Tuesday, March 31, 2015


We've seen that Rochester holds its own in the craft beer trend.  But how about the Third Wave of coffee? I obtained my education on the Third Wave of coffee through the amazing local site rocwiki.org.  Apparently, the First Wave represented coffee's spread worldwide (think Folgers.)  The Second Wave took the First Wave to the next level (think Starbucks.)  Now the Third Wave is taking the Second Wave to the next level.  The source of the beans, the growing conditions, the roasting technique, and the brewing method are all taken very seriously.  The flavor profiles are described in the same way as they would be for a fine wine.  Has piddly Rochester jumped on board?

According to RocWiki, the city of Rochester currently has four Third Wave coffeehouses (as well as innumerable independent coffeehouses and cafes which might be considered Second Wave.)  One Third Wave coffeehouse, Joe Bean Coffee Roasters, has received impressive national recognition.  The Daily Meal included Joe Bean on its list of the 50 best coffee shops in the country, and Joe Bean also made a list of 24 U.S. Coffee Shops To Visit Before You Die.  Here is a 3-minute video having a little fun at the expense of the Third Wave of Coffee:


Friday, March 27, 2015


Upon arrival to Rochester, music seemed to permeate the community: the Eastman School of Music, the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra, one of the largest jazz festivals in the country, House of Guitars, Bop Shop Records, independent radio stations, surprisingly professional college radio stations, abundant live music...it was seemingly everywhere.  But the point of this blog is to avoid perception and focus on reality.  Is there any statistical evidence for Rochester's music-centricity?  A 2012 study analyzed Bureau of Labor Statistics figures on the concentration of musicians as well as figures from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis on music and recording industry business establishments.  The results were combined into a Metro Music Index which measured the concentration of musicians and music-related businesses.  Among metro areas with over one million people, here are the Top 10:

  1. Nashville, TN
  2. New York, NY
  3. Los Angeles, CA
  4. San Francisco, CA
  5. Seattle, WA
  6. Las Vegas, NV
  7. Portland, OR
  8. New Orleans, LA
  9. Rochester, NY
  10. Minneapolis, MN
Spin magazine seemed quite upset by Rochester's ranking.  So I thought I would take the liberty of apologizing: "Dear Spin, on behalf of all Rochesterians, I sincerely apologize for not being the beat up Rust Belt town that you thought we were."

Monday, March 23, 2015


Do you like golf? Either do I.  But it is impossible not to find intrigue in the fact that Rochester, known basically for snow, is considered one of the best golfing regions in the country.  Golf in Rochester is a perfect example of how perception can not just cloud reality but in fact completely obscure it.  Here are a few interesting facts:

  • 62 resort, semi-private, and public golf courses are located within a 45-mile radius of the center of Rochester.
  • Golf Magazine and the National Golf Foundation have identified Rochester as the 10th best golf city in the country, in particular highlighting affordability.
  • The LPGA Championship was played in Rochester from 2010-2014.
  • Golf Digest has ranked the course at Oak Hill Country Club among the Top 100 in the country (#16 to be exact.)
  • The aforementioned Oak Hill Country Club has hosted the PGA Championship (as recently as 2013), the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Open, The U.S. Senior Open, and the Senior PGA Championship.
  • According to its print version, Rochester Golf Week (published weekly since 1988) is America's only weekly golf newspaper

Friday, March 20, 2015

Health Care

Talking about health care is not that exciting.  And working in an industry that is disjointed at best and chaotic at worst is sometimes not that fun.  But health care in Rochester deserves special mention.  This no-name city has somehow learned to create logic out of an otherwise illogical system.  A culture of collaboration in the local medical community is at least partly responsible for the following:

  • In the early 1990's, as the Clintons unsuccessfully pushed for healthcare reform, Rochester was repeatedly cited as an example worth emulating
  • An Institute of Medicine report from 2013 which studied Medicare spending in 306 metro areas identified Rochester as having the lowest per member per month Medicare spending in the country
  • When New York State rolled out its health insurance exchange as part of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), Rochester had the lowest monthly premiums in the state
  • Commercial insurance costs in Rochester are 30% below national average
  • As of 2011, among metro areas with over one million people, Rochester was tied for the second smallest share of uninsured citizens at 8% (number one was Buffalo at 7.5%)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015


Unbeknownst to coastal elites is the fact that the Rust Belt can be...trendy.  Take, for instance, the craft beer trend.  (I don't drink beer, but I read a lot about it...okay, that's not entirely true.)  While corporate brewing still dominates the American beer market, independent brewers working on a smaller (and more tasty) scale have entered the beer scene in a big way.  In fact, as of last year, craft had achieved an 11 percent volume share of the U.S. beer market.  How does Rochester fare in this regard?

