Another Triumph for Springfield

When it was first announced that CNR Changchun Railway Vehicles Co., a manufacturer of urban mass-transit vehicles based in China, was interested in building replacement subway cars for the MBTA’s Red and Orange lines in Springfield, the news was greeted with a large dose of skepticism.

And why not? Things like that just haven’t happened in Springfield in recent years— or decades, for that matter. They’re talked about, but the talk rarely translates into anything substantive. The $565 million contract to build nearly 300 subway cars was the kind of development that simply went somewhere else.

The fact that it didn’t, and that the subway cars will be built in the former Westinghouse complex in East Springfield, is perhaps the best aspect to this encouraging story, although there are many positives to take from it.

First and foremost are the jobs — a projected 100-plus new construction jobs from the building of a 150,000-square-foot plant, and more than 200 new manufacturing positions — as well as the quality of those jobs. Indeed, at a time when many of the jobs coming to the region are in service, distribution, or call centers, these are manufacturing positions, the type that every region covets.

There’s also the prospect for more manufacturing coming to Springfield and this region in general if all goes as well as expected with these subway cars in terms of providing this company with a qualified workforce. This state and this region cannot sell themselves as being low-cost (at least when compared to southern states and foreign countries like Mexico), and they can’t market themselves as being business-friendly, because, by and large, they are not. But a quality, well-trained workforce is a strong selling point.

And then, there’s the needed boost the city gains with regard to its image. Newspapers in Boston and elsewhere were placing ‘Springfield’ in stories that had nothing to do with poverty, crime, or high dropout rate. And it had probably been some time since they’d done that.

But, as we said, maybe the best thing to come from this may well be a needed jolt of confidence — or another jolt, as the case may be. There is a growing sense that things can be done in this city, because they are being done.

This list includes the three colleges that now call downtown Springfield home — UMass Amherst, Bay Path University, and Cambridge College — as well as Union Station, a project that many thought they’d never see come to fruition; an emerging innovation district; and even the successful effort to keep the Student Prince restaurant (the Fort) from becoming merely a part of the city’s past.

And if voters do the right thing and vote ‘no’ on Question 3 on Election Day, there will be yet another boost in confidence, in the form of an $800 million resort casino that will rise in the city’s beleaguered South End.

Springfield still has a number of challenges to confront, including its high poverty rate and equally high dropout rate, but there is some real momentum in the city now, a sense that things are possible, that good things can happen here.

And with that momentum will hopefully come a change in attitude, so the next time a company announces its intention to bring jobs to the city, the news won’t be greeted with that same level of skepticism.

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