Tuesday, December 17, 2002

Kodak & Hometown Loyalty

A few days ago I said I would provide some musings about Kodak. Growing up in Rochester, especially during the late 70's, 80's and 90's, just about everyone knew someone who worked for Kodak. In fact, my schoolmates thought it was weird that my dad didn't work for Kodak or Xerox. On top of that, I didn't know how to explain what he did (a computer programmer). Either way, Kodak was almost omnipresent. It got into daily life whether through the actual products (film, cameras, movies), employment, or general phrases like "A Kodak moment." There was a pride about this great company that employed thousands of people, thus making it possible for a lot of people to have a good life.

The 1980's began to change all that with cut backs and lay-offs. I know salaried people that took full advantage of overtime pay, who suddenly were finding themselves in financial quandries when Kodak stopped that overtime pay. I know of marriages that suffered during this time. But we were all told that this would help stabilize the company and that we needed to stay loyal to the brand. Then stories of chemicle leaks at School 41 (otherwise known as Kodak Park School since it's right next to Kodak Park) started to surface, literally, in areas near the school. There were questions of whether people who lived on Rand Street were affected by possible groundwater contamination. Then "rumours" of dead spots in the Genesee River downstream from Kings Landing (a wastewater treatment plant for Kodak) were heard. I had done a project in early 1993 on dead spots in the river that Kodak claimed did not exist. Several years later, scientists refuted that claim with scientific evidence. For information on these past three environmental items, visit this site.

The 1990's brought continued lay-offs at Kodak. The Democrat & Chronicle ran several series on Kodak, China, and Fugi-film. We all wondered where we were going next. We started to hear about this move to digital cameras. We also heard about Kodak pushing its film to moviemakers. There was a new CEO, George Fisher, who seemed great early on but later reports made us unsure. He's gone now. More layoffs. A new website was developed in a time when not a lot of companies had sites on the Internet. There was a partnership with AOL that developed into "You've Got Pictures".

2000 and beyond could just be reflective of the past. Plants are being closed down or moved to China. The large Elmgrove (Thanks Ryan for the correction) complex was closed down. More layoffs. There's another set of layoffs I'm waiting to hear more about. Visit the blogs of Jenny, Matt, or Tina and read older entries (from the past couple of weeks) that refer to this.

I lay this all out for background. I have always been loyal to the Kodak brand. That goes from buying film, where and how I process my film, and even cheering quietly at the end of films that are printed on Kodak film. While I acknowledged the company had its faults, I always thought they had a good product and were a decent place to work. Occassionally, I think the business model gets in the way of the human model. Lately, I question my loyalty. Does it make sense to be loyal to a company that's pushing more of its business out the United States? Is it foolhardy to be loyal to a company that keeps reducing its employment rolls? Maybe it's foolhardy to think they can survive otherwise. That's one thing I remember from those Democrat & Chronicle articles from years ago. I guess we'll have to wait and see like everything else.

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