  • The city of Rochester has four breweries (three craft breweries), with a fifth planned.  
  • Monroe County has somewhere along the lines of 10 breweries, not including breweries that utilize contract brewing.  
  • As of May 2014, the Finger Lakes Beer Trail, which extends from Rochester through the Finger Lakes and ends in Syracuse, boasted 69 establishments.  
  • Local beer stores take their job quite seriously.  Per Beer Advocate, Beers of the World is rated as Outstanding (91 out of 100), and AJ's Beer Warehouse is rated as World-Class (100 out of 100.)
Is Rochester like Denver, Portland, OR, or San Diego? No.  But it's surprisingly competent.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Conservatism, or lack thereof

Somehow at some point Upstate New York was labeled as conservative.  The New York Times in particular seems to enjoy the creation of two groups: the highly educated, progressive downstaters and the unsophisticated, backwards upstaters.  Perhaps this dichotomy helps readership, but the reality is that Rochesterians have a proud progressive history and continue to take pride in defying convention:

  • In 1838, Frederick Douglass escaped from slavery in Maryland.  He ultimately settled in Rochester where he published the abolitionist newspaper The North Star and established Rochester as an important part of the Underground Railroad.  He inspired Rochesterians to erect the first statue in the country which memorialized an African American citizen and is buried in Rochester's Mount Hope Cemetery.
  • Susan B. Anthony, born in Massachusetts, spent her adult life in Rochester.  As a prominent champion for women's voting rights, her work helped contribute to the 19th Constitutional amendment.  Her home in Rochester is now a popular museum, and her famed illegal vote on November 5, 1872 is now the site of 1872 Cafe.  She, too, is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery.
  • In 2012, as per survey results released by the Gallup Organization, 29.2% of Rochesterians described themselves as very religious.  This percentage placed Rochester as the 23rd least religious metro area out of the 189 surveyed.  (Interestingly, the New York City metro reported 32.6% as very religious, thus coming in as the 42nd least religious.)
  • In 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court was asked in Town of Greece v. Galloway to rule on the constitutionality of Christian prayer before legislative bodies (such as city councils.)  The case originated in Rochester's largest suburb of Greece (hence the name.)  While the court ultimately upheld Christian prayer, Greece subsequently allowed the first atheist invocation at its town board meeting.
  • In 2014, the Human Rights Campaign released a Municipal Equality Index (MEI.)  The MEI examines the laws, policies, and services of municipalities and rates them on the basis of inclusivity of LGBT people who live and work there.  A total of 353 cities were examined with all states being represented.  Rochester scored 100 out of 100, being one of only 38 cities to achieve a perfect score.

Thursday, March 12, 2015


Nothing seems to fuel Rochester's inferiority complex more than the weather.  In fact, the weather is used as an explanation for almost everything, including things that don't exist such as economic decline and population loss.  Even if these nonexistent factors did exist, the link to weather is at best questionable and probably just plain false.  What follows is the standard weather commentary followed by some clarifications:

Standard Commentary: It snows a lot.
Clarification: Yes, that is correct.  But the 99.5 inches of yearly snowfall are spread out over 65.9 snowfall events.  Each snowfall event therefore averages a measly 1.5 inches.  In fact, snowfall events of 10 or more inches occur 0.6 times per year (that's less than once a year.)

Standard Commentary: It is cold.
Clarification: Yes, at times it can be a bit chilly.  But some great cities are even colder.  As of last year, the average December - February temperature in Rochester was 27 degrees.  America's 3rd largest city, Chicago, sits at 26.4 degrees.  Everyone's favorite college town, Madison, WI, finds itself at 21.6 degrees.  And hipster haven Minneapolis comes in at 18.7 degrees.

Standard Commentary: It is cloudy
Clarification: Yes, the clouds occasionally block our view of the sun.  But some great cities have even more cloud viewing pleasure.  62% of days in Seattle have at least 3/4 cloud cover, edging out Portland, OR which comes in at 61%.  Both metro areas have been among the fastest growing in the country.  Rochester has to be content at only 55%, perhaps explaining its slower population growth.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

U of R

The new knowledge economy has turned universities into engines of economic development.  The Rochester region is fortunately blessed with many such institutions of higher learning.  But the question must be asked: is the region's flagship university, the University of Rochester, up to the challenge? The U of R is not a brand name, made even worse by the fact that it is named after a city with a disrespected brand (hence the need for this blog.)  Some data will hopefully help answer the question.

