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SPRINGFIELD — The City2City initiative, formed in 2010 as a way to identify best practices in metro areas that can be applied to the Springfield metro region, will host a one-day trip around the Pioneer Valley on Monday, Oct. 30 to highlight new or ongoing collaborations.

Organizers will fill a Peter Pan coach, and stops include the Basketball Hall of Fame, where a major renovation is planned; the Pioneer Valley Riverfront Club, which has opened the Connecticut River to rowing and recreation; the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center in Holyoke; the Ludlow Mills project and renovation of Mill 10 into a residential community; and Union Station in Springfield.

As part of the program, the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts will host TED-style talks on a number of collaborative local initiatives, including the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, the Springfield Innovation District, Leadership Pioneer Valley, Valley Venture Mentors, and Partners for a Healthier Community/the Public Health Institute of Western Massachusetts.

The full program can be accessed online by clicking here.

There is limited seating on the trip, but space is currently available, and the cost is $75 to cover meals. Peter Pan Bus Lines has donated a coach to transport participants on the trip, being dubbed “One Day, One Region, One Experience,” as travelers will see and hear about successful collaborations up close.

City2City was created to connect leadership from the Pioneer Valley with other metro areas adopting successful strategies in a number of areas, originally with the assistance of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston. Previous learning trips have been taken to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; New Haven, Conn.; Bethlehem and Allentown, Pa.; and Chattanooga, Tenn.

The trip to the Pioneer Valley was designed to take stock of current collaborations in economic development, technology, health and wellness, tourism, and innovation. The initiative is being hosted by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and is co-chaired by Shayvonne Plummer of the Economic Development Office of the City of Springfield and Paul Robbins, principal of Paul Robbins Associates Strategic Communications.

Cover Story

Assignment: Springfield

Laura Masulis

Laura Masulis says working on initiatives to increase foot traffic downtown is among her goals.

Before last spring, about all Laura Masulis knew of Springfield was what she could see off I-91 as she drove back and forth to Wesleyan. But when she was chosen as one of MassDevelopment’s Transformative Development Initiative fellows, and the city was selected to be granted such an individual, she got off the highway, took a much closer look, and became intrigued, to say the least. A match was made, and now she’s heavily involved in all efforts to make downtown a destination.

Laura Masulis grew up in Nashville, which is known worldwide for its music industry and, in recent decades, a burgeoning healthcare sector. But for most of her adult life, she’s had what she called a soft spot for “old industrial cities.”

That sentiment helps explain why she considers her current assignment, as a so-called Transformative Development Initiative (TDI) fellow working in Springfield for MassDevelopment, a “match made in heaven.”

Indeed, Springfield’s long history as a manufacturing hub and current work to reinvent itself certainly resonated with Masulis as she was rating potential landing spots within the statewide TDI program as part of a matching process similar to the one experienced by graduating medical-school students.

“We rate them, and they rate us,” said Masulis, 28, as she talked about how she interviewed in Springfield, Lynn, and Haverhill, and officials in those communities ranked the various candidates as much as the candidates ranked potential destinations. “I ranked Springfield first, and they ranked me first, so it was pretty simple.”

But there was more than an industrial heritage that convinced Masulis that she wanted Springfield to be her home, figuratively and quite literally — she recently purchased a home in the Forest park neighborhood — for at least the three-year duration of her assignment.

There was also its many forms of diversity — Masulis majored in Latin American studies and economics in college — as well as the architecture downtown, cultural attractions, and, most importantly, vast potential for improvement.

“I was amazed by how visually beautiful the city was, in both the downtown and the neighborhoods — that surprised me,” she noted. “I was moved by the architecture, excited about the diversity of the community, and intrigued by all that’s happening; it’s definitely an exciting time for this city.”

Her general assignment is Springfield, but, more specifically, it’s a several-block area downtown that it is now called the Innovation District — a name that is slowly working its way into the lexicon but is still used almost exclusively by elected officials and development leaders. Perhaps more importantly, it has been designated by MassDevelopment as a TDI District, with the focus squarely on the first two words in that acronym — ‘transformative’ and ‘development.’

MassDevelopment literature outlining the TDI initiative defines that phrase this way: “transformative development is redevelopment on a scale and character capable of catalyzing significant follow-on private investment, leading over time to transformation of an entire downtown or urban neighborhood, and consistent with local plans.”

There are 10 TDI projects in various stages of progression across the Commonwealth, including those focused on the so-called TOD District in Holyoke, the Tyler Street District in Pittsfield, the One Lynn District in Lynn, the Merrimac Street Transformative District in Haverhill, the North River Neighborhood in Peabody, Downtown Gateway in Brockton, and the Theater District in Worcester.

In Springfield, the TDI District stretches, for the most part, from Main Street to just east of Chestnut Street, and from Bridge Street to Lyman Street. It includes the city’s entertainment district, Apremont Triangle, Stearns Square, the park located on the former Steiger’s site (now known as Center Square), and the so-called ‘blast zone,’ those blocks heavily damaged by the November 2012 natural-gas explosion.

As part of efforts to transform the identified districts, the Gateway cities can apply for what’s known as a ‘mid-career fellow’ to help develop and implement strategic initiatives. Springfield, Lynn, and Haverhill prevailed in the spirited competition for the first three fellows to be funded by MassDevelopment (three more will be assigned in 2016), and that brings us back to Masulis and that matching process.

Her assignment, which started in May, dictates that she works closely with several local development-focused agencies, including the city’s Economic Development Department, the Springfield Business Improvement District, DevelopSpringfield, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, and others, and thus she’s been involved in a number of recent initiatives.

These include everything from movie nights at Stearns Square over the summer (The Princess Bride was among the films shown) to the recent pop-up Downtown Springfield Holiday Market; from Valley Venture Mentors workshops to public stakeholder meetings (the latest was on Dec. 17); from a project at Market Place involving UMass landscape architecture students (see related story, page 41) to the recent City2City trip to Chattanooga, Tenn. (her thoughts on that excursion later).

She said much has been accomplished, but much more obviously needs to be done to transform the district into a place people will not only want to visit, but also live in and start a business in.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked at length with Masulis about her assignment, the TDI District, and her thoughts on what the future might bring for the City of Homes — now her own home.

Developing Story

Masulis did her undergraduate work at Wesleyan University in suburban Middletown, Conn. But she’s spent the past several years working and going to school in Boston (she earned a certificate in nonprofit management and leadership at Boston University), and, as mentioned earlier, she grew up in Nashville.

So she’s used to streets teeming with people, and is thus well-acquainted with the energy — as well as the sense of security — that such a critical mass provides.

And those are two of the things she noticed were largely missing during her visits here early on — and are still missing, for the most part. She noted that the clubs along Worthington Street can be crowded — and parking spots hard to find throughout the entertainment district — on weekend nights, but her impression is that the streets are seemingly, and somewhat alarmingly, empty too much of the time.

“I was moved by the fact that there was so little foot traffic,” she told BusinessWest. “At night, you only feel unsafe because there’s no one around. That was sort of an eerie thing to experience when I first got here.”

It’s not officially written into her job description, but doing something about that quiet on the streets, the lack of foot traffic, is a very big part of why she’s here.

And that goal has been at the forefront of many of those efforts described earlier, from the movies in the park to the holiday market. But there is obviously much more to this assignment than announcing such events with chalk on downtown sidewalks, as Masulis could often be seen doing over the past several months.

Indeed, the work involves strategic planning, developing partnerships to carry out initiatives identified in those plans, meeting with the key stakeholders, and, overall, creating and maintaining a buzz about downtown and, more specifically, the TDI District.

Springfield’s Transformative Development Initiative District

Springfield’s Transformative Development Initiative District encompasses several blocks in the city’s entertainment district and so-called ‘blast zone.’

Masulis brings to these various duties a diverse background that includes work with social-service agencies and small businesses. She’s served as a program assistant for the Center for Women and Enterprise and as a business analyst for the Public Consulting Group, and also co-founded the still-operating Lawrence BiciCocina, a community bike and board workshop in Lawrence (another of those old industrial cities) to promote healthy lifestyles, sustainable and low-cost transportation, youth leadership development, and job training.

Most recently, she’s been a senior project manager for Interise, the Boston-based venture that stimulates economic growth in lower-income communities by helping established small-business owners grow and expand their ventures.

She said this background meshed effectively with what Springfield and its TDI District perhaps most needed — small-business recruitment, retention, and development efforts — and this contributed to those ‘match made in heaven’ sentiments.

Masulis admitted that, prior to last spring, about all she knew of Springfield was what she could see from I-91 as she traveled on that road to get to Wesleyan nearly a decade ago. When the city became one of the finalists to be assigned a fellow, she said she got off the highway for a weekend visit that focused on the downtown and the TDI District itself.

As she mentioned, she was somewhat unnerved by the lack of foot traffic — “sort of creepy” was another of the phrases she used to describe it — but looked past it to its many attributes and considerable growth potential, something she says many of those who live and work in the city have a much harder time doing.

“People from the outside can often appreciate the many assets of a city more than the people who are there every day,” she explained. “And I definitely experienced that with Springfield.”

What’s in Store?

As she talked about her assignment, Masulis said it is unique, in many respects, with regard to others within the broad realms of economic development and urban planning. Getting more specific, she said that, while there are certainly many meetings to attend — she didn’t attempt to guesstimate how many she’s been part of since arriving — her work mostly involves implementation, which is what she likes most about it.

