In the 1880s, the Eastman Kodak Company, a pioneering American photography technology company, began operations in Rochester, New York. By 1982, Kodak alone employed around 62 000 people and accounted for half of the area’s economic activity.

Kodak went into sustained decline over a period of several decades, starting in the 1980s. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2012 and by the end of 2016, it employed around 1600 people.

The decades-long process of industrial transition ultimately resulted in a more diverse economy, with higher levels of employment and population in the greater Rochester area. Key to this positive outcome was the reorientation of the regional economy, built upon an existing infrastructure and skill set. The Rochester case also shows the great potential of universities in supporting industrial transitions by attracting research funding and companies seeking high-skilled workers and by collaborating with the private sector to develop training programs that match the skills companies need.

Nevertheless, a more detailed analysis also reveals that new employment opportunities have mainly benefited high-skill workers, acute inequalities remain and the quality of jobs in terms of wage and security has decreased. This more nuanced picture shows the importance of implementing measures to specifically address poverty and marginalization, together with broader economic diversification efforts. It also highlights the need for a broad set of indicators when assessing the effectiveness of transition policies.