  • With about 22,500 employees, the U of R is the largest employer in the Rochester metro area and one of the ten largest private employers in the entire state of New York
  • Despite weak brand recognition, U.S. News & World Report has the U of R ranked side-by-side brand names such as the University of Michigan, Boston College, NYU, and William & Mary
  • On a list of the 50 top NIH-funded universities and medical schools for the 2014 federal fiscal year, the U of R found itself at #34
  • The U of R's Simon School of Business has alumni from 83 different countries and was ranked #55 globally in the 2014 MBA ranking provided by the Financial Times
  • Accounting for year-to-year variation, the U of R's School of Medicine and Dentistry is consistently ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the 40 best medical schools in the nation
  • I know music doesn't always pay, but at least one source ranks the U of R's Eastman School of Music as the best music school in the nation (yes, ahead of The Juilliard School in New York City) 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Guilty by Association

Being about a one-hour drive from Buffalo, Rochester owes some of its reputation to The Queen City.  Unfortunately, if Rochester's reputation is marginal, Buffalo's reputation is putrid.  Buffalo is dying (or plain dead), frozen, and undereducated.  Or is it? Perhaps it's time for an update on our friendly neighbor to the west:

  • According to City Observatory, from 2000-2012, the Buffalo metro area saw a 34% increase in the number of 25-34 year-olds with a college degree.
  • According to the same source, 42.1% of the 25-34 year-olds in the Buffalo metro area have at least a 4-year degree.  For some perspective, Chicago finds itself at 41.5%, Austin 40.8%, Seattle 39.4%, Denver 38.9%, Portland 37.1%, and Rochester 36.7%.
  • Per the Democrat & Chronicle, 18 new independently owned restaurants have opened in and around downtown Buffalo in the past 7 months
  • New York State recently committed $1 billion to Buffalo (a sore spot among Rochesterians, I know.)  Per The Buffalo News, as of February, $853.9 million had been allocated, generating $5.37 billion in private investment and an expected 4,550 jobs
  • The 2013 population estimate for Erie County, NY of 919,866 is higher than the 919,040 noted in the 2010 Census.        
  • The Buffalo Bills...maybe we'll skip that one for now

Could it be (say it ain't so) that proximity to Buffalo is an asset?

If you have 12 minutes to spare, this video on the new Buffalo is a must watch:

Friday, March 6, 2015


The Rochester Area Community Foundation has made it clear that Rochester has a poverty problem.  Among similarly sized metropolitan statistical areas, the city poverty rate in Rochester of 32.9% is second only to Hartford, CT (33.6%.)  Apparently Louisville, KY (18.4%), Oklahoma City (18.2%), and Albuquerque (17.9%) have the poverty issue under control.  But how does Rochester really compare to these three "standouts"?

Using 2010 Census data, the city of Rochester, which is constricted by old geographic boundaries, comprises 19.5% of its metro area.  Less restricted Louisville...48.3%.  Oklahoma City...46.2%.  Albuquerque...a whopping 61.5%.

What if Rochester were redrawn to include the suburbs Brighton, Greece, Irondequoit, Henrietta, Gates, and Chili? In such a case, Rochester would then comprise 45.8% of its metro area.  The redone city poverty chart would then read:

  • Louisville, KY: 18.4%
  • Oklahoma City: 18.2%
  • Albuquerque: 17.9%
  • Rochester, NY: 17.2% 

Clearly, poverty should be addressed.  But let's not make our perception problem worse than it needs to be.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Q & A

Prior to moving to Rochester, I was asked the following questions (really.)  After almost 5 years of living in the area, I feel more equipped to answer them.

Q: Do they have car dealerships there?
A: You mean those places where they sell cars? Like Chevrolet, Ford, Honda, Toyota, BMW, Mercedes, Porsche, Jaguar, and Maserati?

Q: Is it something like Williamson, WV?
A: The population of Williamson is around 3,000.  The city of Rochester's population is around 210,000.  So not really.

Q: Are there any cultural outlets?
A: I don't get out much, but I have heard there are these things called museums, art galleries, universities, and restaurants.  Someone also told me there is a music school which is apparently decent.

Q: Is the University of Rochester a good school?
A: I'm not sure, but for some reason U.S. News & World Report ranked it the same as William & Mary.

Q: What kind of jobs do people have around there?
A: In addition to the cultural things I already mentioned, there are these other things called banks, hospitals, schools, and law offices.  I've heard that some other places actually make stuff.  And I think there might even be a few, like, corporations.

Q: Are you ready for the snow?
A: Does it snow in Rochester?

