Opinion

A New Springfield: Behind the Numbers

Editorial

Since Kevin Kennedy took over as Springfield’s chief Development officer in 2011, he has staged annual “economic-development updates,” as he calls them, in conjunction with the Springfield Regional Chamber of Commerce. The latest one, as you likely know, was staged late last month.

These sessions are, quite obviously, very positive in tone — and there is a discernable cheerleading quality to the proceedings. Some have said this exercise is more of a pep rally than it is an update.

Whatever. The bottom line in this case is the bottom line, as in the total amount of public and private investment in the city since the June 2011 tornado. And that number is now $3.76 billion, which is impressive no matter how you slice it.

It is that large, and that impressive, because of a confluence of eight- and even nine-figure projects that are truly generational in size and scope. These include the $950 million MGM project, certainly, but also the $250 million I-91 viaduct project, and the Union Station renovation initiative and the CRRC railcar factory in East Springfield, both nearly $100 million projects.

But maybe the most impressive thing about that investment total is how much it has grown since last year — more than $450 million, a number that includes large projects announced by MassMutual ($50 million in Springfield, $300 million statewide), Big Y ($35 million), among others.

But what’s more impressive, in our view, are all the smaller but still very significant six- and seven-figure projects that contribute meaningfully to that investment total but also to something even more important — that non-qualitative measure known as momentum.

That list of smaller projects is large and includes everything from the new Dr. Seuss Museum and planned expansion of the Basketball Hall of Fame to new solar-energy plants; from Stearns Square renovation efforts to the restoration of Pynchon Park; from a host of infrastructure projects to a new library in East Forest Park; from the purchase of the old Willys facility in the so-called ‘blast zone’ to the new branch of the UMass Medical School.

It all adds up, and, as we said, not just to a big number that planning officials can toss out at their annual gathering. It also adds to all-important momentum and the sense that Springfield is putting its recent past behind it.

And those numbers do something else, too. They corroborate and validate a broad economic-development strategy — one that uses public investment in everything from transportation to infrastructure; from park projects (like Pynchon Park) to development and cultural districts to generate private investment.

Moving forward, it’s highly improbable that the city will see that investment total increase by nearly a half-billion dollars, although that’s certainly possible.

Smaller increases are far more likely moving forward, and the key is to keep them coming. Now that the city has laid the track, if you will, a phrase Kennedy himself likes to use, the challenge (actually the mandate) is to keep traffic moving on those tracks.

That’s why plans for an aggressive marketing plan are so important. There were a few hundred people at CityStage to hear the economic-development update. A much larger audience needs to hear all they heard — about new building projects, employers choosing to come here, school dropout rates falling, and a city enjoying a huge comeback.

The headlines about this latest update were all about the numbers — or that one big number, $3.76 billion. And that’s understandable. As we said, it’s impressive.

More impressive, though, it’s what’s behind those numbers — a solid strategy that is working.

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