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Opinion

Editorial

Those gathered around the water cooler have had to find other things to talk about in recent days, as James Holzhauer, the record-breaking, cyborg-like Jeopardy! champion was forced to the sidelines as the popular game show took a break for its teachers’ tournament.

But he’ll be back soon, and so will the talk — all kinds of talk. About his almost scary intellect, non-traditional tactics, intriguing personality, and, yes, his winnings — almost $1.7 million (in just 22 shows) when he had to take his break.

But the discussion at the water cooler, and in columns in newspapers and magazines across the country, has gone further in some cases, talking about how Holzhauer has somehow broken the popular game, ruined it, turned it into bad television, or somehow broken or distorted its rules.

Apparently, the virtues of even an incredible Jeopardy! winning streak are in the eyes of the beholder.

What we see is something quite intriguing, something that offers lessons about maybe how all of us should look at life, work, and running our businesses.

Indeed, for decades, it seemed, Jeopardy! was played one way. Contestants found a category they liked, started at the top, and moved to the bottom. When they found a Daily Double, they generally (but not always) wagered conservatively. A good day’s work was maybe $25,000 or even $35,000.

Then, along came Holzhauer, the professional sports gambler, who has obviously looked at this game and its rules and decided that there was a better, more effective, more lucrative way to play it. Before he arrived, the one-day record was $77,000. He’s averaging that — well, $76,864, to be exact — per game.

He starts at the bottom of each category with the big-money questions. He moves around the board searching for the Daily Doubles. When he finds them, he usually has a lot of money won, and then he wagers large amounts, often making them true Daily Doubles. And by hitting the $1,000 and $2,000 questions early — and getting them right — he’s building leads his opponents simply cannot overcome; there isn’t enough money left on the board.

When it gets to Final Jeopardy! the game is already won, but Holzhauer still wagers generally as much as he can, gets the question right (he hasn’t missed a final question yet), and often banks north of $100,000.

It’s radical, it’s different, but unless you’re a hopeless traditionalist who just doesn’t like the way Holzhauer is smoking his competiton every night, you have to like it, you have to applaud it — and you have to tune in to watch it. Yes, Jeopardy! ratings have been much higher since he started this remarkable run.

The lessons for managers and business owners? They’re quite obvious.

Holzhauer surveyed the scene, looked at how just about everyone before him had played Jeopardy! and decided there was a better way. And we’re willing to bet that many more people will be playing it this way from now own.

This is the way to look at your business and your role in it. The status quo is sometimes just fine. Doing things the way everyone else has done them is sometimes OK. But we always need to be searching for those better ways, those new and innovative ways, to do things.

By finding such ways, Holzhauer has set and re-set the single-day earnings record for Jeopardy! In fact, he now owns the 12 highest daily totals in the show’s history. He has, in effect, raised the bar, and he keeps raising it.

That’s the ultimate lesson from this incredible run.

Opinion

Editorial

Meryl Streep?

That’s who Peter Wirth, co-owner of Mercedes-Benz of Springfield, suggests, tongue in cheek (we think; we hope), should play him in a movie about his life.

“Let’s see if she can really play anything,” he writes in one of the answers to questions put to all of this year’s honorees. And when asked what figure, past or present, he would like to have lunch with, he suggests Ernest Hemingway. “I feel like he would have a few good stories, and there would most certainly be cocktails accompanying the lunch.”

The collective answers to a host of revealing questions cast a bright and intriguing light on this year’s honorees, who join the 480 who came before them as owners of some of the most prestigious plaques to be found in Western Mass. Indeed, a 40 Under Forty winner is someone who stands out among his or her peers (there were nearly 200 nominations submitted this year) and is truly a rising star amid a galaxy of them.

Indeed, contrary to popular theory, there is quite a bit of young talent in this region, and it exists across the board, in sectors ranging from healthcare to retail; from financial services to nonprofit management; from law to casino administration.

Their stories continue until you know all you need to know about Alyson Yorlano. And, as noted, to tell their stories, we used a questionnaire format, one that allows honorees to use their own words to convey what’s important to them, what inspires them, who mentored them, and yes, who they think could play them in a movie.

The answers are certainly good reading. They reveal some common denominators — everything from a willingness to work hard to get where they want to go, to a passion for family and community. And, in many cases, honesty and a good sense of humor.

As when Alex Dixon, the now-former general manager of MGM Springfield (he’s returned to Las Vegas to manage Circus Circus but will be at the Log Cabin in June for the 40 Under Forty gala), revealed that, growing up, he wanted to be governor of Nevada, an Alvin Ailey dancer, or a running back for the Washington Redskins.

