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Editorial

Let’s start by saying that manufacturers griping about how recent high-school graduates cannot do seemingly basic math is certainly nothing new.

They’ve been complaining about that for decades. They’ve probably always complained about that.

But such gripes are not what Springfield Business Leaders for Education (SBLE) is all about — although those complaints are duly noted, to be sure. This group of several dozen business owners and managers came together because the problem with Springfield’s schools — and the schools in many of the state’s Gateway cities — goes well beyond basic math (see related story, page 6).

In short, many students graduating from high school are not ready for college or the workplace, even though they have that diploma in their hands. Again, this is not exactly a recent phenomenon, but it’s a growing problem, one that has caught the attention of the business community — and with good reason.

These are the workers of tomorrow, or not, as is often the case. Or they’re the workers of tomorrow after they receive considerable training that amounts to what they should have learned in high school. In short, it’s an economic-development issue as well as an education issue.

This is why SBLE was created. Quality education is as important to the future of area businesses as it is to the future of the students in the classroom.

As we said at the top, SBLE wasn’t formed to bring gripes about job candidates not being to add columns of numbers to the superintendent of schools — or to tell the superintendent how to do his or her job. Or to change the curriculum. It was formed to be what co-chair John Davis, president of the Irene E. and George A. Davis Foundation, calls a critical friend of the schools — an ally, if you will.

As an ally, SBLE is working with other groups, such as Massachusetts Parents United and the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education, to advocate for schools and much-needed education reform, with the broad goal of improving overall outcomes and closing the wide achievement gap that still exists in the state between students in affluent communities and those in the aforementioned Gateway cities.

At the same time, and as the story on page 6 makes clear, SBLA is also working to achieve greater transparency and accountability from city school officials, because both are clearly needed. As is a long-term strategic plan for the schools moving forward — again, because one is needed.

That’s because, while everyone, or most everyone, agrees that some progress has been made in Springfield, both at individual schools and the system as a whole, the numbers don’t lie.

And those numbers show that far too many students are not able to read at grade level, the graduation rate is still far too low, and not enough students are going on to college at a time when such education is critical to achieving success in our technology-driven economy. Most importantly, the numbers show that far too many students are not going to be able to capitalize on the opportunities others are seizing because the education they received doesn’t make them ready to do so.

These are the numbers that matter. And we believe the SBLE can help change them. Business owners speak with a loud voice, they know how to partner with others to achieve success, and, most importantly, they have a huge stake in all this — their future workforce.

So, while griping about a lack of math skills is nothing new, business leaders in Springfield taking a very active role in advocating for education reform and bringing about real change is.

And we’re very glad that this is happening at this critical time.

Opinion

Editorial

We’ve written on many occasions in the past about how the phrase ‘economic development’ means much more than trying to lure an Amazon — or an MGM Springfield, for that matter — to your town or filling a business park with distribution companies.

Indeed, this kind of work extends to such realms as workforce development, improving public education, public safety, infrastructure, marketing of a given region, and promotion of arts and culture.

And, sometimes, economic development is art itself.

We saw this with the recent initiative known as Fresh Paint. This was a mural festival staged earlier this month that involved a number of noted artists, with help from the public, and literally changed the face of a number of buildings and structures, such as parking-garage facades.

The murals are highly visible, and they do more than bring a splash of color — a big splash of color — to some otherwise drab pieces of real estate.

They also help tell the story of Springfield through depictions of everything from Dr. Seuss characters to the diverse population that now calls the city home.

How is this economic development?

Well, the murals accomplish something important. They prompt people to stop, look, think, and, ultimately, view Springfield in a different way than they did before. And this is what we want business owners, young professionals, entrepreneurs, and even retirees looking for a place to live to do — look at the City of Homes in a different way.

The murals — there are 10 of them in all, scattered throughout the downtown area and beyond — give the city a new look and vibe. They help send a message that the community is changing, for the better, and that, while once things were dark, the future is seemingly bright.

Can a set of murals really do all that? Apparently, they can.

And for that reason, we certainly hope this is not the last Fresh Paint festival.

