Continuing the Search for Answers

State Rep. Jim McGovern hit the nail on the head — repeatedly.
In his comments to attendees at a recent symposium titled “Digital Games: Playing in the Valley” (see story, page 17), he said that few industries “can project the growth characteristics of the game industry.” And he’s right. He then said that, to get the regional economy back on its feet, video games comprise “one of the answers.” Right again.
And notice the use of the plural, because it’s important.
Indeed, there are still many people in this region looking for the answer, or the next big thing. After decades of searching, one would think that they would know by now that there isn’t one answer to this region’s problems when it comes to vibrancy, job creation, and overall reinvention from its days as a manufacturing hub. And there won’t be one big thing, either.
It must be many things, or many answers. Which brings us back to the symposium at Hampshire College earlier this month. It was there that speaker after speaker — from college professors to elected officials like McGovern to people like Allan Blair, president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council — talked about how this region could be a hub for video-game-related businesses, and how it should be.
Not all, but most of the active ingredients are there to make this happen, the various speakers said, listing everything from cost of living to a critical mass of young college students, to a quality of life sought by the younger generations. The challenge, they said, is to foster this young, still-growing industry, and to overcome the hurdles, such as the lack of a solid reputation in this industry and also the incomprehensible lack of high-speed Internet access in some of the more remote but still-desirable areas of this region.
The day’s events and speeches could be summed up as a call to action, an effort to raise awareness when it comes to the job potential of a still-misunderstood subsector of the economy, and an attempt to rally the necessary support to convert something that most consider a longshot into something doable.
We need more events like this in Western Mass. because we need to tap a number of wells when it comes to innovation and job creation, in fields like video games, green energy, the biosciences, medical-instrument manufacturing, and more.
The first step is to acknowledge and understand the full potential of some of these emerging industries or clusters — and many speakers admitted that they hadn’t previously had such an appreciation of the video-game sector — and then to be carefully aggressive in creating an environment in which such ventures can thrive.
‘Carefully aggressive’ might sound like an oxymoron, but it’s not. Cities, regions, and states must indeed be aggressive when it comes to supporting potential jobs — Rhode Island was when it gave former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s video-game business, 38 Studios, a $75 million loan to get to the next level in the Ocean State — but they must also be prudent. Massachusetts learned the lesson the hard way when it gave huge incentives to Evergreen Solar, not understanding that market forces would soon drive production of such systems overseas.
No one could have imagined 30 years ago that video games would be a course of study in college and a source of many thousands of jobs worldwide. Likewise, no one knows what we’ll be saying these same things about 30 years from now.
What we do know is that the region must be diligent in its search for answers — in the plural — because it will take many of them to create the solid jobs our communities will need moving forward.

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