Springfield Needs a Regional Rally Cry

Participation – that’s what Springfield’s Economic Development Director Dave Panagore says is needed in the city among private business owners, and we agree.

It’s true that some Springfield businesses have stepped up to the plate to pinch-hit for the City of Homes. Some, perhaps even facing financial constraints of their own, have offered services, such as pro bono legal work, Web site development, or marketing assistance. Others have contributed monetarily; Tim Andrews, who owns Tyre Trak Automotive Center on Chestnut Street, is proving that not all donations need to be of the six-figure variety, by giving the city $10 for each $30 oil change gift certificate he sells (complete with a jar of candy).

And in terms of larger gestures, the news that Springfield-based Baystate Health has made a five-year pledge to the city – beginning with $500,000 and increasing 2.5% each year – is notable in its size, but also in its rarity. For the most part, Springfield businesses have remained spectators as the city struggles, and even more scarce are the businesses outside of Springfield that have offered a helping hand to the region’s largest city in these last few unsteady years.

Again and again, we hear of the many benefits of marketing this region as a whole. Thousands of dollars were spent to create a marketing campaign that promotes the Pioneer Valley as one destination, and in every Visitors Center and Chamber of Commerce across Western Mass., we see four-color brochures touting the many hidden gems of the area, beginning with Dr. Seuss and Gee Bee planes and extending in all directions, toward the land of scented candles and the (booming) Berkshires.

What we aren’t seeing is the major employers of the region investing in its flagship city. Few are mulling development opportunities for satellite locations, and fewer still are offering creative solutions to Springfield’s monetary woes. There are no lines drawn separating Springfield or its problems from the rest of Western Mass., except those created by the disenchanted and disenfranchised, and they must be erased.

It’s not that we simply have to move forward with an ‘all for one, one for all’ perspective, although we do. Rather, it’s important to face the facts: the city is in trouble, finances are in shambles, crime rates are still uncomfortably high, and ‘brain drain’ remains a constant, troubling issue. Springfield cannot survive as an island, and furthermore the problems of the city, economic and otherwise, are already beginning to spread across the region, and that’s not going to stop without some strong, proactive measures. With the talents of management and staff from some of the region’s key economic players – as well as some of its smaller businesses, fueled by entrepreneurial grit and innovation – perhaps some real inroads can be made.

As Mayor Ryan has said, the city needs help, and the source of that help can’t be relegated to the powers-that-be on the city, state, and federal levels alone. It also can’t be limited to Springfield’s largest employers; as much as MassMutual has contributed over the years, we can’t rely on one company forever.

The assistance can be big, or small; it can be offered in trade, as a partnership, or in dollars. But it needs to be offered. Springfield has hit some foul balls in recent years, but the city is one player on a long roster. It’s time for the region’s employers to get in the game, understanding that the team is only as strong as its weakest link.