Opinion

Editorial

As anyone in business knows, it’s hard enough to project out a few months or even a few weeks, let alone several years or even a few decades.

But that’s been Tim Brennan’s job for almost 50 years now, and suffice it to say he’s done it very well. While keeping one eye on the present and immediate future, the director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission has kept the other on what the world, and this region in particular, will likely look like in 20 or 30 years when it comes to infrastructure, workforce demands, recreational needs, and even climate change.

In a few weeks, Brennan will be calling it a career — as we said, a long and fruitful career, for himself and the region he became passionate about.

It was fruitful for him because, as the story that begins on page 6 makes clear, it was in what amounted to a dream job, doing work he found “intoxicating.” And beneficial for the region, because Brennan did a capable job of keeping the focus on the future and anticipating what it might bring.

We believe his most significant contribution — and it was a team effort, to be sure — is the Plan for Progress. We say ‘is,’ because this is a working document, one that will be continually changed and updated as times, and the region’s needs, change.

The first iteration of the plan detailed the need for an economic-development entity to put the focus on regional progress at a time when individual communities were battling with each other for employers, often to the benefit of the employer, and not the municipalities involved in those competitions.

This recommendation led to the formation of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, which has been in the forefront of efforts to advance the region and put its best foot forward — and today, that region includes both Western Mass. and Northern Conn. — the so-called Knowledge Corridor.

More recent iterations of the plan have helped the region place greater emphasis on maintaining a strong workforce in the wake of retiring Baby Boomers, training the next generation of leaders, and other priorities.

Meanwhile, throughout his tenure, Brennan has put a strong emphasis on the environment (from Connecticut River cleanup to climate change), infrastructure (especially when it comes to rail service for a region where it has been missing for the past several decades), and making cities places in which people, and especially young people, will want to work and live.

One of his pet projects, a high-speed rail line connecting this region with Boston, has not come to fruition — yet. But Brennan has been one of the leaders from this region who have worked hard to keep this issue alive when it could easily have died on the vine.

Brennan leaves some very big shoes to fill, but he has set a tone for effective planning in this region. Through his efforts, a foundation has been laid, in the form of the Plan for Progress and other initiatives, that will make this region better able to anticipate change and be prepared for it.

That is Tim Brennan’s legacy, and he and this region should be proud of it.

Opinion

Editorial

When Kevin Kennedy took over as Springfield’s chief Development officer after a lengthy stint as aide to U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, the city was in a much different place — a much darker place.

It was only a year or so removed from being in receivership and only a few months into the complex, and quite overwhelming, task of rebuilding after a tornado roared through the heart of the city. The casino era was just beginning, and no one really dared dream that one might be built in Springfield. No one had ever heard of a Chinese company called CRRC, and the city’s downtown was, for the most part, living in the past.

Flash forward nearly eight years, and Springfield is a much different, much brighter, much more vibrant place, with a billion-dollar casino and, overall, more than $4 billion in new development over the past several years.

Kennedy, who announced Monday that he will be retiring late this summer, didn’t do it all by himself, obviously. But he set a tone, an aggressive tone, a set-the-bar-higher-than-most-people-would-dare tone.

And it has produced results. MGM is the most obvious example, but there are many others, including Union Station (a project Kennedy worked on for more than 25 years), progress on creating much-needed market-rate housing, growth of the entertainment district, and the start of work to redevelop the so-called ‘blast zone.’

At the press conference to announce Kennedy’s retirement, Mayor Domenic Sarno described him as a “nuts and bolts guy,” and that’s a fairly apt characterization. He knew how to bring a project from the starting line to the finish line, and that’s exactly what the city needed at this critical stage in its history.

It was said that he knew how to get things done, and during his tenure, he proved that repeatedly.

These will be big shoes to fill, and the assignment falls to Timothy Sheehan, currently director of the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency in Connecticut. It will be his job to build on the momentum Kennedy has helped create. There is still considerable work to do in Springfield; yes, many significant pieces have been added and the outlook is much brighter, but the city must be able to seize this moment in its history.

