive to new high-skilled workers.
Put differently, there is no single answer for cities facing the departure of a major employer, and there are many things unique to Rochester, Pittsburgh and San Diego that have allowed them to thrive where others have foundered. But long-term investments in education, culture and community have made all three postindustrial success stories, and there is no reason such a strategy can’t help the next city hit by a big-business bankruptcy to follow their lead.