Some Things We’d Like to See in 2016
As 2015 draws to a close, it’s time to look back, and ahead, with some thoughts on what we would like to see happen — and need to see happen — in 2016.
This past year was supposed to be one in which the landscape in Springfield and its downtown was supposed to change and the many signs of progress would become evident. We saw some of that — work progressed at Union Station, though the parking garage has still to take shape; work has begun on I-91, and the Route 5 rotary project is nearing completion; and ground was broken for the subway-car manufacturing facility in East Springfield — but not as much as expected.
Hopefully, 2016 will be the year when cranes start filling the skies and, more importantly, the construction job growth that everyone has anticipated becomes reality.
Here are some other things we want to see in 2016:
• A normalizing of relations with MGM: It was a trying, frustrating year for the company, and, as its president told BusinessWest see story, page 6), much of the pain was self-inflicted, primarily because MGM didn’t anticipate the level of public scrutiny that comes in a state, and city, new to the casino industry, and thus didn’t communicate plan changes early enough or with the proper sensitivity.
Mike Mathis said changes such as a scrapping of the hotel tower in favor of a different design would be a “non-event” in Las Vegas or Macau. The company knew that wouldn’t be the case here, but it still badly underestimated the scope of the reaction. The same was the case when the overall size of the footprint was reduced.
Still, and we’ve said this before, the company is one of the most prolific casino builders in the world, and it deserves to get the benefit of the doubt in such matters.
We hope that MGM receives such a response in the years to come.
• A continued focus on entrepreneurship: It will be some time before the current focus on inspiring and facilitating entrepreneurship generates real results in the form of good-paying jobs. Indeed, most of the companies now involved in such programs are very small and have only limited potential to get much bigger.
But that doesn’t mean this initiative is not important. The current renaissance in entrepreneurship has several potential benefits — from new jobs to filling office and old mill space in a host of area cities; from sparking a rebirth in interest in downtown Springfield to keeping emerging companies in the 413 area code.
Such ventures are not something we can base an economy on, to be sure, but they can be — and will be — an important piece of the puzzle.
• More work to close the skills gap: You hear it now from business owners in every sector of the economy: ‘We need help, we have job openings, but we can’t find the right people.’
It’s not merely a problem, it’s an epidemic, and it’s only going to get worse in the years to come as Baby Boomers head into retirement.
A few years ago, it seemed that many business owners and economic-development leaders were in denial on this issue and didn’t recognize it for what it was. We think that threshold has been passed, and people are now taking it seriously. What’s needed is a comprehensive action plan involving employers, area colleges and universities, and other key stakeholders, to not only make sure individuals have the needed skills, but that they don’t take them to another state.
• Renewed efforts to bolster the region’s manufacturing base: The subway-car plant has put manufacturing in this region front and center once again in terms of perception and pride. But the reality is that the manufacturing sector — though certainly smaller than it was decades ago — has always been a vital part of the economy.
And it can be a source of growth, even with those workforce issues cited above. This region has a number of assets, and one that is often overlooked or taken for granted is the skilled precision-manufacturing workforce.
It’s a saleable commodity, and the EDC needs to be more aggressive in its efforts to sell it. Yes, money is tight when it comes to marketing this area, and competition for manufacturing jobs is immense and global.
But this is one of the region’s strengths, and it should be exploited.