We can only hope that Sheehan can continue Kennedy’s pattern of getting things done.

Opinion

Editorial

We’ll probably never know how far the talks went between Wynn Resorts and MGM Resorts concerning the acquisition of the $2 billion casino in Everett supposedly ready to open any time now.

We’ll just say that we’re glad — and the state should be glad, and the city of Springfield should be glad, and Everett should be glad — that those talks are over, and that MGM will stand pat (yes, that’s an industry term) and not pursue that property.

Had those talks continued and a sale been forged … well, let’s just say we don’t want to go there. And, again, we’re glad the state doesn’t have to. The status quo is working quite well in Springfield, thank you, and if there’s one thing the state and its Gaming Commission don’t need to bring to the picture right now, is question marks — or more question marks, to be more precise.

In case you missed it — and it was hard to miss — word leaked that Wynn Resorts, which is now licensed to operate a casino in Everett under the Encore brand, was in what were called “very preliminary discussions” about a sale of that property to MGM.

Media outlets across the Commonwealth then printed stories laden with conjecture about whether the sale should take place and what might happen if it did. Most of those quoted blasted the concept and projected that it would create something approaching chaos at a time when the state needed just the opposite from its still-fledgling casino industry.

“This isn’t a Monopoly game,” former state Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, a key author of the state’s gaming law, told the Boston Globe as news of the talks broke, adding that a sale of the Boston property, which would force MGM to divest itself of the Springfield facility, was far from a slam dunk. Carlo DeMaria, mayor of Everett, went further, saying, “it’s not going to happen.”

Turns out he was right, because amid that wave of negative commentary and gloom-and-doom conjecture, MGM announced that it was playing the hand it was dealt.

Whether that’s the best move for company, we can’t say. But we can say it’s the best move for the state and this region.

MGM is a known commodity, but whichever entity would buy the Springfield casino is not, and while there are plenty of good casino operators out there, we don’t need an unknown commodity at this point.

Especially in Greater Springfield. Communities, businesses, nonprofits, and other constituencies have forged solid working relationships and partnerships with MGM. They haven’t forged them with a casino on Main Street, but instead with a company, one that has come to be a trusted stakeholder in this region.

So we’re glad MGM is not seeking potentially greener pastures in Boston.

But while this threat has passed, we have to wonder about how it materialized in the first place. The fact that Wynn Resorts fought a long, hard, very expensive battle to open a casino in Everett and then explored a sale just as it was set to cross the finish line is a head scratcher, to be sure.

But there is a lot we don’t know about this industry, and maybe a sale makes sense on some levels, especially if Wynn, which desperately wanted into the Massachusetts market, is now intent on getting out.

Just not a sale to MGM.

Now that MGM has backed away, it’s time for the Gaming Commission to determine whether Wynn is still the best fit for the Boston market, and if it isn’t, the state should find another player.

It’s also time to move forward with the next big order of business — sports gambling. As it did with gaming itself, the state is dragging its feet on sports gambling, losing revenue to neighboring Rhode Island with each day that passes.

Thankfully, the state, and Springfield, won’t have to deal with a change of ownership at the casino in Springfield’s South End.

Opinion

Opinion

By John Regan

As the Roman philosopher Seneca observed, “omni fine initium novum,” or, “every new beginning comes from the end of another.” 

As the Associated Industries of Massachusetts prepares to write a new and exciting chapter in its distinguished history, I am reminded at every moment of the wisdom, generosity, and quiet determination with which my predecessor, Rick Lord, has paved the road before me.

Rick never lost sight of where he came from, and he never forgot that trust and respect are the ultimate currency of public policy and service.

To the members of AIM and especially to the board of directors, I gratefully accept your commission to lead this organization, supporting the dreams and aspirations of Massachusetts employers. We must keep as our guiding principle the fact that economic growth remains the only effective method of achieving the social equity that makes our Commonwealth a great place to live and work.

