Some Things We’d Like to See in 2014

It’s time to say goodbye to 2013.
It was an interesting year in many respects — especially with regard to the casino-gambling picture, which changed in ways that probably couldn’t have been imagined just one year ago when there were four projects still in the running for the Western Mass. license — but one that was not very remarkable from a business standpoint.
Indeed, with the exception of a soaring stock market, which had climbed nearly 25% for the year at press time, this was a year of relative stagnancy, in terms of everything from employment to the overall economy, although there were signs of life toward the end of the year (more on that in a bit).
So, without further ado, it’s time to look ahead and identify some of the things we’d like to see happen in 2014. If all or even most of them come to fruition, it could be quite a year.
• Game On. Let’s start with the casino. As the voters in West Springfield, Palmer, East Boston, and other communities voted thumbs down to casino plans for their communities — dramatically changing and diminishing the competition for coveted licenses as they did so — many began to question whether this state really wants or needs such facilities.
Pollsters would tell you that the numbers show that the majority of state residents still support casinos, but don’t want one in their community. Springfield, in fact, was one of the few communities that said yes, and we hope that cranes start to appear in the city’s South End by the end of next year and that MGM Springfield becomes reality a few years later.
As we’ve said many times, a casino will not, by itself, change the city’s fortunes. But it can become part of the process of bringing new vitality, new jobs, and a new attitude about Springfield. Let’s hope it happens.
• It’s About Time. For close to half a decade now, people have been saying, “this could be the year the economy finally breaks out of its funk.” Well, people are saying it again, and this time, there’s more reason to believe them. Indeed, there are some actual signs — falling unemployment and a rise in state GDP among them — that indicate better times ahead.
We hope those reading these tea leaves are on the money — literally and figuratively — because there hasn’t been much of a recovery in this region, and businesses that have fought through this time deserve some sustained momentum and a year when the books become truly good reading.
• Class Act. Several months ago, the talk about whether UMass would create a downtown Springfield ‘satellite facility’ (the school eschews the word ‘campus’) officially shifted to when it would. School officials announced that UMass Springfield would soon start to take shape on the second floor of Tower Square. As the new year begins, we hope that this news alone starts to create momentum in a downtown that sorely needs a spark, and that, as 2014 unfolds, the construction work and then the facility itself will become a catalyst for more retail development and other forms of progress in the city’s central business district.
• Getting Things Started. Lastly, we hope to see work in 2014 in the broad realm of promoting entrepreneurship and getting new ventures off the ground or to that proverbial next level. There are several programs in place that are addressing this challenge — from Valley Venture Mentors to the Grinspoon Foundation’s Entrepreneurship Initiative to the Business Growth Center at the Technology Park at STCC (see story on age 45)— and this work needs to continue and expand in 2014 and the years to follow.
As we’ve said on many occasions, while it is still possible that a major employer will decide to make Western Mass. home and thus create hundreds or perhaps thousands of new jobs, the more likely scenario is that growth in this region will come organically, through new startups that mature and eventually add to their payrolls.
There are many challenges facing this region, but perhaps the biggest is creating more fuel for the economy. Programs that encourage entrepreneurship and help young businesses grow are a vital part of that equation.

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