And there is plenty of implementation to do, considering the various initiatives taking place in the city and the many partner agencies she works with. Which means that the calendar is full and each day is different.

“It’s an interesting role because I’m doing 15 things at once,” she explained. “I’m working with projects involving the Pioneer Planning Commission on the walkability of downtown and signage and pedestrian infrastructure. And the next meeting I’m at, we’re talking about recruiting restaurants for the district, and at the next meeting, I’m talking with property owners about improvements that need to be made and how they’re going to finance those.

“I’m meeting with residents who are talking about how they wish there was better lighting on their street,” she went on. “It’s a broad spectrum of issues and initiatives, and every day is a complete mix of things. And while geographically I’m very focused on this one district of downtown, all the issues are interconnected to the city and the region, so I wind up being part of these broader initiatives and conversations.”

As for the TDI District itself, Masulis said the basic mission is to make it a destination — or much more of a destination — for a wide array of constituencies. These include people looking for a place — or places — at which to spend a night out, individuals who want to do some shopping, entrepreneurs looking for a location to launch or relocate a hospitality-related enterprise, and people looking for a place to live. And she’s working with the various partner agencies to anticipate and meet the needs of those and other groups.

“This is an entertaining, dining, innovation district that has seen a couple of major investments made, but a lot of it has yet to be built out,” she said, citing the stunning transformation of the Fuller Block as an example of the type of development that could — and hopefully will — happen at dozens of buildings and vacant lots within the district.

“That’s a perfect model for what could happen to buildings across the district,” she said of the property, which now houses National Public Radio, the Dennis Group (an engineering company), and a host of other tenants. “And there have been others that have not been rehabbed, including those in the blast zone, on the extreme end.”

One of the keys to making such redevelopment happen is successful recruitment of new businesses, she said, adding that such work represents just one component of her work involving small businesses. Another is working with those that are already located within the district, she noted, adding that, while attracting new ventures is critical, so too is making sure existing ventures can thrive and thus serve as models for others.

“I’m doing on-the-ground work with the established businesses there — making sure they know what’s going on and have awareness of the various resources available to them,” she said. “And there’s also the work of recruiting businesses from around the region who could potentially open another location in Springfield.

“But I’m also part of the conversation about building out the small business and entrepreneurship pipeline in the region,” she went on, “and for filling in the gaps and having a more cohesive umbrella regarding all the resources available. We need to pull those together more tightly and in a more user-friendly way than what’s currently in place.”

The Right Place and Time

Still another factor that made Springfield a desirable landing spot, said Masulis, was the fact that her three-year assignment — which could go much longer — coincides with an obviously intriguing chapter in the city’s history and reinvention process.

one of 10 across the state

Springfield’s TDI District is one of 10 across the state identified by MassDevelopment.

Beyond the elephant in the room — the $900 million MGM Springfield, which is scheduled to open its doors around the time Masulis’ three-year tenure wraps up — there are other initiatives, including the redevelopment of Union Station, the construction of a subway-car manufacturing plant in the east side of the city, a wave of entrepreneurial energy that manifests itself in the form of the various Valley Venture Mentors initiatives, the new innovation center downtown, and much more.

And Masulis feels privileged to be in a position to not just watch it happen, but play a role in how events transpire, especially with regard to the entrepreneurial piece of the puzzle.

“I feel very lucky to be coming in at this point,” she told BusinessWest. “I definitely recognize that there’s been a huge amount of work and sweat equity already put in to developing this entrepreneurship culture; I’m just here to provide some additional capacity to help keep it moving forward.”

As for the bigger picture — and where Springfield and its TDI District might be three years from now, or 10, or 20 — Masulis, acknowledging that she was taking that outsider’s perspective, even with eight months of work downtown under her belt, takes a decidedly optimistic view.

“Regardless of what happens with MGM, there is already a lot of positive energy in the city, and that includes the innovation and dining space,” she said, referring to the real estate within the TDI District that comprises her primary focus. “There’s a lot of momentum when it comes to the anchors that are already in place that we really want to build upon; what we want to do is fill storefronts with positive activity.”

The pop-up Downtown Springfield Holiday Market was an example of this, she said, adding that the initiative, based in the ground-floor space of the building most still know as Harrison Place, was designed to increase foot traffic while also giving retailers, who take on temporary, or pop-up space, a chance to try on downtown Springfield and see if the shoe might fit.

“That’s one strategy to get more retailers to come downtown and try it out,” she explained. “For us, the plan is to then transition them into longer-term leases in more permanent locations. In five years, we want to see a lot more foot traffic on the street, not just on workdays, but also at night and on weekends. The goal is fewer vacant storefronts and more people utilizing the green spaces that are already there.”

Masulis said she’s heard all about how vibrant Tower Square was decades ago, and also about Johnson’s Bookstore, Forbes & Wallace, Steiger’s, and all the other retail now relegated to the past tense. She said the goal moving forward isn’t about restoring the past, but creating something different, equally vibrant, and more reflective of the changes that have taken place over the past four decades.

“We have a very different community than we had 30 years ago,” she noted. “What’s going to be in the future is not going to be a perfect replication of what was.”

She acknowledged that the task of getting more people to live and do business downtown is a complicated process — people won’t live in the area until there are things to, and there won’t be things to do unless there are people living in and coming to the area. But she believes progress will come on both fronts, and this will generate continued progress.

“You need to work on both things at the same time,” she said of the commercial and residential aspects of the equation. “And you have to find a couple of risk takers who are willing to come out early before the proven model.”

She said the Chattanooga trip, while energizing, certainly, provided ample evidence of how much work remains to be done, but also how much progress Springfield has already made, especially with regard to creating opportunities and closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots, something Chattanooga has not done as well.

When asked if Springfield could host a similar program now, or when it might be able to do so, Masulis said that, in many respects, she believes the city is already there, but that, in a few years, it will have many more success stories to put on display.

“In five years, Springfield will look very different, and I really hope that we’ll be in a position where people want to visit this city and we’re able to show that not only do we have these flashy projects that have been very successful, but we’ve made real strides in reducing inequality as well.”

At Home with the Idea

Those words ‘we’ll’ and ‘we’re,’ while seemingly innocuous, are rather telling when it comes to this fellowship and how Masulis looks upon it.

She’s not just someone working in Springfield on a project funded by MassDevelopment. OK, she is, but rather quickly, she’s become an integral part of the multi-faceted effort to revitalize and reinvent one of the old industrial cities she’s so fond of. And she’s using words like ‘we’re’ and ‘we’ll.’

More than that, she’s already talking about how that house in Forest Park may be home for much longer than three years.

In the meantime, she’s in the middle of something special — a match, as she said, that was seemingly made in heaven.

 

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]

Features

When 30 economic-development, nonprofit, and community leaders from Greater Springfield visited Chattanooga last month as part of the City2City Pioneer Valley program, they heard, over and over, about the time Walter Cronkite called it “the dirtiest city in America.” That story is clearly part of the community’s DNA — but so is 45 years of recovery and rebirth, both ecologically and economically. How Tennessee’s fourth-largest city accomplished those goals, and its challenges moving forward, provide plenty of inspiration and food for thought back home in the Bay State.

riverfront

Chattanooga’s recovery has included a cleanup of its riverfront.

In the 1960s, Ron Littlefield says, no one needed GPS to find Tennessee’s fourth-largest city.

“You could tell when you were getting close to Chattanooga because you could smell Chattanooga; it stunk,” said the former mayor, who served from 2005 to 2013. “It was an old foundry city. And when you had stormy weather, you had inversions, because we have mountains and valleys, and it would trap the smoke, and you would literally be eating smoke when you walked outside.”

City leaders were mortified when, in October 1969, Walter Cronkite came across a recent EPA study, sat down behind the news desk, looked into the camera, and declared Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America.”

“It was so bad that people had to change their shirts in the middle of the day,” said John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. “They were tough times — but tough times create opportunities.”

In truth, Bridger continued, many residents put up with the pollution because the manufacturing sector was chugging along, but Cronkite’s report jarred them out of complacency. “If not for those challenges, I don’t think we would have changed, because we were comfortable. We were the dynamo of Dixie — why change what we were doing if we were making money? But that report created an impetus for change; it brought a new perspective.”

Still, Chattanooga was no overnight turnaround. Even after efforts to clean up the waterway and better connect the riverfront with the downtown area, a downturn in the region’s manufacturing base led to mass flight from the city, which lost more than 10% of its population during the 1980s. But, as current Mayor Andy Berke points out, it was the only American city with that level of population loss during the ’80s to actually gain residents in the 1990s.

“It took a long time — a lot of people over a great period of time — to make it happen,” he said. “And it started with real investment in the core of our city.”

Rick Sullivan

Rick Sullivan, left, president of the Western Mass. Economic Development Council, chats with Nick Wilkinson, Chattanooga’s deputy administrator of Economic and Community Development.

Today, Chattanooga is a growing city (population just over 173,000, about 20,000 more than Springfield) riding a wave of entrepreneurship and high-tech innovation, and touting itself as the Gig City after building a broadband network (known as ‘the Gig’) able to connect every home and business to the Internet at 1 gigabit per second, or 50 to 100 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection.

As part of the City2City Pioneer Valley program, 30 economic-development, nonprofit, and community leaders from Greater Springfield visited Chattanooga late last month to hear the story of how a stinking foundry city transformed itself into a beacon of innovation.