There has never been a more pressing need for businesses to work together with the sort of common purpose that drove 28 visionary companies to create Associated Industries of Massachusetts 104 years ago. AIM welcomes all employers and dedicates itself to serving the needs of the full range of Massachusetts companies working to provide the hope of a better life to our friends and neighbors.

We remain committed to the principals of diversity, equity, and inclusion — on our board, on our staff, and throughout our membership. We assert unequivocally that AIM will be an association in the truest sense of the word, providing an opportunity for everyone — especially those who have historically been ignored — a full voice.

Everything we do at AIM is done to help businesses unlock their full potential. We fiercely advocate for positive public policy that helps to create a strong economy.

We empower businesses with the information, tools, and resources needed to successfully navigate a fast-paced, complex business world. We foster connections, networks, and the flow of ideas between people and businesses.

We believe that business can be a positive force for change in helping to create a better, more prosperous society. And the best part is, we’re just getting started.

This article is adapted from John Regan’s recent address at the Associated Industries of Massachusetts annual meeting, at which Regan stepped into the role of president and CEO.

Opinion

Editorial

Those gathered around the water cooler have had to find other things to talk about in recent days, as James Holzhauer, the record-breaking, cyborg-like Jeopardy! champion was forced to the sidelines as the popular game show took a break for its teachers’ tournament.

But he’ll be back soon, and so will the talk — all kinds of talk. About his almost scary intellect, non-traditional tactics, intriguing personality, and, yes, his winnings — almost $1.7 million (in just 22 shows) when he had to take his break.

But the discussion at the water cooler, and in columns in newspapers and magazines across the country, has gone further in some cases, talking about how Holzhauer has somehow broken the popular game, ruined it, turned it into bad television, or somehow broken or distorted its rules.

Apparently, the virtues of even an incredible Jeopardy! winning streak are in the eyes of the beholder.

What we see is something quite intriguing, something that offers lessons about maybe how all of us should look at life, work, and running our businesses.

Indeed, for decades, it seemed, Jeopardy! was played one way. Contestants found a category they liked, started at the top, and moved to the bottom. When they found a Daily Double, they generally (but not always) wagered conservatively. A good day’s work was maybe $25,000 or even $35,000.

Then, along came Holzhauer, the professional sports gambler, who has obviously looked at this game and its rules and decided that there was a better, more effective, more lucrative way to play it. Before he arrived, the one-day record was $77,000. He’s averaging that — well, $76,864, to be exact — per game.

He starts at the bottom of each category with the big-money questions. He moves around the board searching for the Daily Doubles. When he finds them, he usually has a lot of money won, and then he wagers large amounts, often making them true Daily Doubles. And by hitting the $1,000 and $2,000 questions early — and getting them right — he’s building leads his opponents simply cannot overcome; there isn’t enough money left on the board.

When it gets to Final Jeopardy! the game is already won, but Holzhauer still wagers generally as much as he can, gets the question right (he hasn’t missed a final question yet), and often banks north of $100,000.

It’s radical, it’s different, but unless you’re a hopeless traditionalist who just doesn’t like the way Holzhauer is smoking his competiton every night, you have to like it, you have to applaud it — and you have to tune in to watch it. Yes, Jeopardy! ratings have been much higher since he started this remarkable run.

The lessons for managers and business owners? They’re quite obvious.

Holzhauer surveyed the scene, looked at how just about everyone before him had played Jeopardy! and decided there was a better way. And we’re willing to bet that many more people will be playing it this way from now own.

This is the way to look at your business and your role in it. The status quo is sometimes just fine. Doing things the way everyone else has done them is sometimes OK. But we always need to be searching for those better ways, those new and innovative ways, to do things.

By finding such ways, Holzhauer has set and re-set the single-day earnings record for Jeopardy! In fact, he now owns the 12 highest daily totals in the show’s history. He has, in effect, raised the bar, and he keeps raising it.

That’s the ultimate lesson from this incredible run.

Opinion

Editorial 2

Demolition crews were hard at work at Pynchon Plaza in downtown Springfield this past week, tearing up a 40-year-old concrete park — if that’s what you want to call it — and leaving the imagination to wonder what will come next.

