Virtually every part of the economy was shaken in late 2007 with the onset of the Great Recession, an economic downturn that would cost the United States 8.8 million jobs. However, according to a study released by the New York Department of Labor Tuesday, April 24, Rochester has rebounded and by the latest counts now has more jobs than before the recession. With over 12,300 jobs created in the last year, an increase of 2.5 percent, Rochester is the fastest-growing city in upstate New York. After the fall of local industry giants, smaller business have been exploding upwards to fill the gaps in the most prosperous sectors of the economy.
N.Y. State Government findings have shown that some of the fastest-growing local industry sectors are business, education and health services. The University of Rochester and RIT employ a total of 1,600 graduates combined. The Rochester General Health System and Bausch & Lomb Corporation are not far behind. Eastman Kodak also remains one of the largest employers in the area, and approximately 52 percent of its workforce is RIT alumni; it is the largest employer of alums in the world.
Many of what were once Rochester’s largest employers are no longer primary players in the local economic community. Kodak, Xerox, and Bausch & Lomb all no longer employ the sizable workforce they once did. “Rochester lacks big companies” says Manny Contomanolis, the associate vice president and director for RIT Co-op and Career Services. “There’s not as much of a draw anymore.” He says that over the last five years, between 34 and 38 percent of RIT graduates have stayed in Rochester each year. Currently, Rochester is home to over 32,000 Institute graduates, which is more than one fourth of all RIT alumni currently living in the United States, according to statistics compiled by the RIT alumni assoaciation.
With the collapse of many of these huge corporations comes a surge of start-ups and small businesses, which are eager to take advantage of the experienced labor and cheap infrastructure which become available as larger companies fade. According to the Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester has suffered from what is known as “Brain Drain,” where educated young people will leave the area after graduation, leaving the area without new or skilled workers and reducing the total population. This trend, which has plagued
Rochester for years, is starting to reverse itself. Numerous job fairs, aimed specifically at recruiting young new graduates, have cropped up all over the area, and the demand for workers has skyrocketed.
The growth of local industry is reflected in the number of RIT graduates in those careers. According to statistics provided by RIT Alumni Relations, one of the most alumni-heavy fields in Rochester is business, with over 7,300 Saunders College of Business graduates in the area, more than any other RIT college. This is despite the fact that SCB only has about 800 total students enrolled, making it one of RIT’s smallest colleges. Engineers are the second most represented field, widely employed at major corporations and small businesses alike.
Local businesses and philanthropists have been quick to invest in new workers needed in these prosperous fields. RIT’s life and medical science programs, as well as its rapidly growing business college, have each received millions of dollars in local donations over the past several years, and are using the money to expand their programs. These are virtually the only academic programs to receive sizable donations in the last few years.
The low commercial land costs and an abundance of skilled labor may cement the Rochester area as one of the strongest economies in the state, which in turn will bring even more people and money to the area. Current RIT students are key sources of talent, in high demand by the growing local economic atmosphere. As small businesses trend upwards, so do employment opportunities for RIT graduates.