In doing so, they learned that this community on Georgia’s northwestern border is no utopia; it still faces serious education, workforce-development, and racial-gentrification issues, to name a few. But it’s also proving to be an example of how public, business, and nonprofit interests can work in concert to produce and then fund real solutions.

“There seems to be one goal with all these organizations we’ve met. They’re all doing their own things, but they’re all on the same page and have the same goal, and that’s to help all these spinning wheels move the city forward,” said Alfonso Santaniello, president of the Creative Strategy Agency in Springfield, who values his company’s downtown presence and wanted to visit a growing city with a similar emphasis on building up its central business district.

“Springfield needs to find a way to get everyone on the same page and push forward from there,” he went on. “That’s one of our biggest issues; everyone is doing great things, but why are we not doing them together?”

Chattanooga’s striking collaboration culture (more on that later) is one reason why the Gig City label is, in fact, not the top storyline there, but a way to draw national notice to everything else that’s going on.

“The technology is great,” said Enoch Elwell, founder of Co.Starters, a Chattanooga-based entrepreneuship program that has expanded nationally, including into Holyoke earlier this year. “But its biggest impact is as a rallying cry for our community, something that brings us together and draws the world’s attention.”

The City2City contingent from Massachusetts was certainly listening.

Cleaning Up Their Act

Littlefield recalls a time when Chattanooga manufacturers treated the Tennessee River like a sewer, dumping garbage directly into the waterway. “But in the ’70s, we cleaned up our water, and we began to clean up our act.”

From an ecological perspective, it actually helped when the foundries started to close, but it posed economic issues, he went on, which were partially remedied by attracting industries from the north, like textiles and automaking, with the promise of cheaper labor. But that wasn’t a sustainable strategy, and a steady population drain ensued.

John Bridger

“Ultimately, it’s not just about transportation, it’s not just about economic development, it’s not just about the natural environment — it’s about how all those things work together to create place,’ said John Bridger.

“When you lose jobs, you also lose hope, and when you lose hope, you lose your children,” he said. “They grow up and get an education and go somewhere else. We began to say, ‘we have to change this community in ways we’ve never changed it before. We’ve got to change our attitude, our way of thinking.’”

The first step was the creation of the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan to transform the riverfront and downtown area, but only after many hours meeting with residents — many of whom had felt disenfranchised — and incorporating their concerns into the process. As Littlefield recalled, one woman told him, “this is the first time, when I said something, that someone wrote it down in my own words.”

Municipal leaders also visited other cities (notably a 1981 trek to Indianapolis) to find ideas and inspiration.

These information-gathering efforts led to the creation in 1986 of River City Co., a nonprofit tasked with implementing the master plan, a 20-year blueprint for the riverfront and downtown, initially capitalized with $12 million from local foundations and financial institutions.

“We did visioning before visioning was cool, and we found that it actually works,” Littlefield said. “So we set about to create quality of life, and that started with the river.”

Bridgett Massengill, executive director of Thrive 2055 — a more recent coalition of economic leaders tasked with creating economic opportunity in a tri-state, 16-county region surrounding Chattanooga’s Hamilton County — detailed how four area foundations took the first step to fund River City Co., and called it typical of the way the city has operated in the past 30 years.

The conversion of former industrial buildings

The conversion of former industrial buildings to retail and business space echoes myriad Pioneer Valley developments like Eastworks and Open Square.

“I have been blown away by the collaboration in this region, the way we come together, roll up our sleeves, and make it happen,” she said. “There was a will that we were going to proceed with or without federal dollars.”

That caught the attention of Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“The success in Chattanooga has grown from public-private partnerships,” she told BusinessWest. “They keep saying how foundations have played a role in these partnerships, and it seems to me that’s something Springfield and surrounding regions should be exploring with more focus.”

She first thought, upon hearing of the role of the region’s foundations, that they must be larger and better-capitalized than those in Western Mass., but was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. “We can always do more together, and Chattanooga has been proving that for the last 25 years.”

The tax structure in Tennessee — property and sales taxes but no income tax — is a challenge for economic development, officials note. That’s why the public-private partnerships that have sprung up to support development are so noteworthy, said Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. “Typically, we don’t start with how much money an initiative will cost. We ask, ‘is this a good idea?’ and then we bring people together to raise the money.”

That’s part of the so-called “Chattanooga way” cited by many of the people who met with the City2City contingent. Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said the term essentially refers to the way leaders “get a diverse group of people together and really plan.”

Landing a Gig

The city’s successes included a complete overhaul of the riverfront, including the privately funded Tennessee Aquarium, the nation’s largest freshwater aquarium, and the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge; as well as an innovation district downtown aimed at attracting both high-tech giants like Amazon (which has a presence in the city) as well as a raft of intriguing startups.

the Gig

Chattanooga’s recovery has included the establishment of a high-speed broadband network known as ‘the Gig.’

Despite the successes of the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan, the planning process had never focused specifically on entrepreneurship or technology until the city’s power company, EPB, tapped into federal stimulus money in 2009 to launch the Gig, said Ken Hays, president and CEO of the city’s Enterprise Center and Innovation District, which followed in the wake of the massive fiber project.

Since then, an accelerator program for startups has graduated 67 companies that have raised $3.1 in combined capital. In 2012, a nonprofit called CoLab launched GigTank, an annual, 14-week summer entrepreneurship program; 40 participating companies have raised $4.37 million in capital to date. CoLab’s “Will This Float?” startup pitch competition, launched five years ago, has attracted 47 participants, and the five winners all continue to grow, with $5.5 million in capital raised to date. Then there’s Tech Goes Home, a computer-education program aimed at everyone from preschoolers to the elderly.

Chattanooga has plenty of traditional industry, of course, none more prominent than Volkswagen, which employs about 2,400 people at its only North American plant and is planning an expansion — even amidst controversy over its diesel engine — that will bring production of a new SUV to Chattanooga and boost its workforce by another 2,000, including 200 in research and development, a first for the area. Other giants, like Coca-Cola and Little Debbie, dot the landscape as well.

But economic-development leaders are focused on the Innovation District and the cultivation of small businesses that may one day grow to be the next Coca-Cola or Amazon. Efforts to do so range from Startup in a Day, a commitment to streamlining business permitting on a 24/7 basis, to the Growing Small Business program, a financial incentive offered to companies with fewer than 100 employees that hire at least five workers in a 12-month period.

“If we can subsidize their next hire and keep them afloat for another couple of months, that’s what we want to do, and it’s been pretty successful,” said Nick Wilkinson, the city’s deputy administrator of Economic & Community Development.

With the type of 21st-century businesses attracted by the Gig, however, comes the need for a culture change, or at least a greater focus on the quality-of-life issues that matter to a young, hip, tech-savvy worker base, Bridger said. In addition, the population has shifted from one dominated by two-parent families with children in 1970 to one with mostly single-income households, and that affects the type of housing — smaller and closer to workplaces — that needs to be built in the city.

“Place matters,” he said, noting that IT workers aren’t tied to their workplaces like people in more traditional industries. “So, if you want to compete economically, they’re thinking place first, jobs second. Ultimately, it’s not just about transportation, it’s not just about economic development, it’s not just about the natural environment — it’s about how all those things work together to create place.”

That’s where quality-of-life improvements like the revamped riverfront and growing arts and recreation initiatives come in. The city is obviously doing something right, with $4 billion in business investment since 2008. Now leaders are trying to keep the momentum going by developing more housing in the city — an expected 160,000 new units by 2055, in fact — and touting the success of amenities like the free downtown shuttle (cheekily known as the Choo Choo) and an extensive network of bike lanes, all to support a Millennial population that doesn’t necessarily want to rely on automobiles.

The task isn’t easy when 97% of the downtown workforce drives in from the outside, and only 1.2% of downtown zoning is mixed-use. Regional passenger rail service may be 20 years away or more simply because the surrounding counties don’t have the population density of, say, Western Mass. to support it.

“Our focus is on how to create that housing density that makes us a more 24/7 city,” White explained, noting that the next two years will see the addition of 1,500 apartments downtown, more than doubling the current number, in addition to 500 more hotel rooms and 1,300 more student units to support the 12,000-student University of Tennessee Chattanooga, which skirts the downtown area. “If you come back in three years, this will be a completely different city.”

Barriers to Progress

Some of those changes are more pressing than others. The City2City tour came in the shadow of a recent, searing report by Ken Chilton, a Public Administration professor at Tennessee State University, on the city’s ongoing racial gentrification and the challenges minorities face overcoming poverty, violence, and poor health.

The 23-page report, “The Unfinished Agenda,” examines how investment and development in certain downtown neighborhoods has come at the expense of low-income African-American families that used to live there but have been forced out by rising costs.

For example, in 1990, the downtown white population was 2,402, while the black population was 3,720. In 2013, those numbers were reversed, with 4,880 whites and 2,358 blacks living downtown. In effect, African-Americans are increasingly being pushed into poorer neighborhoods and schools mired in violence and chaos and not seeing the type of investment that characterizes the downtown and riverfront, Chilton writes.

Because some of these neighborhoods have more adult high-school dropouts than college graduates, many are forced to rely on low-paying jobs instead of the white-collar jobs that have defined the downtown renewal. As a result, 36% of blacks in Chattanooga live in poverty, compared with 14.5% of whites. In the 11 lowest-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga, where the population is 73% African-American, the average poverty rate is 63.5%. Bridger told the City2City contingent that, while the city’s unemployment rate is 5.5%, it’s about double that in the black population.