Demolition is always a poignant moment — something is being razed to make way for something else — and often there are mixed feelings, with many people having an attachment to what is being torn down and maybe some ambivalence about what is to come, such as when the Pennsylvania Railroad demolished majestic Penn Station in Manhattan to make way for a new Madison Square Garden and an ugly office tower.

This isn’t anything like that, believe us.

Indeed, it’s hard to believe that anyone had an attachment to Pynchon Plaza. Built in the late ’70s, it was conceived as a grand corridor, or stairway of sorts, connecting the Quadrangle with the rest of downtown.

It never became that.

Instead, it became a neglected eyesore that was essentially closed to the public for long stretches of its existence. More than that, it became one of the more glaring symbols of what happened — and didn’t happen — in downtown Springfield.

Indeed, it was conceived and built at a time when there was some momentum in the downtown — Tower Square (then Baystate West) was thriving, and new downtown office towers were on the drawing board. The Springfield Civic Center went up a few years earlier, and there was a lot of optimism about what could happen in the central business district.

The new Pynchon Plaza, a $4 million initiative, will include a new, functioning staircase, seating areas, plantings, and a refurbished elevator.

But only a decade or so later, a downward spiral began, and, well, you know what happened. And Pynchon Plaza, as we said, became a symbol of the city’s demise. It was to be a connecting point, but there wasn’t much to connect people with.

The story is much different now, and that’s why the demolition work on Dwight Street is so poignant. The dilapidated plaza was a symbol of the Springfield that was. It doesn’t fit with the current blend of momentum, energy, and vibrancy, and its demolition therefore becomes a solid metaphor for what is clearly a new era in the city’s history.

The new Pynchon Plaza, a $4 million initiative, will include a new, functioning staircase, seating areas, plantings, and a refurbished elevator. And it will link a thriving Quadrangle, which has been setting records for attendance since the opening of the Seuss Museum, with a downtown that boasts a $900 million casino, a revitalized Union Station, several new restaurants and shops, a rejuvenated Union Station, a Tower Square in the midst of an extreme makeover, and other parks (Stearns Square and Duryea Way, for example) that have been reborn.

As noted above, demolition is often a time to stop and reflect — it happened when Forbes & Wallace was torn down to make way for Monarch Place, and even when the Peter Pan bus station came down in advance of the new Way Finders headquarters building.

This time, the reflecting isn’t really about what we’ve lost, but what we’ve gained. It’s about how much the city has progressed and how it is leaving the recent past behind it.

In short, it’s a statement, and a powerful one.

Opinion

Editorial

Meryl Streep?

That’s who Peter Wirth, co-owner of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, suggests, tongue in cheek (we think; we hope), should play him in a movie about his life.

“Let’s see if she can really play anything,” he writes in one of the answers to questions put to all of this year’s honorees. And when asked what figure, past or present, he would like to have lunch with, he suggests Ernest Hemingway. “I feel like he would have a few good stories, and there would most certainly be cocktails accompanying the lunch.”

The collective answers to a host of revealing questions cast a bright and intriguing light on this year’s honorees, who join the 480 who came before them as owners of some of the most prestigious plaques to be found in Western Mass. Indeed, a 40 Under Forty winner is someone who stands out among his or her peers (there were nearly 200 nominations submitted this year) and is truly a rising star amid a galaxy of them.

Indeed, contrary to popular theory, there is quite a bit of young talent in this region, and it exists across the board, in sectors ranging from healthcare to retail; from financial services to nonprofit management; from law to casino administration.

Their stories continue until you know all you need to know about Alyson Yorlano. And, as noted, to tell their stories, we used a questionnaire format, one that allows honorees to use their own words to convey what’s important to them, what inspires them, who mentored them, and yes, who they think could play them in a movie.

The answers are certainly good reading. They reveal some common denominators — everything from a willingness to work hard to get where they want to go, to a passion for family and community. And, in many cases, honesty and a good sense of humor.

