A Time to Rebuild, Reinvigorate

There’s a new billboard at the rotary just off the Memorial Bridge. It reads ‘Rebuilding West Springfield’ in large block letters, and then directs readers to a Web site with information about the community’s efforts to bounce back from the June 1 tornado.
There’s a lot of symbolism and poignancy attached to this board; it sits alone amid a cluster of sign stanchions from which billboards had been blown off by the tornado. Only a few yards away, a small commercial building sits with its roof caved in. All around the rotary, on the riverfront, and down Memorial Avenue are signs of the devastation, from broken windows to trees shorn of limbs and bark, to business signs missing letters or whole words.
In many ways, the board represents a region starting anew amid rubble. And while the sign says ‘Rebuilding West Springfield’ — it sits at the entrance to that community — one could substitute that name with any of more than dozen other cities or towns, or the region itself.
Indeed, this is a time of rebuilding, but it’s more than that, really. This is a test of the region’s character and its mettle — and it’s also a chance to do something memorable.
Since the tornado hit, there have been countless stories told and retold of bravery, resilience, and, above all, generosity and caring. We’ve all read and heard them: people who lost their homes or businesses putting aside their issues and asking if others needed help; businesses using their influence, resources, and imagination to find ways to assist others and inspiring others to join them; people driving out of their way or doing something extraordinary to support businesses that were in the path of the tornado and desperately needed that support.
Since the tornadoes sliced through Western Mass., there has been a noticeable energy in this region, a determination to persevere and simply rise above. It is our sincere hope that this is not something temporary, something that will dissipate when the blue plastic tarps now covering hundreds of roofs across the region have disappeared from the landscape.
That’s because there were plenty of other issues to contend with in this region long before the tornadoes started to show on Doppler systems — and they will still be here long after all the fallen trees, broken glass, and smashed cars have been picked up. For starters, the recovery of 2011 just hasn’t materialized, and no one knows when it will. Meanwhile, we’re still struggling, mightily, to find new sources of jobs for this region and to present employers with a workforce qualified to carry out those jobs.
The first priority for this region is to rebuild and fully recover from the tornadoes. The second priority, we feel, is to take that aforementioned energy we described, as well as the fortitude and imagination, and apply all that to those other problems in the same way we applied it to the process of recovery.
In very simple terms, what the region did after the storm was essentially raise the bar in terms of its collective resourcefulness. Let’s keep it there, and maybe raise it even higher when it comes to the broad goals we’ve all set for a stronger, more diverse economy.
It’s time to stand out — just like that billboard.

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