James McKissic, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, agreed that gentrification is a problem, noting that certain neighborhoods have indeed become unaffordable for lower-income residents. But he added that several housing developments are in the works over the next few years, targeted at different income levels, in desireable neighborhoods. “We don’t want to be the next San Francisco or Austin; we want people from various income levels to live together.”

Still, he added, the heart of the issue is poverty — and the need for initiatives that will improve education and provide economic opportunity for people of all races and income levels.

The country’s largest freshwater aquarium

The country’s largest freshwater aquarium, a privately funded project that was mocked by some residents as a “fishtank” when it was proposed, is now one of the highlights of Chattanooga’s revamped riverfront.

However, public education — which is operated on the county level — hasn’t made enough strides to satisfy Chattanooga officials, a situation detailed in a 2013 Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report, again written by Chilton, affirming that the system’s poor, majority-black schools lag far behind schools in more prosperous — usually whiter — neighborhoods.

To compound matters, Tennessee finishes 49th in the nation in per-pupil education spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but Hamilton County spending fell between 2007 and 2012, even compared to the state as a whole. Adjusted for inflation, the county spent about $321 less per pupil in 2012 than in 2007. In those years, the Hamilton County Board of Education cut about $44 million to balance budgets in the face of rising costs in health care, utilities, and salaries. “There’s a disconnect between the school system, the state Board of Education, and the real world,” Berke said.

Added Bridger, “public education is not where it needs to be, and it’s becoming a job-recruitment problem.” He noted that the rural counties surrounding Chattanooga fare even worse when it comes to graduation rates. “We’re not getting enough qualified employees to work in the jobs.”

After all, the city’s manufacturing base hasn’t disappeared; it’s just that many of today’s manufacturing jobs are high-skill, high-paying positions. Much like the situation in the Pioneer Valley, plenty of openings exist, but the Hamilton County region grapples with a skills gap between what employers require and the level of education that job seekers bring to the table. Unfortunately, Jones noted, applied-technology classes at local community colleges struggle with empty seats and a lack of interest in manufacturing as a career.

“We’ve basically taught people throughout the South and throughout the country that manufacturing is dirty, it’s not cool, it’s a sweatshop, it doesn’t pay well, the whole nine yards. I still hear that from our young people,” Jones said. “We’ve got to do a better job educating our young people that there are good jobs out there, and you can get them with certain certifications and certain degrees, and you can make more a whole lot more money than I’ve been making all my life with a four-year degree.”

Ruth Thompson, communications and outreach manager for Thrive 2055, agreed, stressing the importance of education. One notable initiative, called Tennessee Promise, pays for two years of community college, in an effort to narrow the skills gap.

“The majority of the country has about 8% of their economy driven by manufacturing. If you hear us talking a lot about advanced manufacturing, it’s because, in our region, it’s 22%. We still have a very, very heavy manufacturing base,” she said. “But previously, a 16-year-old from Trenton, Georgia could drop out of school, go work in a hosiery mill, and have a good job the rest of his life. We know that’s no longer the case. So as we work on changing the culture, we’re working in partnership with the community colleges and four-year universities to change that mindset that you don’t have to go to school.”

However, “we have other problems on top of the skills gap,” Jones added, noting that substance abuse — in another parallel to Massachusetts — keeps many people out of the workforce, while Tennessee (unlike the Bay State) ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in health metrics such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We’re starting to have that culture change; people are starting to realize that education and health are both economic issues,” she said. “Before, people kept them in their separate silos. And as a state, we didn’t value education, but we’ve started moving in that regard.”

On the Plus Side

The city’s current mayor, however, chose to highlight some positive statistics, noting that property crime is down 22%, and violent crime down 5%, since last year, though well-known pockets of crime tend to skew perception. “It’s frustrating for us that people don’t feel safe.”

Berke also noted that, despite Chattanooga’s position along two major interstates, which makes it an attractive corridor for drug trafficking, the city is no worse off than others of its size. “We have drug crimes, and we have drug-related violence, of course, but nothing you’d say is unsual for similar cities.”

Meanwhile, “Thrive 2055 is trying to change the culture, helping us manage the changes that are happening to our region,” Thompson said, noting that the project is built on the pillars of economic development, natural treasures, transportation, and education and workforce.

All are important in their own way, she added; the region is, after all, a biodiversity hotspot, with the highest concentration of different freshwater fish species in the world — but also one of the top 10 shipping corridors in the U.S., leading to ‘pinch points’ of daily congestion along Interstates 24 and 75. Juggling such disparate resources and challenges is a major part of the Thrive effort.

As for the Gig, it hit a goal of 40,000 subscribers — the mark needed to achieve profitability — two years after its launch, and now boasts 75,000. It’s now the centerpiece of the city’s marketing efforts — signs at the Chattanooga’s airport greet visitors with the message ‘Welcome to Gig City’ — but, as Elwell noted, is only one part of the story.

“Some people have taken it for granted; they’ve forgotten how hard it was,” said Charles Wood, vice president for Economic Development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, referring to the entire 45 years of changes since Walter Cronkite’s paradigm-shifting report. “As a chamber, how do we make sure we don’t get complacent?”

Scott Foster thinks the city’s culture of collaboration will guard against exactly that.

“The emphasis from the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and the the public sector is on collaboration,” said Foster, an attorney at Springfield-based Bulkley Richardson and chairman of Valley Venture Mentors. “Sometimes the city takes an interest in something and the foundations come and support it, while other times, the private-sector guys say, ‘this is important, so we’re starting it, and we’ll see if anyone wants to join in with us.’

“That’s great,” he went on, “because you’ve got these three legs of the stool, and all three keep saying, ‘I’m going to experiment with this, and if it works, I know you guys will come along.’ There’s a trust there, and an openness to trying new things. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was; it matters that it’s a good idea, and if it’s a good idea, in Chattanooga, they’re all behind it.”

That’s an example, Foster went on, that public officials, businesses, nonprofits, and foundations can learn from in Greater Springfield and the Pioneer Valley, where much good work is happening, but not always in concert.

“If somebody’s got a good idea, let’s celebrate it and support it, not tear it down, not say, ‘well, it doesn’t quite work,’ or ‘it conflicts with what another group is doing.’ OK, fine — they can do it too. There’s no such thing as too much entrepreneurship or too much economic development. When we get to that point, then we’ll figure out that problem. But we’re not at that point.”

Looking Forward

Littlefield recalled how, when Volkswagen had to choose between Chattanooga and another city to locate its U.S. plant, the competing financial incentives were largely a wash. “But they told us, ‘We came here for the intangibles, because, at a certain point, the intangibles become tangible. And you can’t put a price on that.’”

The greatest benefit Chattanooga has seen during its impressive recovery, the former mayor continued, has been a new, prouder, more confident attitude.

“After we visited Indianapolis, someone said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if, someday, people came to Chattanooga to see how we did it? And now, here you are — and you’re one of many. We don’t claim any special knowledge, any magic — just people coming together saying, ‘we all live here, and we’re going to make sure this is a city where our children will want to raise their children.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

Editorial

Ron Littlefield, the former mayor of Chattanooga, said municipal leaders in Tennessee’s fourth-largest city haven’t been too proud to listen to others’ ideas — and steal them.

For example, in 1981, before launching a decades-long revitalization plan, Littlefield — then a city planner — and other officials visited Indianapolis to talk economic development, but also found inspiration in the recreational activities taking place along Indy’s White River. Once back at home, they launched efforts to promote recreation — kayakers, regattas, and the like — on the Tennessee River.

They weren’t done. A visit to Baltimore spurred the construction of the Tennessee Aquarium. The Creative Discovery Museum was inspired by children’s museums in Charlotte and Birmingham. And so on.

“We shamelessly stole things from all over, and we’re proud of it,” Littlefield said. “We tried to do it better than they did.”

That spirit of sharing — or stealing, as the case may be — is the driver behind City2City Pioneer Valley, a program that, every year or two, brings a host of Springfield-area leaders to a city with similar demographics and challenges; Chattanooga was the fourth such stop after visits, over the past several years, to Grand Rapids, Mich.; Winston-Salem/Greensboro, N.C.; and Allentown/Bethlehem, Pa.

And Chattanooga certainly had no shortage of ideas to chew on (see story, page 6), from its high-speed broadband network, which has drawn a number of high-tech businesses the city, to the way its public, private, and nonprofit sectors work closely together to fund projects; from its riverfront revitalization to its ambitious efforts to cultivate innovative startups. All have parallels to challenges the Pioneer Valley is facing.

So, what happens now?

That’s the big question, and one that has dogged the City2City program since its inception. The only initiative launched in Western Mass. as a direct result of a City2City visit is the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, a Springfield-based program modeled after a similar initiative in Grand Rapids.

That’s about it. There has been plenty of talk about what Greater Springfield can do better, but little in the way of tangible changes based on these trips. That’s not to say the education, inspiration, and idea sharing that participants experience isn’t valuable; it certainly is. But what’s the next step?

After all, Springfield today has an underutilized riverfront, a waterway far cleaner than the polluted Tennessee River of the 1960s and 1970s, when efforts began to connect Chattanooga’s riverfront with its downtown district. Springfield faces the same type of manufacturing skills gap Chattanooga does, as well as similar challenges graduating students from underperforming schools.

