Over the years, we’ve written many times about how, when people hear the term ‘economic development,’ thoughts turn to building large industrial parks and luring major corporations from other states or other countries.
And that’s certainly a big part of the equation — everywhere and right here in Western Mass., where we’ve seen several industrial parks take shape and many large businesses recruited into the 413.
But there are many other, dare we say less glamorous sides to economic development, from workforce-development initiatives to marketing, to creating support systems for startups and next-stage companies. And in this issue, we see two excellent examples of that last dynamic at work — an important, but also often overlooked component of economic development.
Indeed, the Western MA Food Processing Center (WMFPC) in Greenfield and the Greentown Labs Manufacturing Initiative are excellent examples of economic development in the form of needed assistance to entrepreneurs looking to take an idea or a family recipe, as might be the case with the WMFPC, and turning it into a successful business enterprise.
Let’s start in Greenfield. The WMFPC, launched in 2001, in a large commercial kitchen created to help farmers and other entrepreneurs launch new, value-added products. The center provides the pots, pans, and freezer space, but it also offers technical support with labeling; meeting local, state, and federal guidelines; marketing; and many other aspects involved with taking a salsa recipe and moving from making a few dozen gallons to several thousand.
The center, managed by the Franklin County Community Development Corp., has helped farmers put crops to work in new, often profitable ways, but it is also helping to create jobs — more than 100 of them to date — and some very successful companies.
Meawhile, the Greentown Labs Manufacturing Initiative was launched just over a year ago with the goal of matching hardware startups with manufacturers doing business in Western Mass.
Such matches are critical for several reasons. First, these startups are often unaware of the capabilities and specialties of area manufacturers, and often believe they have to look elsewhere — to China or somewhere else offshore — to bring a product to market.
But with 7,000 manufacturers in this area making everything from plastic packaging to parts for the aerospace industry, there is a very good chance they can find someone 20 or 30 miles away instead of 12,000 miles away.
But there is another reason why these matches are so important: often, they can accelerate the process of taking a product off the drawing board and bringing it to reality, as we see with the company called Quikcord. “Springboarding effect” was the phrase used to describe the impact, and it gets the point across.
This initiative has many obvious benefits — from bringing work to area manufacturers that are doing very well in most cases but always need more work, to giving hardware startups a needed boost that get them going or to the next stage. And the biggest prize could be more jobs.
All this equates to economic development — though maybe not the kind that many people think of when they say or hear that phrase — and progress for the region.