As when Alex Dixon, the now-former general manager of MGM Springfield (he’s returned to Las Vegas to manage Circus Circus but will be at the Log Cabin in June for the 40 Under Forty gala), revealed that, growing up, he wanted to be governor of Nevada, an Alvin Ailey dancer, or a running back for the Washington Redskins.

Beyond witty answers, the profiles of this year’s honorees should provide inspiration for others seeking to own one of these plaques themselves, and encouragement for those who might be worried about whether we have sufficient young leadership coming of age in the 413.

Take Donald Havourd, who has thrived in a Fortune 500 corporate environment at MassMutual while simultaneously founding and growing a business, Migliore, which manufactures and distributes luxury car-care products.

Or Joy Baglio, who poured her passion for writing into the creation of the Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop, growing it in only three years from a solo enterprise to one with 13 instructors teaching dozens of workshops and classes each year.

Or Dorothy Ostrowski, whose unique trajectory has taken her from the war-torn streets of Afghanistan to a wide-ranging career in the fast-paced world of emergency-room nursing, to ownership of a venerable West Springfield construction company.

We hope you enjoy reading these stories, but more importantly, we hope these 40 rising stars make you feel good about the future of this region. Because we certainly do.

Opinion

Editorial

The rumors started circulating last fall: The YMCA of Greater Springfield was moving many of its operations into Tower Square in the heart of downtown Springfield.

Soon, the rumors moved to a different plane, a strange one, a place between rumor and fact, where the move was assumed, a proverbial worst-kept secret, but not yet official. And then, it moved to a still-higher level as buildout work began at Tower Square, in earnest, a few weeks ago.

Now the move is official (it was announced late last week), and thus the speculation about what all this means — for the Y, Tower Square, downtown, and the city itself — also escalates to a higher plane.

Suffice it to say this is an intriguing move, one taken out of what amounts to necessity for the Y, which has been facing a number of challenges ranging from declining membership in its fitness center in Springfield to the rising cost of operating and maintaining its nearly half-century-old property on Chestnut Street.

Something needed to happen to give the Y some financial flexibility, some additional visibility, and a chance to grow its programs. Meanwhile, something also needed to happen for the new ownership of Tower Square, which was looking to not only put some vacant space back to revenue-generating use, but also give the facility a spark in terms of everything from foot traffic to much-needed momentum.

It took a while, but the parties came together and came to a deal, one that could substantially alter the fortunes of both entities.

But there are many questions about this move and whether it is going to work for either the Y or Tower Square.

“Something needed to happen to give the Y some financial flexibility, some additional visibility, and a chance to grow its programs. Meanwhile, something also needed to happen for the new ownership of Tower Square …”

Let’s start with the Y. There are already two other health clubs in the heart of downtown and another on the riverfront just a few blocks away. Meanwhile, the Y’s Chestnut Street facility is only a half-mile from Tower Square. So there are naturally questions about whether this move will generate a boost in membership.

Likewise, there are questions, and many of them, about whether Tower Square is the ideal location for Y’s daycare facilities, which are, at this moment in time, its strongest revenue-producing operation. At times, it isn’t easy to get into and out of downtown, and parking will certainly be an issue.

As for Tower Square, the need to fill the large amounts of unused or underutilized space is acute. But are daycare operations and a fitness facility the best use of that space?

Yet, amid all the questions and uncertainty, one thing is clear: this is a bold move for both entities, one that shows large doses of imagination and outside-the-box thinking. And this is what’s needed at both the Y and Tower Square at this time.

Flash back four decades or so, and both were thriving. The Y’s building had recently opened, its membership was large and growing, and the day when there would be gym — or two or three or eight — in every community was still a few decades off. As for Tower Square, it was crammed with thriving retail — clothing stores, record stores, a sporting-goods store, a bookstore, Friendly’s, and much more.

That was then. It seems like a long time ago, because it is. This is now. There is no turning back the clock for either organization, but the clock can be turned forward.

No one really knows if all this is going to work out, but what is known is that neither entity could stand still and simply hope for better days. This move constitutes risk for both parties, a roll of the dice, if you will. But it’s a risk worth taking to secure a better future for both.