Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Syracuse Factor

As a lifelong University of Connecticut fan, embracing Syracuse men's basketball was a challenge, but one that I've overcome.  This year's unexpected run to the Final Four has only solidified my position on the bandwagon.  All joking aside, Upstate New York is fortunate to have an entity that provides free advertising nearly every March.  For a region that is often overlooked, having something that reminds the country of our existence can only be viewed as an asset.  Here are a few reasons why Rochesterians should continue to root hard for the Orange:

  • As noted in the past, coach Jim Boeheim is from Lyons, New York.  Lyons, located in Wayne County, is firmly part of the Rochester metro area.
  • While sports teams tend to have a markedly overhyped direct economic impact, it cannot be denied that they help with civic pride and regional branding.  They may also have a harder to measure indirect economic impact by making an area seem more desirable to at least a certain number of people.
  • Despite our governor's fascination with in-state economic competitions, the reality is that during these global times, Rochester is not so much competing with Syracuse and Buffalo as it is with other states and other countries.  A broader view of development and branding makes sense, especially given that the Rochester, Syracuse, and Buffalo Combined Statistical Areas together have about 3.1 million people, i.e. more than 20 states.  Perhaps the regional brand could be "The 2-3 Zone" as in 2 Great Lakes and 3 Underrated Cities.  Okay, maybe not.  Regardless, the growth of Syracuse and Buffalo are perhaps critical for the success of Rochester.
  • It's a good excuse to drink local beer.

Monday, March 28, 2016


Rochester is clearly reputationally challenged, as are cities in a wide swath of land surrounding Rochester.  What many don't realize is that these once great and now rebuilding cities offer the educational and cultural amenities of much better-branded locations, usually with a higher dose of urban blight, but generally at a lower cost and with less hassle.  However, to lend credibility to this blog, it has to be admitted that reputation does have a basis in reality.  While overall trends in the region are fueling optimism, reminders of our Rust Belt location are still alive and well.  Here are two examples of worrisome, though hopefully short-term, findings (and some rationalization as to why Rochester will be just fine.)

  • From 2014 to 2015, the Rochester metropolitan area lost 1,724 residents.  (Rationalization: if the data is assessed from 2010 to 2015, the metro area is still up by 2,283 residents.  Furthermore, Monroe County is still up 5,256 residents from 2010, meaning a good chunk of population loss is coming from outlying counties and not the heart of the region.  Finally, another key county to the region, Ontario County, was one of only three counties in the state to have added more new residents since 2010 from other places than it lost to other places.)
  • From February 2015 to February 2016, Rochester lost 4,400 private sector jobs.  (Rationalization: a state labor analyst found the numbers "suspicious" as they were not in line with other employment indicators.  Furthermore, as per the Democrat and Chronicle, the region (hopefully) has a few thousand jobs in the pipeline.)

Monday, March 21, 2016


Rochester dominates the category of "big-city culture, small-town convenience." The region provides a majority of what makes huge cities great while minimizing the factors that make huge cities painful.  But on (rare) occasion, a field trip to a huge city can be invigorating, and having one available can help complement life in a more mid-sized metro.  In Rochester's case, directly across Lake Ontario lies arguably one of the world's greatest cities, Toronto.  The need to drive around the lake turns a 90-mile trip into a 165-mile journey, but here are a few reasons why the occasional visit is warranted:

  • With a population of 2.8 million, the city of Toronto is the fourth largest in North America.
  • If diversity is of interest to you, the over 140 different languages spoken in the city might be appealing.
  • Along with a ludicrous number of languages comes an amazing array of ethnic food, enough to make Toronto a destination even among New Yorkers (as in New York City residents.)
  • Rochester, thanks to Buffalo and Syracuse, has easy access to the NFL, NHL, the highest level of NCAA basketball, and the highest level of NCAA football.  Toronto completes our big-time sports package by providing MLB, NBA, and MLS.
  • Spending a few hours in traffic on the Queen Elizabeth Way serves as a nice reminder why living in Rochester is phenomenal.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Ahead of its Time

While all cities are rooted in their history, few can take as much pride in their past as Rochester.  In Rochester, Frederick Douglass found an environment suitable to publishing his abolitionist newspaper The North Star, and his life inspired the country's first monument to an African American.  His friend, Susan B. Anthony, used Rochester as her home base in her fight to earn women the right to vote.  This culture of forward thinking has defined the region, and it has manifested itself in a wide variety of arenas.  A perfect example can be found in Rochester's sports history.

