One year ago 55 employees came to work on a Monday only to learn they no longer had jobs at Kodak. Their division to produce the silver nitrate at the core of film was no longer necessary in a digital world.
From that end, came a beginning. “We knew Kodak was struggling, it was exciting to maybe start our own thing,” says Dave DeSimone.
DeSimone walked to a bin filled with chemical waste that might otherwise end up in a landfill. Yet in this case the X-ray film is chopped up and washed- the silver extracted to create silver nitrate pellets.
In the heyday of film, Kodak saved millions of dollars a year recycling old film into new. It’s work DeSimone has been doing since he was 18. “When I was started at Kodak they said it was for life.”
“Life” ended up being just shy of 30 years. At that point the recovery operation no longer fit in a Kodak filing for bankruptcy. “From our vantage point it’s very fortunate timing because it kind of took the shackles off of us,” says Bill Stewart.
Like half of his 55 employees, Stewart worked at Kodak for 30 years. On that October Monday 2011 he learned his division had been sold over the weekend- backed by a Rhode Island company that needed a steady supply of silver nitrate.
Rochester Silver Works was born. This month it reached a one year milestone. “We’re really about growth right now,” says Stewart who is the General Manager and Senior Vice President.
The silver nitrate once recycled into film is now sold for solar panels, batteries and electronics. “It was very good from our perspective to be separated off (from Kodak) so we could focus on a different type of customer- a customer that really uses precious metals,” says Stweart.
Separated off-though very much in the shadow of Kodak. The operations of Rochester Silver Works are housed in the same building at Kodak Park. It shares a secure entrance with Kodak employees.
Just yesterday, more of them received layoff notices. “We see some of the guys that still work at Kodak walk back and forth through the gate,” says DeSimone. “We hope for the best for them. A lot of them are our friends.”