Rochester: A bright light I proudly call my new home
This is an essay by Rochester Institute of Technology President David Munson published June 4, 2018 in the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.
Sometimes you need an outsider’s perspective to better capture reality. As I come to the close of my first year in Rochester, I have developed a strong affection and appreciation for the greater Rochester community and all that it has to offer as a premier place to live, work and ultimately prosper. My wife, Nancy, and I have been warmly welcomed as newcomers, and we both are proud to call this community our home.
To help understand my perspective and experience, you should know that I was born and raised in the Midwest, educated in the East, and returned to the Midwest for most of my career at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan. I have been blessed to travel across the United States and much of the world.
As a child, I was a major consumer of Kodak film, first with a Brownie camera, and later graduating to a rangefinder and then an SLR. I had rolls of Kodachrome slide film with me everywhere I traveled. As a young faculty member, I met with research colleagues at Kodak to discuss progress in digital photography, before the advent of the first digital camera. So, I have a great appreciation for what Kodak brought to this region and the world. And, I have similar admiration for Xerox and Bausch and Lomb.
When we think back to the heights of these companies in Rochester, it should be with excitement rather than wistfulness, for we have been given an amazing legacy that includes everything necessary for major success in a new era that now is in full swing. As president of Rochester Institute of Technology, I could not be more optimistic about the positioning of our community as a center of innovation and entrepreneurial leadership. The greater Rochester region has an extraordinary abundance of assets that position us to be an entrepreneurial powerhouse. We not only have the intellectual talent and major university partners that forward-looking companies require, but we also have inherited an exceptional quality of life thanks to an impressive cluster of cultural organizations, unparalleled natural resources, and a resilient and welcoming spirit of community.
This past year, I have traveled to numerous cities, from Seattle to Dubai. At many of these stops, RIT alumni and partners have asked how Rochester is doing.
This has been an easy segue, as I have spoken about Rochester’s strengths and overall vision to capitalize on creativity and innovation. Indeed, Rochester’s economic development agencies and universities are in discussions with out-of-state alumni who are eyeing Rochester to invest and expand here. One of those decision makers is Mark Oney, who lives in Silicon Valley.
Oney is a senior vice president of EmployeeChannel, a West Coast firm that just announced with Governor Cuomo that it soon will open its Software Development Center for Excellence in RIT’s Downtown Center for Entrepreneurship on Franklin Street. This will create 30 new high-tech jobs in our city.
Other signs of momentum? Governor Cuomo also announced in May the decision by Live Tiles to establish a new Intelligent User Experience hub in downtown Rochester. Live Tiles is a global software firm founded in Australia and headquartered in New York City. Like EmployeeChannel, Live Tiles chose Rochester for expansion for two main reasons – the ability to hire exceptional talent and the vibrant downtown environment. Within the next five years, Live Tiles will create some 500 new jobs, many of which I hope will be filled by graduates of RIT!
These technology-based companies join Datto, which also benefitted from New York State incentives to locate here. Datto, founded by RIT alumnus Austin McChord, is thriving in our region thanks to the depth and breadth of our talent base, the opportunity to collaborate with our faculty, and the ability to interact with like-minded entrepreneurs and “creative class” companies.
And there are more signs of progress. Downtown, housing is booming. The Downtown Innovation Zone now boasts 172 tech companies, and local developers and investors are rejuvenating the landscape of iconic buildings, creating a new sense of place and pride in the center city. And, the ROC the Riverway project has the potential to further transform downtown, creating a focal point for the entire community as well as visitors.
On the theory that success breeds success, I’m confident that we will continue to see more companies like Live Tiles and Datto decide that it makes good business sense to locate in Rochester, N.Y. We at RIT are committed to working with our partners in government and organizations such as the Finger Lakes Regional Economic Development Council and Greater Rochester Enterprise to continue the region’s momentum and celebrate our impressive wins.
So, these are my observations, offered after only one year as a Rochesterian. We have the talent and resources to regain and maybe even surpass our former glory, just in a different way. To borrow from an old slogan: I’d rather be in Rochester!
David Munson is president of Rochester Institute of Technology.