To be fair, there are some lessons Chattanooga could take from Springfield, should their leaders ever come here. Connections between our region’s colleges and workforce-training organizations seem more robust than in Chattanooga, for instance. Leaders in Chattanooga seem hesitant to fully discuss the racial gentrification issues that beset their downtown neighborhoods. And healthcare drives economic development in far deeper ways in the Pioneer Valley than they do in Southeastern Tennessee.

It’s probably most accurate to say both cities have something to learn from each other. The challenge now, in Springfield and its environs, is to put into action what we’ve learned, and get to work turning this region into a destination officials from other cities will want to visit — and steal from.

In some respects, it’s already there.

Features

In the 1960s, Ron Littlefield says, no one needed GPS to find Tennessee’s fourth-largest city.

“You could tell when you were getting close to Chattanooga because you could smell Chattanooga; it stunk,” said the former mayor, who served from 2005 to 2013. “It was an old foundry city. And when you had stormy weather, you had inversions, because we have mountains and valleys, and it would trap the smoke, and you would literally be eating smoke when you walked outside.”

City leaders were mortified when, in October 1969, Walter Cronkite came across a recent EPA study, sat down behind the news desk, looked into the camera, and declared Chattanooga “the dirtiest city in America.”

“It was so bad that people had to change their shirts in the middle of the day,” said John Bridger, executive director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Regional Planning Agency. “They were tough times — but tough times create opportunities.”

In truth, Bridger continued, many residents put up with the pollution because the manufacturing sector was chugging along, but Cronkite’s report jarred them out of complacency. “If not for those challenges, I don’t think we would have changed, because we were comfortable. We were the dynamo of Dixie — why change what we were doing if we were making money? But that report created an impetus for change; it brought a new perspective.”

Still, Chattanooga was no overnight turnaround. Even after efforts to clean up the waterway and better connect the riverfront with the downtown area, a downturn in the region’s manufacturing base led to mass flight from the city, which lost more than 10% of its population during the 1980s. But, as current Mayor Andy Berke points out, it was the only American city with that level of population loss during the ’80s to actually gain residents in the 1990s.

“It took a long time — a lot of people over a great period of time — to make it happen,” he said. “And it started with real investment in the core of our city.”

Today, Chattanooga is a growing city (population just over 173,000, about 20,000 more than Springfield) riding a wave of entrepreneurship and high-tech innovation, and touting itself as the Gig City after building a broadband network (known as ‘the Gig’) able to connect every home and business to the Internet at 1 gigabit per second, or 50 to 100 times faster than the average U.S. Internet connection.

As part of the City2City Pioneer Valley program, 30 economic-development, nonprofit, and community leaders from Greater Springfield visited Chattanooga late last month to hear the story of how a stinking foundry city transformed itself into a beacon of innovation.

Walnut Street Bridge

Many of the attendees at the foot of the Walnut Street Bridge, a pedestrian span over the Tennessee River that’s a hallmark of an extensive riverfront makeover.

In doing so, they learned that this community on Georgia’s northwestern border is no utopia; it still faces serious education, workforce-development, and racial-gentrification issues, to name a few. But it’s also proving to be an example of how public, business, and nonprofit interests can work in concert to produce and then fund real solutions.

“There seems to be one goal with all these organizations we’ve met. They’re all doing their own things, but they’re all on the same page and have the same goal, and that’s to help all these spinning wheels move the city forward,” said Alfonso Santaniello, president of the Creative Strategy Agency in Springfield, who values his company’s downtown presence and wanted to visit a growing city with a similar emphasis on building up its central business district.

“Springfield needs to find a way to get everyone on the same page and push forward from there,” he went on. “That’s one of our biggest issues; everyone is doing great things, but why are we not doing them together?”

Chattanooga’s striking collaboration culture (more on that later) is one reason why the Gig City label is, in fact, not the top storyline there, but a way to draw national notice to everything else that’s going on.

“The technology is great,” said Enoch Elwell, founder of Co.Starters, a Chattanooga-based entrepreneuship program that has expanded nationally, including into Holyoke earlier this year. “But its biggest impact is as a rallying cry for our community, something that brings us together and draws the world’s attention.”

The City2City contingent from Massachusetts was certainly listening.

Cleaning Up Their Act

Littlefield recalls a time when Chattanooga manufacturers treated the Tennessee River like a sewer, dumping garbage directly into the waterway. “But in the ’70s, we cleaned up our water, and we began to clean up our act.”

From an ecological perspective, it actually helped when the foundries started to close, but it posed economic issues, he went on, which were partially remedied by attracting industries from the north, like textiles and automaking, with the promise of cheaper labor. But that wasn’t a sustainable strategy, and a steady population drain ensued.

“When you lose jobs, you also lose hope, and when you lose hope, you lose your children,” he said. “They grow up and get an education and go somewhere else. We began to say, ‘we have to change this community in ways we’ve never changed it before. We’ve got to change our attitude, our way of thinking.’”

The first step was the creation of the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan to transform the riverfront and downtown area, but only after many hours meeting with residents — many of whom had felt disenfranchised — and incorporating their concerns into the process. As Littlefield recalled, one woman told him, “this is the first time, when I said something, that someone wrote it down in my own words.”

Municipal leaders also visited other cities (notably a 1981 trek to Indianapolis) to find ideas and inspiration. These information-gathering efforts led to the creation in 1986 of River City Co., a nonprofit tasked with implementing the master plan, a 20-year blueprint for the riverfront and downtown, initially capitalized with $12 million from local foundations and financial institutions.

“We did visioning before visioning was cool, and we found that it actually works,” Littlefield said. “So we set about to create quality of life, and that started with the river.”

Bridgett Massengill, executive director of Thrive 2055 — a more recent coalition of economic leaders tasked with creating economic opportunity in a tri-state, 16-county region surrounding Chattanooga’s Hamilton County — detailed how four area foundations took the first step to fund River City Co., and called it typical of the way the city has operated in the past 30 years.

“I have been blown away by the collaboration in this region, the way we come together, roll up our sleeves, and make it happen,” she said. “There was a will that we were going to proceed with or without federal dollars.”

That caught the attention of Katie Allan Zobel, president and CEO of the Community Foundation of Western Massachusetts.

“The success in Chattanooga has grown from public-private partnerships,” she told BusinessWest. “They keep saying how foundations have played a role in these partnerships, and it seems to me that’s something Springfield and surrounding regions should be exploring with more focus.”

She first thought, upon hearing of the role of the region’s foundations, that they must be larger and better-capitalized than those in Western Mass., but was surprised to find that wasn’t the case. “We can always do more together, and Chattanooga has been proving that for the last 25 years.”

The tax structure in Tennessee — property and sales taxes but no income tax — is a challenge for economic development, officials note. That’s why the public-private partnerships that have sprung up to support development are so noteworthy, said Beth Jones, executive director of the Southeast Tennessee Development District. “Typically, we don’t start with how much money an initiative will cost. We ask, ‘is this a good idea?’ and then we bring people together to raise the money.”

That’s part of the so-called “Chattanooga way” cited by many of the people who met with the City2City contingent. Kim White, president and CEO of River City Co., said the term essentially refers to the way leaders “get a diverse group of people together and really plan.”

Landing a Gig

The city’s successes included a complete overhaul of the riverfront, including the privately funded Tennessee Aquarium, the nation’s largest freshwater aquarium, and the pedestrian-only Walnut Street Bridge; as well as an innovation district downtown aimed at attracting both high-tech giants like Amazon (which has a presence in the city) as well as a raft of intriguing startups.

Despite the successes of the Tennessee Riverpark Master Plan, the planning process had never focused specifically on entrepreneurship or technology until the city’s power company, EPB, tapped into federal stimulus money in 2009 to launch the Gig, said Ken Hays, president and CEO of the city’s Enterprise Center and Innovation District, which followed in the wake of the massive fiber project.

Since then, an accelerator program for startups has graduated 67 companies that have raised $3.1 in combined capital. In 2012, a nonprofit called CoLab launched GigTank, an annual, 14-week summer entrepreneurship program; 40 participating companies have raised $4.37 million in capital to date. CoLab’s “Will This Float?” startup pitch competition, launched five years ago, has attracted 47 participants, and the five winners all continue to grow, with $5.5 million in capital raised to date. Then there’s Tech Goes Home, a computer-education program aimed at everyone from preschoolers to the elderly.

Chattanooga has plenty of traditional industry, of course, none more prominent than Volkswagen, which employs about 2,400 people at its only North American plant and is planning an expansion — even amidst controversy over its diesel engine — that will bring production of a new SUV to Chattanooga and boost its workforce by another 2,000, including 200 in research and development, a first for the area. Other giants, like Coca-Cola and Little Debbie, dot the landscape as well.

Laura Masulis, left, transformative development fellow at MassDevelopment

Laura Masulis, left, transformative development fellow at MassDevelopment, and Scott Foster, right, chairman of Valley Venture Mentors, speak with Will Joseph and Enoch Elwell of Co.Starters, a national, Chattanooga-based entrepreneurship initiative that launched in Holyoke this year.

But economic-development leaders are focused on the Innovation District and the cultivation of small businesses that may one day grow to be the next Coca-Cola or Amazon. Efforts to do so range from Startup in a Day, a commitment to streamlining business permitting on a 24/7 basis, to the Growing Small Business program, a financial incentive offered to companies with fewer than 100 employees that hire at least five workers in a 12-month period.