Beyond witty answers, the profiles of this year’s honorees should provide inspiration for others seeking to own one of these plaques themselves, and encouragement for those who might be worried about whether we have sufficient young leadership coming of age in the 413.

Take Donald Havourd, who has thrived in a Fortune 500 corporate environment at MassMutual while simultaneously founding and growing a business, Migliore, which manufactures and distributes luxury car-care products.

Or Joy Baglio, who poured her passion for writing into the creation of the Pioneer Valley Writers’ Workshop, growing it in only three years from a solo enterprise to one with 13 instructors teaching dozens of workshops and classes each year.

Or Dorothy Ostrowski, whose unique trajectory has taken her from the war-torn streets of Afghanistan to a wide-ranging career in the fast-paced world of emergency-room nursing, to ownership of a venerable West Springfield construction company.

We hope you enjoy reading these stories, but more importantly, we hope these 40 rising stars make you feel good about the future of this region. Because we certainly do.

Opinion

Editorial

It’s a logical step, but the recent decision by the University of Massachusetts to create a national online college is one that can perhaps best be summed up with that phrase risk/reward.

Indeed, there are certainly potential rewards, but also some huge risks and certainly no guarantees of success with this planned enterprise. Like the school’s venture into big-time college football a decade or so ago, this move is certainly not as easy as it looks and will require a large investment, time, patience, and even some luck.

More on that later, but first the ‘logical step’ part.

The announcement made earlier this month by UMass President Martin Meehan certainly makes a great deal of sense given recent demographic trends and other factors that are impacting almost every college in the country, large or small.

High-school classes are getting smaller, and they’re going to continue to get smaller for at least another decade as families have fewer children. These smaller pools of high-school graduates are going to affect both smaller private schools like Hampshire College in Amherst and larger public universities like UMass, but in some ways, those public institutions will likely benefit from these demographic shifts as students and their families look for landing spots on firm financial ground.

But it only makes sense for a growth-minded institution to look beyond traditional students and toward older adults (non-traditional students) seeking to continue their education or finish a degree program — individuals who are prime candidates for online learning because of its flexibility and convenience (specifically, the opportunity to learn from home).

It makes so much sense that many growth-minded institutions are thinking along these same terms. In fact, UMass might actually be considered late to this party — although hopefully not too late.

Several large institutions such as Purdue, Arizona State, and the University of Maryland have established highly successful online programs, as have some smaller schools, such as Southern New Hampshire University. And, right here in the 413, Bay Path University formed the American Women’s College, an online school that has helped change the fortunes of the former two-year college in a profound way.

On the other side of the scorecard, however, several schools have launched online programs that have not met expectations, and still others have essentially scuttled their initiatives after years of high-cost underperformance.

The bottom line is that online education programs are, contrary to public opinion, quite expensive, rather complicated, and immensely competitive. Officials at UMass say this matter has been thought through thoroughly and that there is tremendous opportunity for growth — if they move quickly and properly.

“The time for us to act is now,” Meehan said in announcing the plans during his annual report on the state of the five-campus university system at the UMass Club in Boston. “It’s predicted that, over the next several years, four to five major national players with strong regional footholds will be established. We intend to be one of them.”

He’s certainly right about the first part of that equation — there will be several established in a few years. As for the second part, we hope he’s right about that, too.

But as several schools have already discovered, breaking into the online market is a challenging proposition.

Opinion

Editorial

In the wake of momentous, and almost simultaneous, decisions by Amazon and GE to essentially back out of huge deals they had struck with New York and Boston, respectively, there came waves of commentary hinting that the era of huge corporate location, or relocation, subsidies might finally be coming to an end because evidence was mounting that they’re just not working.

Alas, this is probably, if not almost certainly, wishful thinking. Instead of ushering in an end to this habit of cities, states, and regions handing out billions to billionaires on the promise that they will bring tens of thousands of jobs, the events in Boston, and especially New York, only demonstrate why they won’t be ending anytime soon.

Indeed, while many are praising New Yorkers for standing up to Amazon and saying ‘enough is enough’ when it comes to these corporate handouts ($3 billion in this case), many, many more are lamenting a lost opportunity, criticizing the critics for letting a very big fish work its way off the line. And for the record, New York didn’t really stand up to Amazon. Instead, the corporate giant simply decided it didn’t want to take the heat and the criticism and would much rather go where it was not just welcome, but entirely and unabashedly welcome.

And why not? Seemingly within minutes after it was announced that Amazon would not be building in Queens, elected officials in New Jersey, who finished out of the running in the huge sweepstakes to land Amazon’s second headquarters, said, in essence, ‘our offer is still on the table; take another look at us. Please. Please!’

