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Top 10: The fall of icons

Camera-maker Kodak had a rocky 2011, and is banking on a strong fourth quarter to pull it through to 2012.
via Flickr
Camera-maker Kodak had a rocky 2011, and is banking on a strong fourth quarter to pull it through to 2012.

Upstate New York saw the descent or departure of two of its legacy companies this year - two of the companies that were once part of the incredible manufacturing legacy that, along with the Erie Canal, made upstate an economic powerhouse.


This year was a tough one for Kodak, which faced falling stock prices, and is, in the words of of the LA Times' Michael Hiltzik, "a shutter-click from extinction."

Early in the year Kodak faced disappointment when its Eastman Business Park failed to win an $8 million grant from the Department of Energy, to help lure a solar manufacturing firm to the facility.  Then, in July, a judge kicked the can down the road on a patent dispute between Kodak and the makers of the iPhone and Blackberry - a suit that the photo firm had hoped would end in its favor. More recently, a judge said it would take nine months to settle the issue.

But the real drama for Kodak sparked off in September, when Bloomberg News reported that Kodak had retained bankruptcy lawyers, spawning rumors that the firm would soon sell itself for the value of its patents.  A third quarter conference call soon after revealed that the company only had $860 million in cash reserves, down from $1.6 billion at the beginning of the year.

So the pressure is mounting on Kodak to turn in a good fourth quarter.  But as the Innovation Trail's Zack Seward reported for Morning Edition, it's getting tougher and tougher for the company to bank on strong Christmas sales, when even former employees aren't interested in Kodak's consumer goods:

"I grew up in a Kodak family — aunts, uncles, father, brother-in-law," says Linda Nau. Her connection to the company is similar to that of a lot of native Rochesterians. Nau herself even worked at Kodak. As a college kid in the late '60s, she was paid $10 an hour for a summer job making sure film canisters didn't let in light. But now, more than 40 years later, Nau is helping her husband pick out a new camera in a Rochester-area Best Buy store. And Kodak is not part of the conversation. "Why?" she says. "I don't think the quality of the Kodak cameras are as good as they used to be."

Steuben Glass

The other upstate giant to fall this year was Corning's Steuben Glass.  The company that was long renowned for its art glass, handmade for presidents and pashas, closed its doors in November.

Officials cited the Great Recession as the final blow to the luxury goods company, but an artisan who once worked for Steuben told the Innovation Trail's Matt Richmond that he saw the firm's quality slipping:

"They always used the best glass. But they tried to automate the process. And the designs weren't as good anymore," says Max Erlacher, a master engraver, who worked at Steuben for 23 years.

Corning Incorporated bought back the Steuben brand, and has hired on 70 former workers. But what's really lost, according to dealer and glass collector David Goldstein, is the glamor of the Steuben heyday:

"The younger people want function, they want something you can use and put in the dishwasher. You can't do that with fine crystal," says Goldstein.

Your turn

What companies or trends that expired in 2011 are you missing, going into the new year?  Let us know in the comments, or talk back to us on Facebook.

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