2017: Another Year of Progress


Go back a year, and we were talking about 2017 as a year in which a considerable amount of hard work — and good fortune — were going to bring dividends to the region and change the landscape in a number of ways in the year ahead.

And that’s exactly what happened. Union Station in Springfield opened its doors again after more than 40 years of essentially being part of the city’s past. CRRC’s massive rail-car assembly plant in East Springfield came to life before our eyes. In downtown Springfield, MGM’s casino began to soar well above street level, while behind the scenes, the company took important strides in the daunting task of assembling a workforce of 3,000. And across the region, entrepreneurial energy was building in the form of dozens of new and exciting startups.

As the year ends, we find ourselves saying essentially the same thing. If 2016 was a year to lay brick, then 2017 was more of the same, with more exciting projects due to come to fruition in 2018.

There is a word for that: momentum. And there is quite a bit of it in this region as we prepare to turn the calendars yet again.

Indeed, in 2018, MGM Springfield will open its doors and also open up what is expected to be a new world of opportunities for this region and individual businesses. Since plans for the $950 million facility were announced, there has been no end of speculation about what it will mean for the city and the region. Starting in about nine months, we’re going to find out.

Meanwhile, CRRC will be hitting its stride; the I-91 viaduct reconstruction project will be over, and traffic will start flowing smoothly again through that north-south corridor; the region’s burgeoning entrepreneurial ecosystem will continue to generate new startups and help young companies get to the proverbial next stage; and more projects are likely to get off the drawing board, especially Springfield’s Court Square initiative.

If 2016 was a time of anticipation for what might come next, 2017 provided more of the same. Again, we call that momentum.

But while looking ahead, we should also look back. Not everything went according to script in 2017. Indeed, the Innovation Center project in downtown Springfield ground to a halt in late spring, and there are no signs that work will start anytime soon. Meanwhile, the ‘for-sale’ sign went up on Tower Square (not long after the ‘Marriott’ sign came down on the adjoining hotel). There is hope that this sale might spark new life for that complex, but also considerable doubt about just what might work there. And it was another dark year for the region’s traditional retail sector, which is in full-blown retreat due to the emergence of online shopping.

But there were more than enough good stories to counter those drawbacks. Here’s a partial list:

• Callaway’s golf-ball facility in Chicopee is hiring dozens of new workers to manufacture a unique new concept called Truvis;

• Also in Chicopee, Mercedes-Benz has made its triumphant return to the region with the opening of a dealership on the site of the old Plantation Inn just off Turnpike exit 6;

• The Springfield Thunderbirds continue to be a remarkable story, one that blends resilience with imagination, and bold new concepts, like bringing David Ortiz to the City of Homes;

• Likewise, the Valley Blue Sox continue to develop new ways to bring people to Holyoke and show other businesses how to build a market for a product;

• The Basketball Hall of Fame will commence an ambitious renovation and expansion project that seems destined to take that facility to new heights (see story, page 25);

• The region’s colleges and universities continued to respond to growing and changing needs within the business community and add new programs in fields ranging from cybersecurity to healthcare to entrepreneurship;

• New businesses continue to be launched and propelled to the next stage, a trend perhaps best exemplified by FogKicker, a venture born in the polymer science labs at UMass Amherst; and

BusinessWest and the Healthcare News introduced a new recognition program called Healthcare Heroes that put a bright spotlight on one of this region’s most important sector and the men and women who work within it. In a word, the eight individual stories were truly inspiring.

That’s just a sampling. Overall, 2017 was, as they say, a very good year. And it looks like we have another one on tap.

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