Wednesday, March 4, 2015


Upstate New York and the Rust Belt have become synonymous with economic decline.  Given that Rochester finds itself in both regions, there is very little hope of avoiding the perception of decay.  Even within our own community, the following four facts seem to be mandatory knowledge:

  1. Kodak, headquartered here, once employed around 60,000 locally.  After exiting Chapter 11 bankruptcy, it now employs under 3,000. 
  2. Xerox, headquartered here until the 1960's, once employed around 14,000 locally.  It now employs about 6,300.
  3. Bausch & Lomb, headquartered here until 2013, once employed 4,300 locally.  It now employs under 1,000.
  4. The city of Rochester had a population of 332,000 in 1950.  The population now hovers around 210,000. 
For whatever reason, the following five facts are optional knowledge, apparently okay to overlook:

  1. When Kodak employed 60,000 locally, the area workforce was around 414,000.  Today, it has GROWN to over 500,000.
  2. When Kodak employed 60,000 locally, the Rochester Metropolitan Statistical Area had 971,230 people.  Today, that number is approaching 1.1 million.  So while Kodak shrank by 95%, the population GREW by perhaps 10%.
  3. The suburb of Webster, home to much of Xerox's local presence, GREW by 12.4% between 2000 and 2010.
  4. The suburb of Victor GREW by 43% between 2000 and 2010.
  5. Downtown Rochester (yes, downtown Rochester) GREW from 3200 residents in 2000 to 6100 residents in 2014.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Schools

The Rochester City School District is notorious for its underperformance (more on that in future posts.) On the other hand, the suburban schools in the Rochester region are a source of great pride to the local populace.  U.S. News & World Report's 2014 ranking of American public high schools illustrates why.  A total of 31,242 schools were eligible, with sufficient enrollment and sufficient data being available for 19,400.  The ranking takes into account standardized testing (controversial, I know) and college-readiness as evidenced by AP and IB participation and performance.  Two area high schools, both in the suburb of Pittsford, landed in the Top 100 (84 and 90 to be exact.)

What makes the above striking is that almost all other schools in the Top 100 were charter or magnet schools.  In other words, admission involves strict academic criteria, the presence of special talents, lotteries, or all of the above.  In the case of Pittsford, you can just show up in town and you're in!  To be fair, there were a handful of other towns like Pittsford in the Top 100. There is only one catch - they are a tad expensive.  The following shows how the Zillow. com Home Value Index (or median sales price) in Pittsford stacks up against the competition:

  • Pittsford, NY: $253, 400
  • Falls Church, VA: $484,600
  • Highland Park, TX: $701,630 (median sales price)
  • Vienna, VA: $725,000
  • University Park, TX: $758,455 (median sales price)
  • Bethesda, MD: $824,800
  • McLean, VA: $861,500
  • Scarsdale, NY: $1,300,000
  • Rye, NY: $1,500,000
  • Cupertino, CA: $1,600,000  

Monday, March 2, 2015


Rust Belt cities are rarely described as intelligent.  Gritty, blue-collar, cold, and snowy…yes.  Intelligent…not as much.  WalletHub.com recently ranked America’s 150 largest metropolitan statistical areas from most to least educated.  Each area received an Education Level Rank and Quality of Education Rank which were then combined for an Overall Rank.  Rochester’s Overall Rank of 49, while tolerable, was dragged down severely by an underperforming city school district which essentially crushed the Quality of Education rank (115 out of 150.)  The Education Level Rank, on the other hand, paints a much different story.  This ranking takes into account educational attainment among adults 25 and older, doctors per capita, and the percent of workers with jobs in computer, engineering, and science fields.  The results:

1. Ann Arbor, MI
2. Madison, WI
3. Washington D.C.
4. Boston, MA
5. Seattle, WA
6. Minneapolis, MN
7. Albany, NY
8. Portland, ME
9. Colorado Springs, CO
10. Manchester, NH
11. Portland, OR
12. Raleigh, NC
13. Durham, NC
14. Bridgeport, CT
15. San Jose, CA
16. Denver, CO
17. (tie) Baltimore, MD and Huntsville, AL
19. Hartford, CT
20. Rochester, NY

Sunday, March 1, 2015


I am not na├»ve.  Rochester is not New York City or Washington D.C.  Nor does it match up well in what should be a fairer comparison to Portland, OR.  Downtown Rochester, though improving, continues to lack the curb appeal that has become critical over the past twenty years.  In many ways, Rochester has allowed its appearance to match its perception, creating a vicious cycle which has been difficult to break.  Fortunately, curb appeal and the eye test don’t tell the whole story.  In Rochester’s case, they actually mask a hidden reality of rugged intellect, interdisciplinary creativity, and remarkable resilience.  This reality is borne out in a wide variety of data and statistics which consistently elevate Rochester from Rust Belt also-ran to a legitimate national (and at times international) presence.  This blog will attempt to highlight such data in an attempt to overcome perception and reveal a hidden gem.

Certain disclaimers: 
1. I am a suburbanite (solely due to the presence of two gremlins, also known as children)
2. I am not a statistician
3. I have a full-time job, am somewhat clueless with technology, and have never done this before
    (so pardon the appearance)