Not a Pretty Picture in Rochester
Nov. 12, 1997
ROCHESTER, N.Y. (AP) _ For generations, Eastman Kodak Co. gave Rochester a feeling of security. It was a place where a job could last a lifetime.
But faith in the region's biggest and perhaps most paternalistic employer is fading, hurt by cutthroat competition from Japan, strategic stumbles and successive overhauls that have thrown 25,000 local people out of work.
A day after the photography giant said it was cutting 10,000 more jobs worldwide, the ripples were felt all over this metropolitan region of nearly 1 million people where 34,000 of Kodak's 95,000 workers live.
``I think this time, the disillusionment is greater than it has ever been,'' Janet Barnard, a professor of management at Rochester Institute of Technology, said Wednesday.
While it was unclear how many employees in the Rochester area would lose their jobs, residents were wary.
``People aren't going out to lunch the way they used to,'' said Linda Fineout, co-owner of Goodbye Ruth's restaurant across from Kodak Park, the company's 2,200-acre manufacturing hub a mile north of downtown.
``They're not as smiley as they usually are when they do come in,'' said her co-worker Ralph Rubert. ``They're scared for their jobs _ anybody would be with Fuji bearing down.''
Kodak's woes deepened this summer when Tokyo-based Fuji Photo Film Co. cut color-film prices by as much as 30 percent in the United States. Kodak, the best known name in all of photogrphay, has seen its U.S. market share fall below 70 percent, while Fuji's has surged to almost 20 percent.
The price brawl came while Kodak was struggling to make money from futuristic photographic products. Instead of turning a profit this year for the first time, digital photography, the recording of images on computer chips, has already racked up a $300 million loss.
Stunned by an anticipated 25 percent slide in profits in 1997, Kodak resorted once more to layoffs.
``The anxiety that we create when we do things like we're doing is immense, and you can't help but generate some degree of ill-will,'' said chief executive George Fisher, who was praised as a pro-growth, corporate visionary when he joined Kodak from Motorola in 1993.
Fisher, the first outsider to lead Kodak since George Eastman founded it 116 years ago, contributed to the anxiety by declining to say how many jobs would be lost in Rochester. Wall Street analysts believe the local work force will fall to nearly 30,000, half what it was in 1982.
Richard Scorse opened the California Brew Haus bar-and-grill near Kodak Park in 1969. ``You couldn't get in the door back then at lunch time, and this is today,'' he said, pointing forlornly at fewer than a dozen customers.
Others argue that Kodak is still strong enough, and Rochester's economy diverse enough, to avoid the extreme hardships endured by other industrial cities in the Northeast hit by mass layoffs.
Kodak, the ``Great Yellow Father'' that opened photography to the masses with inexpensive cameras and easy-to-use film, is still the world's biggest photography and imaging company. Kodak still employs one in 15 people in the six-county metropolitan area. And by generating other jobs _ in stores, banks and subcontracting firms _ it accounts for one-fifth of the local economy.
But Rochester is no longer a one-company Kodakville. The region has other big shoulders to lean on like Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb, which employ 27,000 people, and its unemployment rate of 3.3 percent is among the lowest in New York state.
Rochester has weathered heavy layoffs in the past. But Chamber of Commerce president Thomas Mooney said he expects a period of uncertainty in which people will hesitate to buy new cars, household appliances or pricey Christmas gifts.
``People are probably going to say, `Well, I'll wait a little bit on this' _ that begins the ripple effect,'' he said.