“If we can subsidize their next hire and keep them afloat for another couple of months, that’s what we want to do, and it’s been pretty successful,” said Nick Wilkinson, the city’s deputy administrator of Economic & Community Development.

With the type of 21st-century businesses attracted by the Gig, however, comes the need for a culture change, or at least a greater focus on the quality-of-life issues that matter to a young, hip, tech-savvy worker base, Bridger said. In addition, the population has shifted from one dominated by two-parent families with children in 1970 to one with mostly single-income households, and that affects the type of housing — smaller and closer to workplaces — that needs to be built in the city.

“Place matters,” he said, noting that IT workers aren’t tied to their workplaces like people in more traditional industries. “So, if you want to compete economically, they’re thinking place first, jobs second. Ultimately, it’s not just about transportation, it’s not just about economic development, it’s not just about the natural environment — it’s about how all those things work together to create place.”

That’s where quality-of-life improvements like the revamped riverfront and growing arts and recreation initiatives come in. The city is obviously doing something right, with $4 billion in business investment since 2008. Now leaders are trying to keep the momentum going by developing more housing in the city — an expected 160,000 new units by 2055, in fact — and touting the success of amenities like the free downtown shuttle (cheekily known as the Choo Choo) and an extensive network of bike lanes, all to support a Millennial population that doesn’t necessarily want to rely on automobiles.

The task isn’t easy when 97% of the downtown workforce drives in from the outside, and only 1.2% of downtown zoning is mixed-use. Regional passenger rail service may be 20 years away or more simply because the surrounding counties don’t have the population density of, say, Western Mass. to support it.

“Our focus is on how to create that housing density that makes us a more 24/7 city,” White explained, noting that the next two years will see the addition of 1,500 apartments downtown, more than doubling the current number, in addition to 500 more hotel rooms and 1,300 more student units to support the 12,000-student University of Tennessee Chattanooga, which skirts the downtown area. “If you come back in three years, this will be a completely different city.”

Barriers to Progress

Some of those changes are more pressing than others. The City2City tour came in the shadow of a recent, searing report by Ken Chilton, a Public Administration professor at Tennessee State University, on the city’s ongoing racial gentrification and the challenges minorities face overcoming poverty, violence, and poor health.

The 23-page report, The Unfinished Agenda, examines how investment and development in certain downtown neighborhoods has come at the expense of low-income African-American families that used to live there but have been forced out by rising costs.

For example, in 1990, the downtown white population was 2,402, while the black population was 3,720. In 2013, those numbers were reversed, with 4,880 whites and 2,358 blacks living downtown. In effect, African-Americans are increasingly being pushed into poorer neighborhoods and schools mired in violence and chaos and not seeing the type of investment that characterizes the downtown and riverfront, Chilton writes.

Because some of these neighborhoods have more adult high-school dropouts than college graduates, many are forced to rely on low-paying jobs instead of the white-collar jobs that have defined the downtown renewal. As a result, 36% of blacks in Chattanooga live in poverty, compared with 14.5% of whites. In the 11 lowest-income neighborhoods in Chattanooga, where the population is 73% African-American, the average poverty rate is 63.5%. Bridger told the City2City contingent that, while the city’s unemployment rate is 5.5%, it’s about double that in the black population.

James McKissic, director of Chattanooga’s Office of Multicultural Affairs, agreed that gentrification is a problem, noting that certain neighborhoods have indeed become unaffordable for lower-income residents. But he added that several housing developments are in the works over the next few years, targeted at different income levels, in desireable neighborhoods. “We don’t want to be the next San Francisco or Austin; we want people from various income levels to live together.”

Still, he added, the heart of the issue is poverty — and the need for initiatives that will improve education and provide economic opportunity for people of all races and income levels.

However, public education — which is operated on the county level — hasn’t made enough strides to satisfy Chattanooga officials, a situation detailed in a 2013 Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies report, again written by Chilton, affirming that the system’s poor, majority-black schools lag far behind schools in more prosperous — usually whiter — neighborhoods.

To compound matters, Tennessee finishes 49th in the nation in per-pupil education spending, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but Hamilton County spending fell between 2007 and 2012, even compared to the state as a whole. Adjusted for inflation, the county spent about $321 less per pupil in 2012 than in 2007. In those years, the Hamilton County Board of Education cut about $44 million to balance budgets in the face of rising costs in health care, utilities, and salaries. “There’s a disconnect between the school system, the state Board of Education, and the real world,” Berke said.

Added Bridger, “public education is not where it needs to be, and it’s becoming a job-recruitment problem.” He noted that the rural counties surrounding Chattanooga fare even worse when it comes to graduation rates. “We’re not getting enough qualified employees to work in the jobs.”

After all, the city’s manufacturing base hasn’t disappeared; it’s just that many of today’s manufacturing jobs are high-skill, high-paying positions. Much like the situation in the Pioneer Valley, plenty of openings exist, but the Hamilton County region grapples with a skills gap between what employers require and the level of education that job seekers bring to the table. Unfortunately, Jones noted, applied-technology classes at local community colleges struggle with empty seats and a lack of interest in manufacturing as a career.

“We’ve basically taught people throughout the South and throughout the country that manufacturing is dirty, it’s not cool, it’s a sweatshop, it doesn’t pay well, the whole nine yards. I still hear that from our young people,” Jones said. “We’ve got to do a better job educating our young people that there are good jobs out there, and you can get them with certain certifications and certain degrees, and you can make more a whole lot more money than I’ve been making all my life with a four-year degree.”

Ruth Thompson, communications and outreach manager for Thrive 2055, agreed, stressing the importance of education. One notable initiative, called Tennessee Promise, pays for two years of community college, in an effort to narrow the skills gap.

“The majority of the country has about 8% of their economy driven by manufacturing. If you hear us talking a lot about advanced manufacturing, it’s because, in our region, it’s 22%. We still have a very, very heavy manufacturing base,” she said. “But previously, a 16-year-old from Trenton, Georgia could drop out of school, go work in a hosiery mill, and have a good job the rest of his life. We know that’s no longer the case. So as we work on changing the culture, we’re working in partnership with the community colleges and four-year universities to change that mindset that you don’t have to go to school.”

However, “we have other problems on top of the skills gap,” Jones added, noting that substance abuse — in another parallel to Massachusetts — keeps many people out of the workforce, while Tennessee (unlike the Bay State) ranks near the bottom of the 50 states in health metrics such as obesity and type 2 diabetes.

“We’re starting to have that culture change; people are starting to realize that education and health are both economic issues,” she said. “Before, people kept them in their separate silos. And as a state, we didn’t value education, but we’ve started moving in that regard.”

On the Plus Side

The city’s current mayor, however, chose to highlight some positive statistics, noting that property crime is down 22%, and violent crime down 5%, since last year, though well-known pockets of crime tend to skew perception. “It’s frustrating for us that people don’t feel safe.”

Berke also noted that, despite Chattanooga’s position along two major interstates, which makes it an attractive corridor for drug trafficking, the city is no worse off than others of its size. “We have drug crimes, and we have drug-related violence, of course, but nothing you’d say is unsual for similar cities.”

Meanwhile, “Thrive 2055 is trying to change the culture, helping us manage the changes that are happening to our region,” Thompson said, noting that the project is built on the pillars of economic development, natural treasures, transportation, and education and workforce.

All are important in their own way, she added; the region is, after all, a biodiversity hotspot, with the highest concentration of different freshwater fish species in the world — but also one of the top 10 shipping corridors in the U.S., leading to ‘pinch points’ of daily congestion along Interstates 24 and 75. Juggling such disparate resources and challenges is a major part of the Thrive effort.

As for the Gig, it hit a goal of 40,000 subscribers — the mark needed to achieve profitability — two years after its launch, and now boasts 75,000. It’s now the centerpiece of the city’s marketing efforts — signs at the Chattanooga’s airport greet visitors with the message ‘Welcome to Gig City’ — but, as Elwell noted, is only one part of the story.

“Some people have taken it for granted; they’ve forgotten how hard it was,” said Charles Wood, vice president for Economic Development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce, referring to the entire 45 years of changes since Walter Cronkite’s paradigm-shifting report. “As a chamber, how do we make sure we don’t get complacent?”

Scott Foster thinks the city’s culture of collaboration will guard against exactly that.

“The emphasis from the private sector, the nonprofit sector, and the the public sector is on collaboration,” said Foster, an attorney at Springfield-based Bulkley Richardson and chairman of Valley Venture Mentors. “Sometimes the city takes an interest in something and the foundations come and support it, while other times, the private-sector guys say, ‘this is important, so we’re starting it, and we’ll see if anyone wants to join in with us.’

“That’s great,” he went on, “because you’ve got these three legs of the stool, and all three keep saying, ‘I’m going to experiment with this, and if it works, I know you guys will come along.’ There’s a trust there, and an openness to trying new things. It doesn’t matter whose idea it was; it matters that it’s a good idea, and if it’s a good idea, in Chattanooga, they’re all behind it.”

That’s an example, Foster went on, that public officials, businesses, nonprofits, and foundations can learn from in Greater Springfield and the Pioneer Valley, where much good work is happening, but not always in concert.

