ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
One of America's oldest and best-known companies filed for bankruptcy today. The demise of Eastman Kodak is a blow to the country, of course, but especially to the Snow Belt city that Kodak has long called home - Rochester, New York. The company was once the top employer there but it has, in recent years, shed tens of thousands of jobs.
Commentator Adam Frank has lived in Rochester for 16 years, and teaches at the University of Rochester. He has this reflection on what Kodak's decline means for his beloved city.
ADAM FRANK: Like many winter days in upstate New York, it's cold and gray in Rochester. But today feels darker than usual because when we woke up this morning, we learned that Eastman Kodak was filing for bankruptcy. We could all feel it coming, but it was still a shock. There is no conversation in Rochester today that won't include the decline of Kodak. Even in line at the coffee shop, everyone was talking about it.
But behind the headlines, there's something else going on in this town. And it's going on in small cities all over the country. Much of the role that industry used to play in innovation has shifted to the universities.
Kodak used to be the largest employer in this town, with more than 60,000 workers in 1982. Today, that title goes to the University of Rochester, with more than 20,000 employees. In the past 10 years, the school and its medical research center have grown remarkably. It's come not only from new students, but from a dramatic expansion of funded research. Some of that research has found its way into new patents, new companies and new economic activity.
Every time I turn around, it seems like there's a new building going up in the medical center. There are gleaming spaces full of people in lab coats. From new medicines to new computer chips, it feels like it's all being invented here. People mill about with their heads down in deep discussions. They have the tools they need, and you can just feel that they're going places no one's ever gone before.
Now, there was a time when large companies maintained these kinds of research efforts. In the 1950s and 1960s, Bell Labs invented everything from transistors to satellite communications. They even helped discover the Big Bang. But those days are pretty much gone. Bio-tech companies still have labs, but the free-flowing, open-ended exploration of ideas is really coming from universities now.
For cities like mine, these transitions are painful. Jobs are being lost as the old industrial players decline. Everyone is looking for something new to drive the economy, and the place they're looking are the schools.
The news from Kodak today makes this a really sad day for Rochester. Friends of mine have lost their jobs, and I can see how hard it is for them every day. But I have hope.
From the vantage point of my hometown, I can see that we are all in the midst of a profound transition. For better or worse, our universities are no longer the ivy-covered cloisters of sheltered learning. Instead, they have become dynamos - spinning out new knowledge, new technologies, new jobs, and a new hope for the future.
SIEGEL: Adam Frank teaches physics and astronomy at the University of Rochester. He's the author of the book "About Time: Cosmology and Culture at the Twilight of the Big Bang."
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