Opinion

Signs of Progress Abound in Springfield

Opinion

By Domenic Sarno

The New Year is an appropriate time to reflect on all of the important milestones that have been achieved in Springfield over the past year, and to prepare for a 2016 that promises to be even more prosperous.

It is clear that 2015 has been extremely significant in terms of our city’s economic development history. The city’s largest project ever, MGM Springfield, has progressed from an interesting concept several years ago to a fully realized $950 million project in 2015 with site preparation and demolition now underway. This project will result in 3,000 new, permanent jobs and will bring new amenities to our downtown that will help support and attract further development.

CRRC Corp. also made great progress in 2015, completing its site purchase and breaking ground on a $95 million railcar production facility that will bring state-of-the-art manufacturing and assembly back to the historic former Westinghouse site. As many Northeastern cities deal with a continuing loss of industry, Springfield is welcoming 150 new, permanent jobs to the CRRC facility, with the possibility of many more to come as the company seeks additional contracts across the country.

While projects of this scale are incredibly important to our city and regional economy for many reasons, what is even more exciting is the spinoff that will be created. MGM Springfield will spend $50 million on local contracting each year, which means more small-business jobs, more tax revenue, and more activity than what happens just within the project footprint.

We’ve already seen a hospitality-driven company like Falvey Linen, an 85-year old Rhode Island business, making the largest investment in its history in establishing a new facility here in Springfield. CRRC Corp. will have a similar effect on our local small-shop manufacturing economy because its production will require a constant influx of specialized parts and products.

The positive impact of the rebirth of Union Station is obvious. Vacant since the 1970s, the station is now undergoing an extensive renovation, and many signs of progress are evident. With the former baggage building now fully demolished, the historic terminal building being fully restored, and a 377-space parking garage starting to rise, the future of transit in our city is starting to come into focus.

By the end of 2016, we will have reopened a gleaming new Union Station. Soon thereafter, we will welcome regular commuter service to Hartford, New Haven, and beyond, in addition to our regular Amtrak service. This project, too, will generate tremendous spinoffs of economic and real-estate development.

These two mega-projects, Union Station and MGM Springfield, will become thriving bookends for our very walkable downtown, which is itself experiencing a rebirth. Springfield Museums is working diligently on a new Dr. Seuss Museum that will become a major attraction. And Silverbrick Lofts, with assistance from the city’s market-rate-housing program, has become a huge success in redeveloping the former Morgan Square apartment complex into a place where young professionals have started to flock for urban living.

The city has also partnered with MassDevelopment to create a Transformative Development Initiative district, which has brought with it a host of tools for revitalizing the former Entertainment District as a fully functioning innovation and dining district.

Of course, innovation is nothing new to the ‘City of Firsts,’ and we have been steadily putting the pieces together to a downtown that is truly unique. From Valley Venture Mentors to Tech Foundry; from TechSpring to DevelopSpringfield’s Innovation Center, substantial momentum is building in Springfield. And this trend is attracting a wide range of entrepreneurs and innovators.

Ultimately, what this wide swath of economic activity means is we are entering a year when workforce readiness will be a priority. All of the exciting projects currently underway will not be successful if we cannot link our Springfield residents with appropriate skills-training programs to prepare them for the opportunities on the horizon. The city has already begun investing in workforce training related to these opportunities, and that focus will only become more intense as we move closer to fruition on so many of these projects.

The public sector, of course, cannot move forward on these projects and efforts alone. It will take the cooperation and participation of businesses, nonprofit organizations, higher education, neighborhood councils, and many others. It will be absolutely critical that we are all rowing in the same direction.

Domenic Sarno is mayor of Springfield.

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