Rochester's continuing poverty struggle draws attention — and investment — from the city and the region

ROCHESTER — It continues to be ranked one of the poorest cities in the entire nation, yet $2.4 billion has been invested in downtown Rochester since the turn of this century.

Heidi Zimmer-Meyer, president of the Rochester Downtown Development Corporation, says economic development in downtown Rochester is happening, and has been for years.

Some of the currently development includes 23 housing projects that will bring another 3,000 people downtown — adding to the estimated 7,000 people who already call downtown home.

Since 2016 roughly 70 new businesses have called the city home, bringing the total to 174 companies, according to the RDDC.

New York state’s $50 million ROC the Riverway Project is also set to transform the Genesee riverfront and the city.
“This is a whole new era,” said Zimmer-Meyer. “It’s a very exciting time to be here.”

But as the center of the city blossoms, the rest struggles with poverty.

“We need everybody we can get to be feeding this economy,” explained Zimmer-Meyer. “We have got to create the ability for young people to get the background and education to get into jobs.”

Zimmer-Meyer says a lot of tech jobs and medical technology companies are calling Rochester home but the city needs more than that if it is ever to thrive, lifting people out of poverty.

“At some point a region hits a stop when it’s not all hands on deck and we have to learn how to do that here,” said the RDDC director. “We have to create a much wider pipeline for people to get in at all different kinds of jobs that it takes.”

“You have to find ways to broaden your economic approach so that we have an entrepreneurial culture that is fertile and you can build all kinds of businesses,” added Zimmer-Meyer. “Frankly we will run out of people to fill the jobs we have.”

The Rochester Area Community Foundation reports since 2013 the poverty numbers in Rochester have been slowly rising.

The U.S. Census Bureau last ranked Rochester number 12 in the nation when it comes to poverty, with an estimated 33 percent living in poverty. 

In 2015 the Rochester-Monroe Poverty Initiative or RMAPI was developed, linking all areas of public assistance with the City of Rochester to help families out of poverty.

The Finger Lakes Economic Development Council is also investing $100 million dollars into community-focused business grants.          

“An example of that would be a business committed to creating jobs in the city and would commit that half of those jobs would go to people in poverty,” explained Ann Johnson, senior director of ACT Rochester.