2010: A Year of Some Forward Progress

When all is said and done, 2010 will go down as a rather unremarkable year when it comes to business and economic development in Western Mass. Quite unremarkable might be more accurate.
Overall, there were few large-scale success stories, and as far as individual businesses were concerned, few if any will be calling this their proverbial ‘best year ever.’ As for headlines, besides the economy, which simply didn’t rebound here the way everyone was hoping and some were expecting, the next-biggest story was the groundbreaking for the high-performance computing center in Holyoke. This was really a 2009 story, and the groundbreaking was rather underwhelming and anti-climactic.
But while this past year lacked real drama, there were many stories from the pages of BusinessWest that seem to indicate some forward progress and give cause for optimism, if one is inclined to be optimistic.
Here are some positives to come away with:
• More signs of life in downtown Springfield. Maybe not as we’d like, but there are some. The lights are on in the old federal building, and the major landscaping work outside is nearly complete. The retenanting of the structure, a work in progress to be sure, will bring more foot traffic downtown and could help spur more retail development in a central business district that needs it.
Meanwhile, the Asylum building is coming down (not just yet, but soon, we hear) and the New England Farm Workers’ Council has acquired the historic Bowles Building, with designs on bringing market-rate housing and perhaps some retail to the long-vacant upper floors of the property known primarily as home to the Student Prince restaurant.
Other signs of progress: One Financial Plaza is turning more lights on, the State Street Corridor project added new chapters, work is underway on the new data center to take shape in the old Technical High School, and the ‘sneaker’ project, otherwise known as Art and Soles, spread some color downtown and gave people another reason to visit. And some did.
• More involvement from the state university. UMass Amherst Chancellor Robert Holub and his fedoras were seemingly everywhere this year, from the computing center festivities to an expansion of the Pioneer Valley Life Sciences Institute, to ceremonies marking construction of the new $156 million New Laboratory Sciences Building on the Amherst campus.
The multiple sightings of Holub and his hats mean that the university is doing what we know it has to do — become more of a force in this region. Initiatives such as those outlined above, as well as the university’s many other initiatives in Springfield, from the sneakers project to taking a lead role at the Andrew M. Scibelli Enterprise Center at the Technology Park at STCC, all bode well for the future.
• The continued health of the ‘eds and meds’ sector. These institutions have been hit hard by the recession, just like every other sector, but they continue to be the rock of the local economy. Area hospitals have weathered the economic storm and appear ready for a rebound, while the $250 million Hospital of the Future at Baystate Medical Center moves quickly toward an opening that will mean substantial job growth.
On the eds side, the renamed Westfield State University is playing a key role in revitalizing the downtown in that city, while Holyoke Community College is expanding its presence with the new learning center downtown. Meanwhile, other institutions, from Elms to Bay Path to AIC, continue to make an impact far outside their campuses.
There were many other positive stories in 2010, from the continued growth of the biosciences and clean-energy sectors to advancement of the Ludlow Mills project being undertaken by WestMass Development Corp. Together, they don’t make 2010 a year of big headlines or profound developments. But it was a year of some important forward progress.

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