Thursday, October 19, 2006

Random, Yes. Amazing, Absolutely,

City Schools, Reevaluate Your $3M Purchase

Today I learned that the Rochester City School district announced a deal that basically gives all the schools (voice over internet protocol) VOIP phone service. Basically, the data lines for your computer's internet connection also carry the phone signal. The great part about this is that the district will save $1M a year. Great thinking... but with $3M what could we do in the IT world. For starters, consider the fact that a crafty school IT department might have realized that you can get those phones free. Go to and sign up for VOIP service and you can get a free phone. I realize that large networks take a bit more than a free phone, but hear me out.

My dream is that one day we will have visionary people making the big decisions for this community and make Rochester a leader again. The bigger picture that we are missing out on is municipal wifi. Municipal wifi is a wireless internet network, generally provided by the city, that enables all residents to access high bandwidth wireless internet connections. Rochester is trying to position itself as a knowledge economy to compete for the jobs that are still being created on our shores, and this would really enforce that branding message. Based on the cost of the Philadelphia wifi system I calculated our cost to be between $2.5 and $3.75M to cover every square inch of our city with high bandwidth wifi that the school district could retail to residents and provide for free to low income households. Imagine if the school district had the foresight to build this network (for the same cost), put Rochester on the map for yet another innovative decision, and MAKE money off the installation.

If anyone who can make a purchasing decision from the school district is reading this, I would implore you to seek unbiased council on this matter with the RIT Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences to validate my claims. ICS Telecom, the guys doing the current install will tell you I'm nuts. If they're smart, they just might fill out the RFP to install the municipal wifi instead and plug the phones into that. $2.9M spent with 7000 phones and no network, or $2.9M spent with wifi for 220,000 city residents and 7,000 free Vonage phones. We need to demand more of ourselves.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Klein's Comments on State's Woes Praiseworthy

An article in today's Democrat & Chronicle highlighted the RBA Small Business Council's Businessperson of the Year, award winner Joe Klein. Mr. Klein is a native Rochesterian who has built a customized steel manufacturing company here, Klein Steel, which employs about 135 people. During his acceptance speech he criticized specific legislators, union officials and companies doing business with state government whom he felt made New York, "not a fair, honorable state to live in." Amen!

New York has been hijacked by a bunch of power hungry, self righteous, pork barreling goons. They have managed to turn the state completely upside down. We are currently rated as having among the worst state governments, sales tax rates, property tax rates, income tax rates, highest, workers comp rates, and overall business climate. Why the heck is everyone else in the business community taking this lying down? I don't know Mr. Klein well, but I did have the privilege of serving with him on Bob Duffy's Economic Development Transition Team. Joe Klein loves this community and has been fighting hard for years to keep a business growing despite the obstacles of doing business in this state. I applaud Joe for standing up and making the case that New York is on its knees and unless more people stand up against the status quo, we're in for some serious hard times.

The Rochester Business Alliance and the Small Business Council president, Thomas Ioele, both distanced themselves from Mr. Klein and his remarks after it became clear that feathers were ruffled. It is a shame to see an organization created to help businesses thrive in Rochester, NY pass on the opportunity to build support around Joe Klein's comments.

Admittedly I have not yet heard the full content of the speech and will be making every effort to find it and make it available to you.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rochester - Then and Now

This is a 1963 promotional video highlighting Midtown Plaza & Rochester

Here is a spoof someone recently made using that video to illustrate what poor stewards of the city we have been for the past 40 years.

Hopefully this reminds you of Rochester's historic optimism and contrasts it with our current "woe is me" attitude. The community's attitude towards the city's future needs to be more in line with the attitudes of 40 years ago if we are going to turn this city around. There's a lot that needs doing, but there's nothing we can't do.

Monday, October 16, 2006

New York: 4200 Local Governments and Growing

One of the primary goals of this blog is to identify critical problems that keep our region stifled from its true potential. It is no mystery that New York State has been consistently rated among the worst and most inefficient governments in the Nation. There are so may areas for improvement that I could write an article a day for the rest of my life and not run out of topics. We need to look for the big ones, use that paretto principle - the 80/20 rule - and pick our battles.

Former Mayor Bill Johnson was a lot of things, and nearly all of them left me wanting more from Rochester’s leadership. One of his more controversial proposals was to begin merging parts of county and city governments. On the surface this sounds innocuous enough, but it is really an excellent way to streamline government. There are nearly 30 towns and villages in Monroe County alone. Nearly every one of those has zoning boards, fire departments, police forces, and countless other layers of government. Here are some interesting statistics on New York from a recent D&C article about this topic:

· 932 towns
· 554 villages
· 62 cities
· 57 counties
· 700 school districts
· 867 fire districts
· More than 1,000 special-purpose local

How is it possible that we need 1500 different town and village governing bodies in one state? Consider that the town of Penfield’s web site lists 20 departments. If each of these governing bodies had 20 departments with only one employee in each that’s a minimum of 30,000 state employees… who do largely redundant tasks. If New York was a company it would be long overdue for some major restructuring. Until our citizenry actually gets disgusted enough with our government to turn up at the polls, we will just have to keep on being the highest taxed people in the country.