No, New York’s loss wasn’t in any way a victory for anyone. It didn’t change the equation, and New York is out roughly 50,000 jobs. Amazon just changed the rules slightly but importantly by saying, ‘give us a huge relocation subsidy, and don’t criticize us in any way about taking it.’

And the reality is that it’s on very safe ground as it says that.

Why? Because, as we’ve said many times, jobs are now — and will continue to be for decades to come — the most precious commodity on the planet, and cities and states will do whatever it takes to land them.

Even cities like New York and Boston, which shouldn’t have to compete for them. Indeed, in a perfect world, giant corporations should be paying huge subsidies to come to those cities, which have the skilled workers and the vitality and quality of life to attract more of them. They should be paying subsidies to help those cities battle homelessness, feed the poor, and help the have-nots join the haves.

But this isn’t a perfect world. When Seattle’s City Council passed a tax on large employers to fund an initiative to combat homelessness, Amazon threatened to stop major expansion plans, putting 7,000 jobs at risk. Not surprisingly, the tax was rescinded.

Not surprisingly, because city councils don’t hold the real power in such matters; major corporations like Amazon do.

In the wake of the company’s decision to scuttle its plans for Queens, many are calling what happened a victory for New York and other cities like it. Call us skeptical, but we’re not sure what, if anything, was won.

Opinion

Editorial

On the surface, state Sen. Eric Lesser’s proposal to essentially pay remote workers and teleworkers to relocate to Western Mass. seems like an act of desperation.

And in many ways, it is. For decades now, this region has been touting (if not actively marketing) its many assets, including quality of life and affordable housing, and yet the area remains that proverbial best-kept secret.

Meanwhile, many young people, seeing few intriguing job opportunities developing in the 413, are opting for other area codes, especially those in the Boston area, where they’re finding jobs, but also a sky-high cost of living.

So why not incentivize people to do what Horace Greeley first suggested Americans do a century and a half ago — go west?

Lesser’s proposal is to create a $1 million pilot program that would provide up to $10,000 for people to move to this region, buy equipment for a home office, or rent co-working space. He has told media outlets he was inspired by the story of Boon and Caro Sheridan, who decided that, instead of trying to slug it out in Boston’s challenging rental market, they would relocate to Holyoke and eventually buy a converted church.

So why not incentivize people to do what Horace Greeley first suggested Americans do a century and a half ago — go west?

It’s a nice story, and one that can, indeed, be duplicated. And Lesser’s proposal might help, although, in this day and age, $10,000 isn’t enough to cover any of those three costs listed above, and that figure isn’t likely to turn anyone’s head. Triple it, or make it $50,000, and maybe we’d have something. Maybe.

But the actual dollar amount attached to this program is only part of the story. Lesser is right in his argument that if cities and regions can incentivize companies to move in — GE is a good example — and individual companies can incentivize individuals to work for them (happens all the time), why can’t we incentivize people to move to a region?

We can, but we have to offer them a lot more than covering their moving costs. Indeed, the best incentive to getting people to come to a region — or stay in one, as the case may be — isn’t a check from the state. It’s a much larger check from an employer.

And this is a much more complicated proposition.

While some companies have ‘found’ Western Mass. over the past several decades, most haven’t really bothered to look, opting to locate where they know the workers are — the Route 128 beltway, for example.

What’s needed are incentives for corporations — not merely the likes of Boon and Caro Sheridan — to want to move here. And as we said, that’s a much tougher assignment.

We applaud Sen. Lesser for thinking outside the box and creating a discussion that we need to have. His proposal is worth trying, and it just might incentivize some software designers and other creative professionals who can work at home to make their home here.

But with this proposal, as well as his work to build a high-speed rail line that would link Boston with the western part of the state, Lesser is focused on making this area a better place to live. That’s fine, but what we really need to do is make this more of a place to work, and not just remotely in a home office carved out of an old church or an old paper mill.

Lesser is right when he says incentives work and money spent luring large corporations might better be spent trying to bring people to the four counties west of Worcester.

But if we really want to change the landscape in Western Mass. and stem the tide of outmigration, the only solution is to create more quality job opportunities. Tens of thousands of them.

Opinion

Editorial

Just over a decade ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program, Difference Makers. And in many ways, the past 10 years have been a celebration of the many different ways groups and individuals can make a difference in their community, and this region as a whole.

Indeed, those making their way to the podium at the Log Cabin Banquet & Meeting House in Holyoke have included a sheriff of Hampden County, a police chief in Holyoke, the president of UMass Amherst, the founder of Rays of Hope, the director of Junior Achievement, the co-founder of Link to Libraries, the creators of Valley Venture Mentors … the list goes on.

