‘Corridor’ Requires Patience – and Urgency

It would be easy to say that, a decade after it was created, the brand Knowledge Corridor hasn’t exactly caught on. Nor does it seem to be generating great results in this region.
Indeed, few people seem to be using the term — it appears reserved for the economic-development leaders who coined the phrase, and even they don’t employ it often — and when someone does use it, it seems strange and almost out of place.
Meanwhile, there seem to be very few real success stories that can be attributed to the so-called corridor. Officials struggle to name companies that have come to this region because they were impressed by the numbers put up by the corridor when one aggregates the Springfield and Hartford areas, and other successes need quotation marks around that word.
That includes Northwest Airlines’ flight from Bradley International Airport to Amsterdam, which was launched in part because of those aggregated numbers and amid much fanfare, but was soon discontinued, scheduled for resumption, and then canceled again.
High-speed rail is said to be a program helped along by the formation of the corridor, and another initiative — the Web site internhere.com — has been hailed as a successful corridor-wide effort to keep young people in the region after they graduate from area colleges.
Add it all up, and it doesn’t seem like much for a decade’s work.
But just as Rome wasn’t built in a day, an economic region isn’t built in 10 years — or even 20, by most standards — especially when it isn’t marketed extensively and the last two of the 10 years in question have been part of the worst recession since the 1930s.
In other words, it’s far too early to say with any degree of confidence whether the corridor concept will ultimately be successful.
However, it’s definitely not too early to say that the corridor ultimately makes a great deal of sense, and also that both states need to make much more of a commitment to this region if it is to have chance to successfully compete against the likes of North Carolina’s Research Triangle, Silicon Valley, and other well-established economic regions.
Right now, that commitment, in the form of money with which officials on both sides of the border can market the corridor, just isn’t there, due largely to the toll the recession is taking on state budgets.
When the economy improves and states have more flexibility in their budgets, Massachusetts and Connecticut have to get serious about properly funding the corridor, because the numbers do, indeed, jump off the page when you show them to people. By themselves, the Hartford and Springfield metropolitan areas do not exactly stand out with site selectors, largely because neither one cracks the magic 1 million mark when it comes to population or workforce.
Put them together, and they approach 2 million in population, much of it college education. And then there are those 30-odd colleges and universities that graduate tens of thousands of people (and potential employees) every spring.
And, when marketed aggressively and effectively, Hartford can certainly be seen as much more than the insurance capital of the world, and Springfield can be viewed as more than a manufacturing center long past its prime. They can both be presented as cities with economic diversity and emerging sectors, such as biotech and clean energy.
In short, some patience is needed with the corridor — it took decades for the Research Triangle to emerge, for example — but also some energy, or urgency. The corridor has to become more than a phrase that economic-development leaders and even Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick can throw out (and he has) when the time seems right. It has to be something that people believe in and become committed to.
Otherwise, we might be saying the same thing about this region 30 or 40 years from now.

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