Eastman Kodak, once one of the United States’ great pioneering high-tech firms, filed for bankruptcy today, after it proved impossible to roll over some outstanding debt. The company’s problems are pretty straightforward: These guys were the market leaders in analog film, but the market for analog film has been steeply declining thanks to the rise of digital technology. Naturally, Kodak’s executives haven’t been blind to this fact and have tried to move into the digitial-imaging space, but it’s just extremely difficult for a firm that was built to be the dominant player in one industry to shift into a whole different one. Citigroup will be providing financing for Kodak to keep operating during bankruptcy. The main value of the company, at this point, is thought to be its portfolio of patents, some of which are potentially very lucrative in America’s increasingly nutty thicket of patent litigation.
The New York Times did an interesting piece earlier this week about the city of Rochester, N.Y., which in many ways is a town Kodak built. The decline of Rochester’s iconic firm has been bad for the city, but the takeaway from the article is that most of that harm has already happened. Kodak’s workforce is much smaller than it once was, and Rochester has substantially reinvented itself over the past 10-15 years; you can see in the latest Brookings Metro Monitor report (PDF) that over the past year, Rochester’s been one of the most successful cities in North America.