Rochester's Rise Amid Kodak's Demise

Part 3 in a series about Eastman Kodak

ROCHESTER, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- Sandy Parker stepped into an elevator with a man and the two struck up a brief conversation about Rochester, N.Y.

" Eastman Kodak, is there anything left of your town?" the man asked.

"It was tough, emotionally," Parker said, recalling how she felt when the company filed for bankruptcy.

Parker is chief executive of the Rochester Business Alliance and has been actively involved in the business community there since the 1980s. She helped place workers who were part of the first massive Kodak cuts in 1983 and still keeps an eye on the former photographic filmmaker's emergence from bankruptcy.

Jim Senall, who is involved in supporting Rochester start-ups, said he had a similar experience when close relatives -- his brothers -- asked him on the day of the bankruptcy how Rochester could survive.

But when asked if Detroit's tumble and bankruptcy foreshadows Rochester's fate, Senall and Parker raise eyebrows and grin.

Since the peak of Kodak's hiring in the 1980s, when it employed more than 60,000 people in Rochester, total employment in the metropolitan area has risen to some 520,000 from about 414,000. The population of the area has grown to about 1.1 million from 971,000.

Kodak's multi-decade fade and its descent into bankruptcy didn't spell an end to Rochester, known affectionately as the "Flower City." Unlike Detroit's plight thanks to the decline of the U.S. auto industry, the agonizing fall of Rochester's corporate icon may be supporting an emerging renaissance.

The city's sprawling hospitals, major universities and a burgeoning high-tech manufacturing sector trace their roots to Kodak or its founder George Eastman.

These industries create the spine of a city that today employs more workers and has a larger population than it did at the height of Kodak's power. And it's why Senall, the president of non-profit High Tech Rochester, calls Kodak's bankruptcy a "nonevent" to most Rochestarians.

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