Friday, January 6, 2012

The Times of Our Life; Farewell Dear Kodak

Paul Simon wrote a song about them. (Kodachrome).  Tens of millions have that logo stamped on the back of fading family photos.   The greatest events of our lives were captured in image by a Kodak camera.
Now we are learning that Kodak is ready to declare bankruptcy.  It signals an end to another of America's technological icons.  No longer able to complete with cheap Asian cameras, no longer able to profit from the sale of camera film, Kodak stands now on weak and wobbly legs.

I'm saddened beyond measure.  Saddened for all of the folks who worked for Kodak during all those years.  Saddened to see an old friend pass.   Folks up in Rochester, New York, home of Kodak headquarters, must be doubly sad.  Kodak has been a source of employment, of belonging, and a source of community charity and support for 100 years now.  They augmented school funding, built art and music centers and were a vital part of the community.  I read a recent report that said Kodak, and Rochester is now just a shadow of its formerly vigorous self.  Ironically, Kodak was such a technologic marvel that, even today, they hold thousands of patents worth billions of dollars.  How sad that we cannot find a way to turn those patents into marketable products and keep a few thousand Americans employed.

What is the next American icon to disappear?  We lost Budweiser to a European conglomerate a few years ago.  Nestle is now European owned.  All of our American car manufacturers enjoy an incestuous relationship with European and Asian car makers.  Will Coca Cola and Pepsi and Hershey be the next ones to go?

All of the economic experts tell us the world is now "flat", that the world is now smaller, that, to compete, we must see companies as international beings that no longer have relevance to the American scene. These were the companies that employed your dad and/or your mom.  They put bread on the table, their corporate officers attended PTA meetings just like you did.  When a community need was declared these companies chipped in to help meet that need.  They paid commercial property taxes.  Their success contributed to the richness of the community.

I believe we're losing far more than a company as we surrender our iconic American institutions.  As we open up more trade pacts with foreigners, and as we fail to negotiate equitable labor and environmental "fair play" standards, we continue to lose jobs to cheap foreign labor.

I expect, at some point, we're going to have to find an equitable balance between free trade and open markets, and assess the true costs of losing our manufacturing base.  Will there ever come a time when America, and Americans, choose to fore go cheap products in China for a more stable domestic economy?  Will we ever decide that we can settle for a Kodak digital camera, even if it costs a few dollars more?  Are the "Rochesters" of America all doomed to be economic ghost towns so that we can save a buck in Walmart?

I certainly don't have the answers.  All I know is that I have a box of old Kodak photos that document the life of my family over half a century.  Those old Kodachrome images leave a soft spot in my heart for a company that made those photos possible.

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