And this year’s additions to that list  provide still more evidence that there are countless ways to make a difference, and they all need to be celebrated:

• Let’s start with the Food Bank of Western Massachusetts. This Hatfield-based agency, launched in the early ’80s, is a Difference Maker on many levels, from the 11.6 million pounds of food and 9.6 million meals it provides to area shelters and soup kitchens, to its Coalition to End Hunger, which is raising awareness of the problem, attacking the stigma attached to it, and advocating for those in need. For almost 40 years, the Food Bank has been answering the call.

• The same is true of Joe Peters, a businessman who has always had an influence that has extended far beyond the walls of Universal Plastics. It has extended across Chicopee, the city he grew up and still lives in today, with initiatives such as the so-called ‘sandwich ministry,’ a program he helped start to feed the homeless in that city. And it has extended all the way to Guayape, Honduras, where he helped bring a new ambulance to that hurricane-ravaged village. He has always looked for new ways to step in and change lives for the better.

• As has Peter Gagliardi, the long-time president and CEO of Way Finders. He has spent the past 45 years working in the broad realm of housing and the past quarter-century at Way Finders, where he has greatly expanded the mission and, while doing so, has changed lives and helped change the course of entire neighborhoods through the power of collaboration.

• Frederick and Marjorie Hurst have always been catalysts for positive change within their community, especially through the newsmagazine they created called An African American Point of View, a name that speaks volumes about its mission and importance to the community. It blends community news with often-unsparing commentary, and speaks with a powerful voice, just like its founders.

• The Springfield Museums, as a cultural institution, is a different kind of Difference Maker. For more than 160 years, it has helped bring art, science, history, and memories to visitors from across this region and far outside it, a mission that entered a new dimension with the opening of the Amazing World of Dr. Seuss Museum in 2017. Collectively, the Museums have helped put Springfield on the map and make it far more of a destination.

• Meanwhile, Carla Cosenzi, co-president of the TommyCar Auto Group, has found her own ways to make a difference. First, as a successful business owner and, therefore, role model and mentor to many young women. But also has a warrior in the battle against cancer, the disease that claimed the life of her father, through the Tommy Cosenzi Driving for the Cure Golf Tournament.

As we said, there are no limits on the ways that an individual or group can make a difference here in Western Massachusetts, or in Guayape, Honduras for that matter. That’s what we’ve been celebrating for the past decade, and the celebration continues with the class of 2019.

Opinion

Editorial

For years now, there have been rumblings from the world of higher education. Rumblings that times were changing and times were not particularly good. Rumblings that in some cases led to mergers among colleges, even a closing or two, and predictions that more were likely to come.

But the rumblings seemed far away, involving small institutions most of us had never heard of — Mount Ida College, Newbury College, the College of St. Joseph.

All of that changed last week, when Hampshire College President Miriam Nelson dropped what seemed like a bombshell, but what was in reality news that many saw coming. She announced that, amid falling enrollment and declining revenues, the nearly half-century-old college has commenced a search for a partner to help secure its future. The situation is so dire that school officials are not even sure if they’re going to admit a freshman class for this coming fall.

That decision will come in the near future, and in the meantime, the school will search hard for a merger partner, preferably one that will not only help it get back on solid financial footing, but enable it to maintain its non-traditional approach — there are no grades here, for example — and decidedly different ways of doing things.

Nelson is confident that such a partner can be found — other schools, such as Wheelock College, have forged such partnerships, in its case with Boston University — but time will tell.

Meanwhile, the announcement from Hampshire College should serve as a wake-up call, not that anyone in higher education really needed one, that times are, indeed, changing, and that imaginative, proactive steps are needed to secure the future of such institutions.

Numbers lie at the heart of this problem — all kinds of numbers, but especially those pertaining to the size of high-school graduating classes. They’ve been falling steadily over the past several years, and at an alarming rate.

With fewer students going to college, a survival-of-the-fittest scenario is emerging, and there are high stakes, not only for the colleges involved but the communities in which they reside.

Indeed, it’s no secret that, in addition to healthcare, education is the other pillar of the region’s economy — hence the phrase ‘eds and meds.’

Fortunately, for the most part, the ‘eds’ sector locally remains quite strong, and many institutions are faring well, primarily because they are fitter than some others.

And by fit, we mean aggressive in efforts to develop new programs and new revenue streams, and also tell their story. In short, they are not sitting on their hands, hoping and believing that times will get better and that what has worked in the past will work in the future.

