The Glass Is More Than Half Full

There have been a lot jokes lately about people seeing a plague of locusts coming down State Street in Springfield — or what they would do if they did see one.
Likewise, there’s been more attempted humor concerning the notion that adversity builds character. If it does, most in this region would say we’ve got more than enough character, thank you.
Indeed, it’s been quite a year, and it’s far from over. The winter was long and brutal. The recovery … that should be put in the form of a question, as in ‘what recovery?’ Gas prices soared back up over $4 a gallon, and although they’re down a little, they remain a challenge to progress. Meanwhile, debt crises here and abroad have sent the stock market reeling in recent weeks and raised the specter of the dreaded double dip.
Then came the natural disasters: first the tornado, from which full recovery will take years, then the minor earthquake (no damage, but it shook people up, literally and figuratively), and then the tropical storm, which didn’t hit with full fury, but try telling that to many people in Franklin County.
So as 2011 heads for the three-quarter pole, many people are looking for the locusts, figuring they have to be next. However, while being pessimistic and cynical in this climate — both economically and meteorologically —  there is room for a little optimism. In other words, yes, things could be much worse, and they are in many parts of this country and other nations as well. Why see the glass as at least half full? Consider these reasons:
• Adversity does, indeed, build character, and out of the trials and travails of 2011, some positive energy and new sources of resiliency have been found. The tornado turned many sections of Springfield, West Springfield, and other communities upside down, but now there is a chance to rebuild and perhaps create momentum from new initiatives. Meanwhile, the sum of the natural disasters and other forms of turmoil (and survival of all of that) could create more needed confidence in the region — an ‘if we can make though all this, we can make it through anything’ mentality.
• The jobs market, while not robust, or anything approaching that description, is at least holding steady, with signs of progress. The cutbacks at Baystate Health and Milton Bradley have been the only real setbacks, while companies such as Smith & Wesson, Big Y, and others have been adding workers, and many businesses are seemingly on the cusp of having enough confidence to move forward with new hiring.
• The region continues to foster entrepreneurship through incubation efforts and mentorship programs that will eventually pay huge dividends for the Greater Springfield area. As we’ve said many times before, while it’s great to lure corporations that will bring hundreds of jobs to an area, the more likely scenario for growth is through small-business development, and this region is making great strides in efforts to encourage entrepreneurial thinking and help companies survive those ultra-challenging first few years.
• The ‘eds and meds’ sectors remain strong and show promise to become even greater forces in the local economy. Baystate’s Hospital of the Future is on schedule to open soon, and most all area health care providers have survived the recent economic upheaval more or less intact. The pace of hiring has slowed, but it is still solid. On the higher-education side, schools like American International College have enjoyed strong growth (see story, page 10), while all the institutions in the region have contributed critical resources — especially their student populations — to help spur economic development in many forms, both in individual communities such as Westfield, Chicopee, and Holyoke, and across the region as a whole.
We haven’t even mentioned the high-performance computing center in Holyoke, the emerging ‘green’ business sectors, and the strong possibility that a casino will be built in Palmer or Holyoke over the next several years.
Add it all up, and there is indeed reason for optimism, not merely cause to look over the hill for locusts.

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