You can’t talk about business in Rochester and leave out Jeff Kiger. This local journalist spent time working at newspapers in both Indiana and Wyoming before landing a gig with the Post-Bulletin seventeen years ago as a business writer.
Kiger actually first began working with the Post-Bulletin as a copy writer, a position he held for exactly one day before transitioning into an assistant editor position. As assistant editor, he inherited the Post-Bulletin’s business beat and began managing and supporting the newspaper’s business coverage. Eventually, he moved out of a managerial role and focused fully on writing his own business column in the Post-Bulletin.
Kiger, a self-described “digger”, most enjoys breaking news before it happens. He’s best known for his business column “Heard on the Street”, which began in 2003 to uncover new business developments and activity in Rochester.
“Actually the paper didn’t even realize I was running it for the first few weeks,” Kiger said. He just started putting a small write-up at the end of a column on the Post-Bulletin business page and called it “Heard on the Street”.
“It was sort of something that I just started throwing in at the end and I realized there were a lot of things that people were interested in that we weren’t touching on.” “Heard on the Street” has undergone some transitions over the years, but the column has gained a strong following.
Kiger has covered the business beat in Rochester since 1999. He’s seen a lot of changes happen in this city.
“If you look at each individual site around town here, there’s so many incarnations they’ve gone through. All the different buildings have had multiple tenants since I’ve been here,” he said.
When Kiger first began exploring Rochester’s business scene, there was much less variety than exists today. He focused a lot on IBM during his first years at the Post-Bulletin; IBM was a large economic player in Rochester at the time. He said there was actually not much business news to cover around the Mayo Clinic because the company was very insular, only releasing news in the form of the Mayo Annual Report. At that time, the downtown business scene was pretty much a desert. He explained that the real hope was in south Rochester, especially when the Shoppes on Maine opened around 2007 in what used to be just an empty field.
Rochester had a real housing boom when Kiger first started his business beat. So many new housing developments were going up that he could not even keep pace with it.
“You didn’t see new hotels. You didn’t see all that much commercial building. It was all residential. And then that bubble popped,” he explained.
Around 2007, the residential housing scene toppled in Rochester and the city entered into the Great Recession. Kiger explained that a lot of construction companies went under in Rochester during that time. Many mom and pop shops also closed up or the owners just chose to retire.
“So there were a lot of different people that were around at that point that aren’t now.”
Now Rochester’s business scene is certainly picking up again. “[Mayo Clinic] opening up and being welcoming of entrepreneurship for its doctors is brand new, from my perspective, it’s very new. And that’s changed the landscape dramatically,” he explained.
The hopes for south Rochester may have fizzled out. Now the northwest is probably the hottest development area, where there’s still land available that’s “priced reasonably to get into the game.” We both agreed that downtown Rochester is sort of a bizarre business scene. The operating costs in downtown are quite high compared to other parts of the city; there are still empty spaces and vacant buildings. Besides the high price of space in downtown Rochester, landlords also seem to be seeking out short lease terms. Kiger thinks that elevated hopes for DMC-related developments in downtown have caused building owners to anticipate that their building may be bought up.
“That kind of underlying hope is changing the way people are doing business,” he explained.
Kiger says that both DMC and the population cresting over 100,000 were real game changers for Rochester. A population of 100K is a big deal to business chains, and more seem to be taking an interest in expanding to the city. With the DMC, hopefully, comes an influx of cash, economic development, and growth. Who wouldn’t want to plant a business in the middle of that fertile ground, if they can afford it? Kiger is also seeing a number of large banks and credit unions spring up in the area.
“They want to be a part of the things where they see a lot of money. …Now it’s interesting to see whether the statistics will match up with the reality, what’s happening. Because then you look downtown, there’s a lot of empty spots.”
Predictions of the business future of Rochester are tricky, but Kiger had a few ideas. He thinks we will continue to see interest in apartment and hotel development, at least throughout the rest of the year, until that market becomes saturated. He predicts we will certainly see a lot of interest in Discovery Square, the DMC district focused on research and technology development, and growth in the biomedical and life science space.
“Hopefully we’re going to see a lot of the small guys still come in and thrive. But it’s going to be tough. That’s the thing now. The bottom line of buying into the market is very expensive. So you’re not going to see as many small businesses, certainly not in the downtown area,” he explained.
If downtown Rochester becomes too pricy, where will new small businesses go then? Kiger thinks that Rochester might experience urban sprawl.