“If somebody’s got a good idea, let’s celebrate it and support it, not tear it down, not say, ‘well, it doesn’t quite work,’ or ‘it conflicts with what another group is doing.’ OK, fine — they can do it too. There’s no such thing as too much entrepreneurship or too much economic development. When we get to that point, then we’ll figure out that problem. But we’re not at that point.”

Looking Forward

Littlefield recalled how, when Volkswagen had to choose between Chattanooga and another city to locate its U.S. plant, the competing financial incentives were largely a wash. “But they told us, ‘We came here for the intangibles, because, at a certain point, the intangibles become tangible. And you can’t put a price on that.’”

The greatest benefit Chattanooga has seen during its impressive recovery, the former mayor continued, has been a new, prouder, more confident attitude.

“After we visited Indianapolis, someone said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if, someday, people came to Chattanooga to see how we did it? And now, here you are — and you’re one of many. We don’t claim any special knowledge, any magic — just people coming together saying, ‘we all live here, and we’re going to make sure this is a city where our children will want to raise their children.”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Opinion

City2City Pioneer Valley Editorial August 10, 2015

The City2City program, an initiative that has taken city business and nonprofit leaders and elected officials to a number of cities experiencing economic progress — in many different forms — has a new name and new focus.

Well, sort of. The name is somewhat new. Actually, it’s been expanded to ‘City2City Pioneer Valley.’ And that name hints broadly on the new focus that isn’t really new. Indeed, while these visits have always included individuals from across the region, it has been perceived as, well, a Springfield thing.

Before, during, and after the initial visits to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C., Grand Rapids, Mich., and Allentown and Bethlehem, Pa. (the latter being home to a casino), the overarching question was, ‘what can Springfield learn from this community?’

Those trips, organized with support from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, were technically regional in nature, but Springfield tended to dominate the conversation. It will likely do so again, when City2City Pioneer Valley, now being overseen by the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission and supported by several area businesses and foundations, travels to Chattanooga, Tenn. on Oct. 26-28.

But there will be plenty that communities of all sizes can take away from this visit, and we strongly encourage planning officials, municipal leaders, bank officials, and economic-development administrators to be part of the travel party.

That’s because, while there has been progress recorded in many area cities and towns — in realms ranging from infrastructure to entrepreneurship; from the arts to education — there is considerable room for improvement. And while there is plenty of talent and many good ideas to be found in the Valley, it never hurts to see how others are tacking issues common to cities across the country.

During past trips, participants have seen how Greensboro took full advantage of a new minor-league baseball stadium; how Grand Rapids has revitalized its riverfront and created thousands of new jobs in education and healthcare; how Bethlehem has not only opened a new casino, but found many other uses for the massive steel mill that gave the city its identity.

But they’ve also seen how individual neighborhoods have been revitalized, how Grand Rapids has addressed the complex issue of racism, and how each community has prospered through strong leadership and effective public-private partnerships.

Some of the lessons are being directly applied — perhaps the most notable being the Healing Racism Institute of Pioneer Valley, which grew from the Grand Rapids experience — but area communities have benefited indirectly from seeing not only that other cities have overcome extreme challenges, but how.

Thus we encourage participation in this year’s trip, especially when it comes to the region’s younger leaders — those who have chosen to launch or continue a career in this region and will likely play a big part in shaping its future course.

Many of these young leaders have been exposed to great learning experiences through participation with such groups as the young professionals’ societies and organizations such as Leadership Pioneer Valley. City2City can and will broaden their horizons in many different ways.

Continuing and expanding the City2City initiative can only help this region, and area communities and business leaders should take full advantage of this unique opportunity.

Daily News

SPRINGFIELD — The Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield (ACCGS) has announced that Eastfield Mall and Auburn Crossing General Manager Melinda Graulau has been chosen as its 2015 recipient of the Leadership Community Service Award. The award will be presented at the Leadership 2015 graduation ceremonies on April 16 at the Springfield Sheraton.

Leadership 2015 is a unique collaboration between the ACCGS and Western New England University (WNEU) to teach middle- and upper-level managers the crucial thinking and problem-solving skills needed to prepare participants to be effective leaders in service to the community and their workplaces. Since 1990, the award has been presented annually to a citizen or organization that exemplifies the program’s values of leadership in the workplace and in the world and a commitment to community service.

A 2012 graduate of the program, Graulau moved to Western Mass. in 2009 to take on the role of general manager at the two shopping malls for Mountain Development Corp. She leads a team of 40 and is responsible for temporary and permanent leasing, expense control, personnel development, contract negotiations, and community relations.

“Since moving to the region, Mel has immersed herself in our community, including serving a key role on our affiliate board of directors, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce,” said ACCGS President Jeffrey Ciuffreda. “She recognizes the value of public and private partnerships and worked closely with the city of Springfield to secure funding for an $8 million rehabilitation of Boston Road,” he added.

Prior to joining Eastfield Mall and moving to Springfield, Graulau spent more than 20 years in shopping-center management and marketing with a variety of shopping-center developers, including CBL & Associates, General Growth Properties, Ramco-Gershenson Properties Inc., Horizon Group, and the Pyramid Companies.

Born and raised in Alma, Michigan, Graulau came to Massachusetts for the first time in 1988 upon graduating from college to pursue a career in retail, which eventually launched her career into the shopping-center industry in 1991.

She is a member of various Springfield ad hoc committees, including the city’s new revenue committee, the Springfield Chamber of Commerce board of directors, and the Dakin Humane Society board of directors and finance committee. She is a former board member of the YMCA of Greater Springfield, past chair of its LiveSTRONG event, and currently serves on its finance committee.

Graulau also served as co-president of the Boston Road Business Assoc. and a participant with City2City Pioneer Valley and the Affiliated Chambers of Commerce of Greater Springfield’s Washington symposium.

Graulau’s other past leadership positions include former chairperson of the state operations committee for the Michigan chapter of the International Council of Shopping Centers; a former member and treasurer of Zonta Club of Farmington/Novi, Mich.; former treasurer of the Livonia (Mich.) Chamber of Commerce; and former board member for the Battle Creek (Mich.) Area Chamber of Commerce. She is a graduate of Central Michigan University in Mount Pleasant.

City2City Sections
City2City

the historic center of the city.

By most accounts, the Sands casino has neither helped nor hurt businesses in the historic center of the city.

Matt Assad was covering a variety of matters at Bethlehem City Hall for the Morning Call newspaper, as well as some general assignment work, when he was handed what essentially became the casino beat in 2005.

He told BusinessWest that he probably filed more than 100 stories on the broad topic over the next several years, including a few involving a community roughly 1,500 miles to the west.

That would be Council Bluffs, Iowa, where three casinos had opened over the previous few years.

Assad visited that community of 63,000 people to gain some perspective on what happens when a casino opens its doors, with regard to everything from business to crime to the character of the city in question. Summing up what he learned rather quickly, and in no particular order, he said there was no prostitution (at least that anyone knew of), no mob figures patrolling the casino floors, no huge impact (good or bad) on existing business, some problems with gambling addiction, and, overall, few people with many bad things to say about the arrival of organized gaming.

And seven years later, he says that essentially the same things have happened, or not happened, as the case may be, in Bethlehem and surrounding communities.

That was the gist of the message he left with the City2City delegation from Greater Springfield that visited the Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem late last month. In fact, as he addressed that group, he apologized (sort of) to the man sitting two seats down from him at the head table, Robert DeSalvio, president of the casino, before noting, “if you didn’t come to Bethlehem to visit the casino, you probably wouldn’t even know it’s here. And I guess that’s a good thing.”

In a later interview with BusinessWest, Assad said there has been an increase in crime, but about what would be expected from any enterprise that brings 20,000 people into a community each day, be it a casino or a shopping mall or an amusement park. And there have been some unexpected problems, such as the need for the county’s court system to hire employees who can speak Mandarin and Cantonese — spending necessitated by mostly minor crimes committed by the thousands of Asians who come to the casino from the New York metropolitan area, only 85 miles to the northeast, every day.

But overall, Assad wore out the phrase ‘neutral’ to describe the overall affect of the complex at 77 Sands Blvd.

“It hasn’t been as beneficial as the advocates said it would be,” he said. “And it hasn’t been as bad as the naysayers predicted.”

Assad told BusinessWest that, while there were never any guarantees that a casino license would be awarded to Lehigh County, it was generally believed that the region’s close proximity to New York and New Jersey and what he would call in one of his stories the “Asian invasion” — it is a shorter ride from those areas to Bethlehem than it is to either Atlantic City or Central Connecticut (Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun) — would make it an attractive option for casino operators.

And eventually there were several proposals for that area, including one in Allentown and two in Bethlehem, he said, adding that one of the plans for the latter, a greenfield proposal, never gained a strong measure of support from city officials.

This then left Allentown pitted against Bethlehem and a proposal for the old steel mill there, in what he described as a fairly bitter contest.

“Allentown and Bethlehem … there’s quite a bit of tension between them because the mayors don’t like each other at all,” said Assad. “And the mayor of Allentown’s contention all along was that Allentown needs this more than Bethlehem.”

That argument didn’t prevail at the state level, he went on, adding that, perhaps in an effort to ease all that tension, a revenue-sharing agreement between those communities and a few others was worked out. It’s a strategy he believes Western Mass. leaders should attempt to replicate.

Looking back, Assad said there was both support for a casino in Bethlehem and opposition, primarily from the large and vocal Moravian community. And while there were fears about crime, prostitution, and problem gambling, perhaps the biggest concern was that the city would lose its character, he noted.

