Opinion

Editorial

Five Reasons to Be Optimistic About 2015

As the curtain comes down on 2014, a memorable year in many respects and one that produced large doses of momentum across the region, there are many reasons for optimism when it comes to the year ahead.

No one can truly predict what will happen regionally, nationally, or internationally in the months to come, but most signs are pointing to new levels of properity and vibrancy for the region. Here are five reasons for the business community to welcome the new year with its head up.

• An Improving Economy. Granted, not all businesses or business sectors saw bottom-line improvements in 2014, but many did, and both hard and anecdotal evidence reveals that something approaching real recovery may finally visit this region after steering clear of it since the Great Recession officially ended in 2009.

Indeed, jobless rates have improved, the housing market is slowly inching its way back up, and business confidence, as measured by Associated Industries of Mass. and other groups, has been steadily rising.

Even gasoline prices are cooperating in a big way. While they scare investors because of their potential to stifle the all-important energy industry, cheaper gas and oil are boons for consumers and business owners alike, and they amount to a huge stimulus package that puts money into the economy.

• The Casino. It will be at least two and a half years before anyone pushes the buttons on a slot machine, doubles down at the blackjack table, or brings a convention to the hotel being built by MGM. But one can already sense that the $800 million facility soon to rise in the South End is generating not only excitement, but opportunity.

Downtown Springfield’s commercial real-estate market is finally picking up steam; the long-suffering construction sector will soon have some long-term, lucrative work; and the tourism sector is aglow with expectation about what the casino will mean for the convention business. Meanwhile, the casino’s promise is spurring action on some long-delayed projects like the Court Square revitalization.

• Subway Cars. As we’ve written before, the announcement that Changchun Railway Co. will be building subway cars at the former Westinghouse site in East Springfield is positive news on several levels. It will bring jobs, and the kinds of well-paying jobs that everyone wants, but it has also brought a sense of accomplishment, a feeling that, yes, things like this can really happen here. And sometimes, developments like this one can give a region and its economic-development leaders a huge boost of confidence.

• A Surging University of Massachusetts. President Robert Caret announced recently that he will be leaving the university to take the helm at the University of Maryland. While that’s a setback in some ways — Caret brought strong direction to the school — UMass has in many ways reached a critical turning point when it comes to being the economic engine the state and this region always hoped it would be, and there seems little chance of it falling back.

While many of the recent developments at the school have involved Springfield, the impact is truly region-wide, with projects ranging from the High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke to the recently announced plans to establish a National Aeronautics Research, Development, and Training Center at Westover Air Reserve Base in Chicopee, with UMass Amherst as the lead institution. Expect more of the same in the months and years to come.

• A Focus on Entrepreneurship. This may well be the most compelling reason for optimism in the region, because this area will need much more than a casino to recover. It will need thousands of new jobs and opportunities to retain the young people who grew up here or attended college here. And the recent focus on fostering entrepreneurship — best exemplified by Valley Venture Mentors, its new accelerator program, and MassMutual’s Springfield Venture Fund — has the potential to provide both.

Springfield is not going to turn into Boston or Cambridge overnight, or even in a decade, most likely, but it will become a hub of entrepreneurial activity, and thus it can become home to dozens and perhaps hundreds of new startup companies.

For all these reasons and many more, 2015 is worthy of the growing sense of optimism this region is experiencing.

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