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Economy 4.0

Inside Kodak, U.S.A.

Amanda Aronczyk Dec 20, 2011

The “Koda Vista” is not a Kodak marketing slogan for taking saturated snapshots of dewy sunrises. Rather, it’s a neighborhood that abuts the vast industrial park once known as Kodak Park, where tony homes were sold to middle class families seeking a view of their workplace. Because, according to Monroe County historian and professor, Carolyn Vacca, working for Kodak was never just a job.

When you worked for Kodak, you gained a whole social milieu along with a job. It was a very different approach to working.

Dr. Vacca pointed out the Koda Vista neighborhood as we drove around the 1,200-acre complex, with its well-kept homes and gracious porches.

According to Dr. Vacca, Kodak Park started out as only 20 or 21 acres in the 1890s, but George Eastman had the foresight to build it far enough away from downtown Rochester that he could easily expand his manufacturing facilities. Aside from the factories, the park includes 17 miles of railroads, 30 miles of roads, and is a self-sustaining little world with its own sewage treatment, power generation and water processing. Back in its heyday, Eastman ensured that there was little reason to ever leave work.

He had his own fire department; he had his own recreation division. They had one of the premiere baseball leagues in the nation, with some of the best amateur baseball players, and he had a theatre.

At its peak in 1982, Kodak employed 60,400 people in the greater Rochester area. And often it wasn’t just a single member of a family who worked there, but cousins, brothers, sisters, children — Kodak employed entire families. And it was a job for life. According to retired photographer and Kodak-lifer, Bob Harris (inventor of the Harris Shutter), Kodak was a marvelous place to work. His social life centered around the company and friends he made there, and he noted that while Eastman was resolutely anti-union, the company’s employees didn’t need a union, they were so well taken care of by.

The word was around, don’t bother looking at all those manuals, just say “yes” to everything that Kodak offers you in terms of health care. The cost was minimal, [for] health care and all those kinds of things.

Today, Bob Harris worries about his Kodak health care and his generous pension. Both are in jeopardy as Kodak struggles to stay afloat.

And Kodak Park has been rebranded as the Eastman Business Park to attract new, and hopefully profitable, corporate tenants. (Looking to start a secret lab/empire? For a reasonable price, you too can lease part of The Hawkeye Facility, infamous for manufacturing the GAMBIT camera, used for Cold War “reconnaissance” missions.)

And while Eastman Business Park has attracted 30-plus companies, it is also known locally for the impressive implosions it has done of some its facilities, in order to keep costs down. But whether the Kodak moment is shrinking or disappearing is still to be seen.  

For more on Kodak’s past and present, check out today’s Marketplace: Decline of Kodak offers lessons for U.S. business

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