“People thought that Bethlehem had found its niche in historic preservation, tourism — it was the Christmas City,” he said. “The city had kept to its roots of sort of being that quaint, historic town, and many felt it didn’t have to do anything as unseemly as a casino.”

As things have worked out, that reputation has not been compromised, he went on, adding that, in his opinion, Bethlehem hasn’t become a casino town — it’s simply a community with a quaint downtown and a huge piece of American industrial history just a few blocks away, that also has a casino.

Meanwhile, that casino’s operators have collaborated with the city and several nonprofit agencies to bring additional development of the massive former Bethlehem Steel plant, which had lay mostly dormant for many years after it ceased all operations in 1995, said Assad, noting that the casino has, in some ways, been a force in economic development.

It has not, however, been any real help to existing businesses, especially in the area around it, what’s known as South Bethlehem.

Indeed, while those who don’t come to Bethlehem for the casino might not know it’s there, the great majority of those who do come for it don’t see anything else, said Assad, adding that revamped traffic patterns make it all too easy to get into the casino and then back on the highway and home.

“Most people who go to the casino never see Bethlehem in daylight,” he explained. “They come in their car, they get out of the car in the parking garage, they do their thing, and then they leave again. They never really see any of Bethlehem.”

Still, the casino has a huge overall economic impact, he told BusinessWest, noting the $9 million in real-estate taxes and that $19 million host fee paid annually.

These numbers, along with the related developments at the steel site, the revenue-sharing agreement, and the few negative effects on surrounding communities, lead Assad to conclude that the Sands is probably the most successful casino operation in Pennsylvania, for all parties involved

He advises Western Mass. leaders to take what they can from that experience, but above all, to understand the huge stakes involved, short and long term, and “get it right.”

 

— George O’Brien

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City2City

Allentown’s new, $230 hockey-arena development

Allentown’s new, $230 hockey-arena development also includes a 220-room hotel, office space, restaurants, and other retail uses.

Mayor Ed Pawlowski lost the battle to host the Lehigh Valley area casino, but he believes he may have won an even bigger prize for Allentown in something called a neighborhood improvement zone, or NIZ.

The concept, which became reality only after a prolonged battle in the state Legislature and then several court fights, stipulates that all state and city tax revenue, except real-estate taxes, collected by businesses within the NIZ will be used to repay 30-year bonds issued by the Allentown Economic Development Corp. to fund various development projects in the zone.

That list is topped by a new, $230 million arena that will host the Lehigh County Phantoms (the displaced affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers), but also includes a new 220-room hotel, perhaps 2 million square feet of new office space spanning two initiatives, new restaurants, and other forms of retail development.

The NIZ has spawned considerable debate about what the lost tax revenue — perhaps $15 million annually, by some estimates — will mean for the Commonwealth of Pennyslvania, and also whether the NIZ activity represents new development or simply moving business from one side of Allentown to the other.

But what can’t be debated is how the zone has changed the landscape in this city in Eastern Pennsylvania, visited by the City2City Springfield delegation late last month.

Indeed, there is now a 30-foot-deep hole at Seventh and Hamilton streets, covering roughly three city blocks of what had been vacant or underutilized properties taken by eminent domain for the creation of what will be known as City Center.

This was the site of an elaborate groundbreaking ceremony for the arena project on Nov. 29, at which city officials and Phantom executives used special hockey-stick-handled shovels to move some dirt around.

“We are breaking ground on the future of Allentown,” said Pawlowski at the event, using that phrase to describe both the ceremony and the NIZ itself, which is a novel concept and unique to Allentown.

In a later interview with BusinessWest, he said the zone, and the broad City Center project, came about as Allentown was searching for ways to spark new development in a community struggling to recover from both the recession and a region-wide loss of manufacturing jobs to other parts of this country and other nations.

Allentown was one of a handful of communities in Lehigh County that were targeted by casino operators after enabling legislation was passed roughly a decade ago, and eventually became a finalist in the contest won by neighboring Bethlehem.

The 130-acre NIZ and what is taking shape within its boundaries is not officially described as ‘plan B,’ said the mayor, but that’s what it amounts to, and he believes it has the potential to be as much of a game changer as a gaming facility would be.

“It’s a huge economic-development tool,” he told BusinessWest, suggesting that officials in Springfield look closely at trying to do something similar. “It’s something that would be incredibly viable and help attract business from other states if it’s done right.”

Pawlowski said city officials looking for alternative financing models needed to build an arena and bring the Phantoms to Allentown, researched tactics used in other cities, and eventually focused on a strategy used in Arizona involving state-tax revenues — in ways similar to how tax-increment-financing, or TIF, packages involving local property taxes are utilized — to finance public and private initiatives.

The NIZ is in many ways better than a TIF project or zone, said the mayor, because local property taxes are not lost to the community or its school department. “It’s a cost-neutral proposal for the state, but a net-plus for the municipality and for economic development.”

And in the case of the Allentown’s NIZ, it encouraged development across many sectors, expanding the project well beyond the arena.

“We realized that just putting in an arena wasn’t going to be the end-all answer for development,” he explained. “It could be a key anchor to bring people and resources back into the urban core, but we needed other elements to also occur around it.”

The eventual legislation passed in Pennsylvania works on a simple theory — that state and local taxes essentially deferred to cover bonds floated for redevelopment projects will be recovered, and perhaps far surpassed, by taxes generated by new development taking place within the neighborhood-improvement district.

It’s a noble experiment that was met with some initial skepticism and opposition, said Pawlowski, as well as some concerns from institutional investors involved in the project about whether the Legislature could someday repeal the measure.

That led to follow-up legislation with a clause stipulating that the law couldn’t be repealed, and then eventually another modification involving earned income tax, an issue that spawned several lawsuits that delayed work within the zone.

“It actually passed the Legislature three times and was signed by two governors,” said Pawlowski. “It was no easy task — it was a monumental task — but we were able to pull it off, and it’s generated lots of revenue: all state taxes, all incremental taxes, for the next 30 years, for both public and private development.”

The arena, first office complex, and hotel are slated to be completed by 2014, said the mayor, adding that other components will be in place within a few years after that. And much of it represents what he considers new development.

That includes a new division, involving sports medicine and orthopedics, for Lehigh Valley Hospital; a consolidation initiative involving Penn National Bank; a new headquarters facility for Lehigh Fuels; and new office facilities expected to bring many law firms and accounting firms.

Adding all this up, Pawlowski believes the NIZ will likely have more long-term benefits for Allentown than a casino.

“I think it’s better than plan A,” he said. “They can have the casino; the casino has helped, but it is not a catalyst for other economic development.”

 

— George O’Brien

Opinion
A Breath of Fresh Air in Holyoke

When people reference Alex Morse’s age, they do so slowly and with conviction.
They say ‘22 years old’ as if there was a verbal exclamation point behind the number and words. And it’s understandable — that’s a very young age to be walking around with a business card that says ‘mayor of Holyoke.’
But Morse is not like most recent college graduates, as anyone who has spent just five minutes talking with him can readily understand. He has confidence, poise, a plan — well, about as much as any mayor can have a plan — and a deep affection for his city.
He’ll need all of that and more as he moves into the corner office, because the challenges facing Holyoke and all other urban centers are considerable, and real progress is difficult to achieve and sustain.
But Morse will make you want to believe.
His election is certainly one of the most intriguing stories of 2011 locally, a real breath of fresh air in a city that is in many ways ahead of Springfield in terms of generating some positive vibes. And now, with Morse’s election, there is genuine excitement and optimism in the Paper City.
There’s something else, too — what could be real leadership.
BusinessWest has recorded a number of urban turnaround stories in recent years. Just last month, we told the story of Grand Rapids, Mich., the site of a City2City visit involving a large delegation from this region. A year earlier, that same program took us to Winston-Salem and Greensboro, N.C. A few years ago, we relayed the stunning recovery in Lowell, and we’ve been witness to real progress in Worcester, Pittsfield, and other cities.
There are common denominators with each of these stories, but the most critical is leadership, in the form of individuals who can set a tone and get people to follow them and work with them as they carry out strategic initiatives; leadership, in the form of people who can restore civic pride and get people to believe in their community again; leadership, in the form of people who can generate game-changers.
It’s very early in the game — the new mayor is still organizing the desk drawers in his office — but we believe he possesses such leadership skills, even at 22.
In simple terms, Morse has real potential to be the proverbial right person in the right place at the right time. The place is a city that is showing some signs of life after spending decades in retreat, and the time is a period when Holyoke is gaining a reputation as a ‘green’ city, a place where individuals and businesses want to be, at a time when most planners and economic-development experts tell us that people want to move back into the cities that were abandoned in favor of the suburbs 40 years ago.
The person is someone who appears to have the ability to get people to listen, follow, and take the lead when necessary.
In sports, analysts have a phrase they use when observers get excited about someone who has excelled or overachieved in their first exhibition game or spring-training tilt. They say, ‘don’t put him in the Hall of Fame yet.’ That appears to be what we’re doing with Morse, and it’s probably a little unfair — or more than a little.
But even though he hasn’t presided over his first ceremonial ribbon-cutting yet, it is clear that there is excitement in Holyoke, and he is the primary cause of it. What happens when the media hype from the election and its aftermath dies down is anyone’s guess, but we believe that in time, and probably not much of it, people will stop referencing how old Morse is. That’s because they’ll have better, more important things to talk about.