Friday, October 10, 2008

Eyes on the Future 2008

I had the good pleasure this morning of attending Eyes on the Future 2008, a greater Rochester region economic summit. Overall, it was a good event, made better for me by the company of my 16-year old daughter, who didn't seem too terribly bored.

The timing of this event couldn't have been better. Folks in New York need some hope. The credit crisis and ensuing market devastation is just the beginning. I learned today that 20% of New York's government revenue is dependent on Wall Street, meaning that New York is facing a $1.2 Billion budget deficit. In addition, this recent report from the Tax Foundation places New York near the bottom of business friendly states, based on tax policy. New York was 49 out of 50 -- only New Jersey was worse.

The event featured a panel of business and community leaders from Rochester as well as a business leader from Cincinnati, OH and an educator from Columbus, OH. Most of the discussion was upbeat, and all agreed that Western New York and the greater Rochester area have many assets that should be marketed, among them fantastic institutions of higher learning, a climate of innovation, a skilled and relatively low-cost work force, a good inventory of affordable homes, and abundant water. There was also agreement that the biggest problem we face is high taxation. (I will state from experience that this is the highest taxes I've ever paid, for services that are not world class, and a crime rate in the inner city that's appalling.)

The star of the event, if there can be such a thing, was clearly Richard Kaplan, President and CEO of Pictometry International Corporation. Mr. Kaplan was open in his criticism of government, and its ever expanding role, but also agreed that we need to take care of our neighbors who may need our help. I plan to learn more about him, and I'll let you know what I find out.

The event closed with a speech by Governor Paterson. He was honest about the current economic crisis, and was clear that services must be cut. On a positive note, he also stated that we will use this crisis as an opportunity to break the habit of spending that we've grown into. I was glad to hear him speak so directly about what we must do to restore our economy. If I may be a bit critical about one issue, he stated that manufacturing jobs are returning to the U.S. (did he say Western New York specifically? I don't recall.) due to rising costs in Asia. Rising costs in Asia, China in particular, are no surprise to you, I'm sure, and there are plenty of examples of parts found cheaper in the U.S. Governor Paterson gave two examples of a timber company moving from Nepal to Virginia, and a cement company moving back to Ohio. With due respect, neither of those places is New York, and if we're waiting for the manufacturing jobs to come flowing back to Western New York, we've got a long wait. He did mention other ideas, fortunately, including investments in technology and clean energy.

I like Rochester and the surrounding area, and I agree that we do have many blessings to be thankful for. I also think that there is great potential here, and that someday, this potential will be harnessed. Until then, events like Eyes on the Future keep us challenged to do our part, and keep the conversation alive.

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