Two of the most important blows to the color barrier in sports have prompted major motion pictures:

  • Jackie Robinson's historic 1947 debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball was captured in the 2013 film 42.
  • Don Haskins, whose Texas Western team comprised of five black starters beat all-white Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA men's basketball championship, had his story retold in the 2006 drama Glory Road
In keeping with Rochester's humility, its own contributions to breaking the color barrier in sports are generally little known and uncommonly discussed.  Yet here are the facts:
  • In 1946, the Rochester Royals of the National Basketball League, which would later merge with the Basketball Association of America to form the National Basketball Association (NBA), became one of the first teams to sign an African-American player, William "Dolly" King.
  • In 1950, Earl Lloyd of the Washington Capitols became the first African American to play in the NBA.  That uneventful event took place in...Rochester.  As Leo Roth wrote in the Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester may have been the perfect place for this integration to occur because:
  1. By the standards of the time, it was already integrated
  2. It had previously been through this process four years earlier, and
  3. In Lloyd's hilarious own words, it was too cold for the Ku Klux Klan.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Asking Too Much

Rochester, as evidenced by the data, offers:

Despite this difficult-to-replicate resume, we have a tendency to demand more.  Obviously, requesting a more vibrant downtown is extremely reasonable and essentially mandatory for the success of the region.  But beyond that, other overheard requests include:
  • Neiman Marcus
  • Chinese food on par with Chinatown in San Francisco, where 21% of residents are of Chinese ethnicity.
  • Mexican food options available in El Paso, Texas, which is as close to being in Mexico without actually being in Mexico as possible.
  • Double or triple the number of watering holes, as might be found in regions with double or triple the population.
While no one would reject these items should they appear, one has to wonder if we are asking too much? These desires may be the equivalent of:
  • Expecting a $600-per-month one-bedroom apartment in Manhattan.
  • Expecting a 10-minute commute in Washington, D.C.
  • Expecting 70-degree weather in January in Chicago.
  • Expecting people in Kentucky to appreciate science (my wife is from there so it's all good).

Thursday, March 3, 2016


U.S. News & World Report recently released its inaugural Best Places to Live rankings.  The analysis studied the country's 100 largest metropolitan areas by looking at five indexes:

  1. Job Market received 20% weight.
  2. Value, a measure of income relative to cost of living, received 25% weight.
  3. Quality of Life received 30% weight.
  4. Desirability received 15% weight.
  5. Net Migration received 10% weight.
These five indexes were then combined into an overall score which ranged from 0 - 10.  With an overall score of 7.8, Denver took the #1 spot.  With an overall score of 6.5 and a ranking of #60, Rochester's performance was, well, average.

A closer look at the analysis shows a few encouraging signals.  As an example, Rochester's position outranked major metro areas such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, and New York City.  Furthermore, the separation between metro areas seemed rather minimal.  With a score of 6.5, Rochester was ranked essentially on par with #52 Spokane, WA.  In fact, a slightly higher score of 6.7 would have placed Rochester at #28 along with Richmond, VA.

However, by far and away the most encouraging signal comes from manipulation of one index, namely desirability.  This index was essentially a popularity contest based upon a survey asking people where they would most like to live.  Denver's stellar overall performance was in large part due to an extremely high desirability index.  Hypothetically, if Rochester had achieved the same desirability index as Denver (and kept its other four indexes exactly the same), Rochester's overall score would have increased to 7.1, placing it alongside #8 Washington D.C. and #9 San Francisco.

What is the point? Branding and perception can make a huge difference.  So if you happen to be a Rochester detractor, PLEASE stop.  You're dragging the rest of us down.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016


One of the more amusing features of Rochester is the longing exhibited by Rochesterians for retail options available in larger metro areas.  As someone who has spent 21 years in New England, perhaps my ability to relate to such longing is somewhat limited.  New England, comprised of six states, has exactly one city with major professional sports.  The Rochester metro area has a larger population than two states in New England, namely Rhode Island and Vermont.  In fact, Monroe County alone is more populated than Vermont.  If Rochester were in New England, it would be the second largest city after Boston.  But if our yearning must continue, here are a few points about apparently important things that we lack:

  • Nordstrom, which I have never been to, is an upscale retailer that is not located in Rochester.  To be precise, it is not found in 12 states.  As a substitute, Rochester has Von Maur, which I have also never visited.
  • Tiffany & Co., per Wikipedia, is renowned for its luxury goods and is particularly known for its diamond jewelry.  I'm pretty sure Rochester has jewelry stores.
  • Louis Vuitton sells purses for around $1000 each.  Is that a good thing?
  • Prada...I thought that was a movie with Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway.
  • West Elm...actually we have that one.
  • Wegmans is headquartered here, I believe.