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Seeding the Field

Developers Conference Is Designed to Create a Buzz About Springfield

John Judge

John Judge

John Judge says the so-called Developers Conference initiated by Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno has evolved considerably in its short, 18-month existence.
The first few events staged in 2009 amounted to what Judge, Springfield’s chief development officer, called “dog-and-pony shows” designed to introduce or reintroduce the development community to sites ranging from the York Street Jail property to the Memorial II industrial park near Smith & Wesson, to the former Indian Motocycle complex in Mason Square.
There will still be a chance to see some of those sites and others at the Oct. 27 conference, said Judge, but this event will go well beyond maps, aerial photos of property primed for redevelopment, and guided tours.
“This conference is more about ideas than it is about real estate,” said Judge, adding that the primary goals are to create a buzz about Springfield and help make the kinds of connections needed to bring business owners to the City of Homes or one of its suburbs. “We want to showcase the city and the region, especially to people who haven’t seen it in a few years; we want people to take a new look at us as a place to invest in, start a new business, or come together with an existing business and help it grow.
“I want this to help reaffirm that we want to be the capital of Western New England,” he continued, “and innovation is certainly the key to that — it’s where the job growth is. We want to say to people inside our city and outside it that we want to take the lead on innovation.”
More than 200 people are expected for the conference, which will be staged at the Basketball Hall of Fame and run from 8:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. A networking breakfast will kick off the event, followed by some remarks from Sarno and Allan Blair, president and CEO of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council. The latter will provide an orientation of Springfield and the larger Knowledge Corridor, the stretch between Northampton and Hartford.
There will then be a series of presentations and panel discussions, with subjects ranging from “Comprehensive Project Planning: Designing to Achieve Sustainability” to “Transportation Infrastructure in the Pioneer Valley,” to “Financial and Project Support Resources for Clean Energy and Resource Business in Western Massachusetts.”
The likely highlight of the conference, however, will be a keynote address from Stanley Kowalski III, founder of FloDesign Wind Turbine, a Wilbraham-based company trying to bring a radical new turbine design to the market. His talk, like many that day, will be focused on innovation, said Judge, and how the Valley can be home to more of it.
Judge said that while the guest lists for prior conferences were dominated by real-estate brokers and developers, this year there will be more of a mix, with business owners, government officials, property owners, financial-services professionals, and others. The broad goal is have attendees make the connections that will spur economic development.
“There will be some of the usual suspects — the contractors, developers, architects, anyone interested in design and innovation,” he said, “but there will also be some entrepreneurs, owners of small businesses or established businesses that might not have anything to do with commercial real-estate development; they’re just trying to grow their business.”
When asked how he will gauge the success of this year’s conference, Judge said it will likely be some time before one can assess whether the goals were accomplished. He told BusinessWest that his primary objective is to get people taking about Springfield and the region in a way that will generate progress and new economic development.
“The buzz is key — that water-cooler PR, if you will,” he said, “when people go back to their business in Boston or Hartford or New York City and say, ‘hey, I was in Springfield, Massachusetts last week … they’re really re-inventing themselves; there’s some great opportunities up there, and we should consider it.”
Beyond that buzz, he wants to drive traffic to some of the specific sites available in Springfield and the region, and, as he said, acquaint or reacquaint people with the City of Homes.
“We really want people to start thinking of Springfield first,” he concluded, “and bring people together around ideas. We want to seed the field and see what grows.”
And that’s why the 2010 Developers Conference is much more than a dog-and-pony show.
For more information on the conference or to register, call (413) 787-6020.

— George O’Brien

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