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Editorial

As you read this, the countdown clock at MGM Springfield is inside 50 days.

Which means that, in essence, the nearly $1 billion project that has dominated the local landscape, literally and figuratively, for the better part of seven years, is essentially done. Just as Union Station is done and the massive I-91 reconstruction project is done.

And soon, there will be a number of other initiatives in the proverbial ‘done’ pile, including Stearns Square, the innovation center, Riverfront Park, an extensive renovation of the Basketball Hall of Fame, and others, with the acknowledgement that ‘soon’ is a relative term.

That’s a lot of things to get done, and the city should be proud of all that has been accomplished and how the landscape has been dramatically altered for the better — much better.

The question of ‘what now?’ has been tossed around for a while now, and while such talk might be a little premature — after all, it will take some time for MGM Springfield, Union Station, and other initiatives to really be done and have those facilities fully assimilated — but in most ways, it isn’t.

There are certainly things the city has to do to as part of that assimilation process and as part of building off the momentum that’s been generated. That list includes everything from creation of new market-rate housing in the downtown to a remaking of Tower Square into something much more vibrant and relevant, to some aggressive marketing of the city and its comeback story.

And in some ways, work on all those initiatives is already underway.

But Springfield has another big and important challenge facing it, and that is to revitalize many of its proud neighborhoods — to take the progress beyond downtown, if you will.

This is, in many ways, more difficult than any of the projects undertaken thus far, and that’s with the acknowledgement that it took 40 years or more to revitalize Union Station and for the largest development project in the city’s history (MGM) to revitalize the South End.

That’s because rejuvenating neighborhoods like Old Hill, Mason Square, the North End, and the South End are difficult undertakings, especially in these changing times and continued rough going for most old manufacturing centers, like Springfield.

There has been some progress made, though the efforts of local, state, and national initiatives and the of work nonprofit agencies ranging from DevelopSpringfield to Wayfinders, from Revitalize CDC to ROCA. But many of Springfield’s neighborhoods still rank among the poorest in the state, and progress has come very, very slowly.

This isn’t exactly a news flash, but Springfield’s neighborhoods are truly the city’s next big challenge. If this community is to make a real comeback, the good news has to extend beyond Main and State streets.

For the comeback to spread to those neighborhoods, there must be opportunites — or more opportunities, as the case may be — for employment, home ownership, and new-business development. As we said, there has already been some progress made on these fronts, but more extensive efforts are required in order to keep these neighborhoods from being left behind.

A few paragraphs ago, we referred to Springfield’s proud neighborhoods. You almost always see that adjective used in that context, and for a reason. Residents of these areas are proud of their neighborhood, although in many cases, they’re proud of what they once were, not what they are now.

Creating far greater use of the present tense when it comes to these neighborhoods and ‘good times’ is clearly the next big challenge for Springfield.

Opinion

Despite the occasional major project landing in the region — that casino opening is only two months away — the Pioneer Valley’s economy is still driven far more by the myriad small businesses that dot the landscape.

That’s why it’s important to give entrepreneurs the tools, inspiration, and resources they need to make the risks they take in launching their enterprises worthwhile.

Our story on page 40 is always a fun assignment — our annual writeup on the winners of the Valley Venture Mentors Accelerator Awards. This year, we sat down with the entrepreneurs behind the three top winners, who received, through this program, significant funding for their projects, but, just as important, key guidance and support in taking their businesses to the next level.

Because those enterprises deal in such critical matters as clean water, continuing medical education, and equipping low-income youth to write their own entrepreneurial stories, that next level, as you’ll see by reading these accounts, may turn out to be life-changing for many — and even world-changing,

Then there’s our page 26 story on Click Workshop — perhaps a less splashy story, because no one is handing out giant checks. Rather, they’re handing over monthly payments (rather reasonable ones, at that) to participate in a community of 98 small (mostly solo) businesses that share resources and network in a refurbished former warehouse in downtown Northampton.

One of the region’s growing number of co-working spaces, Click is supporting economic energy in its city while also boosting the profile of another type of entrepreneur: the local artists and musicians to whom it offers exposure and a place to promote their creations.

These two articles may seem unrelated at first, but they both speak to the importance of creating a supportive community of entrepreneurs who understand that the success of each contributes to the success of all, by establishing Western Mass. as a place where ideas can turn into viable businesses.

“You have a lot of ups and downs. The wins are big wins — they’re really high highs,” said Barrett Mully, one of the VVM Accelerator Award winners. However, “it’s just so intangible at times, it’s like you’re feeling your way through the dark a little bit.”

Programs and organizations that support the region’s startup culture are making that journey a little bit brighter.

After all, countless entrepreneurs are taking calculated gambles every day that have nothing to do with a casino. When those risks pay off, everyone benefits.