At the risk of greatly oversimplifying things, this is exactly what has happened at Hampshire, and also Mount Ida and other schools.

Several schools in this area have been very proactive in finding new ways to attract students and remain vibrant. Bay Path University and the emergence of its cybersecurity programs is a good example (and there are many others there), and American International College’s ambitious expansion of its graduate programs (a strong sources of revenue) is another example.

The demographic patterns we’re seeing today are not projected to change anytime soon. High-school graduating classes are going to continue to get smaller, and colleges of all sizes — even this region’s community colleges — must be creative and entrepreneurial in their planning if they intend to not only survive but thrive.

If they’re not, there may well be more press conferences like the one at Hampshire College last week.

Opinion

Editorial

Back nearly a quarter-century ago, BusinessWest launched a new recognition program — the first of what would become many: its Top Entrepreneur Award.

And that name pretty much says it all. It’s an award recognizing entrepreneurial spirit — the kind that made this region what it is today, business-wise. The kind possessed by people like Milton Bradley, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, Mike Kittredge of Yankee Candle, and Prestley and Curtis Blake, who were just 20 and 18, respectively, when they launched Friendly Ice Cream in 1935.

That kind of entrepreneurial spirit lives on today, and it needs to be recognized, because it is that spirit, as much as any effort to lure casinos or subway-car-building companies to the region, that is responsible for the economic vitality we enjoy in this region.

Indeed, BusinessWest now has a number of recognition programs, including the wildly popular 40 Under Forty competition and the Continued Excellence Award that emerged from it, Difference Makers, Healthcare Heroes, and Women of Impact. But the Top Entrepreneur Award may in some ways be the most significant in terms of its ability to recognize excellence and inspire others.

And entrepreneurship is inspiring, because it comes in many forms. There’s the more traditional variety — generally in the form of bringing new products and services to the market. And BusinessWest has recognized individuals who have done that over the years, such as Paul Kozub, creater of V-One Vodka. There are also serial entrepreneurs, like Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin and several other businesses, and Bob Bolduc, founder of Pride, who continues to find new ways to expand and improve upon that brand.

There are generations of the same family who have taken an enterprise well beyond its original roots — the Balise family (auto dealerships) the Falcone family (Rocky’s Hardware), and the D’Amour family (Big Y) have been so honored.

And then, there are individuals and groups who would be considered non-traditional and honored because of the manner in which they have brought entrepreneurial thinking to an organization. There have been several winners in this category as well, ranging from former STCC President Andrew Scibelli to former Cooley Dickinson Hospital CEO Craig Melin, to last year’s honorees — the owners and managers of the Springfield Thunderbirds.

Actually, those who have resurrected hockey in Springfield fit into several of those categories, because they’re introducing new products and inspiring an organization to become entrepreneurial in everything it does.

And the same can be said for the Top Entrepreneurs for 2018, the Antonacci family. Indeed, its work also falls into several categories, of you will, especially that of the serial entrepreneur. The various generations have created everything from a waste-hauling operation to a horse-breeding and racing farm; from a family-entertainment complex to a high-end country club. But they have also worked continuously to find new and imaginative ways to expand those ventures and make them even more successful.

Younger generations of the family talked about their grandfather (Sonny Antonacci) as a visionary who could see opportunities where others didn’t — like bottled water during the 1970s, even though he didn’t actually get into that industry. But they possess the same trait themselves as they take GreatHorse, Sonny’s Place, Lindy’s Farm, and especially USA Waste & Recycling to new heights.

The Top Entrepreneur Award was created to recognize entrepreneurship, showcase the many forms it takes, and inspire those looking to follow in the footsteps of some of those now-famous names mentioned earlier.

In all those respects, the many members of the Antonacci family are certainly worthy recipients.

Opinion

Editorial

A year ago this time, we were writing how the pieces would soon start to fall in place for Springfield and this region as a whole and how there would be the start of a snow-ball effect regarding the city and heightened interest as it as a place to live, work, and invest in.

Well, 12 months later, the snowball is starting to take on some size and move at a pretty good clip, making the outlook for 2019 considerable bright locally, even as the picture nationally is becoming increasingly clouded by question marks (see related stories beginning on page 16).

In a way, there are two stories when it comes to the economy: nationally, there is considerable apprehension regarding a slowdown — what’s happening in Wall Street is a perfect example — even though most economic indicators, everything from unemployment rates to demand loans, remain solid.

It will be up the Fed, as well as investors and other constituencies, to sort things out at an intriguing time, when there is growth and doubt — both in very large quantities.

Meanwhile, locally, the region, and especially Springfield, seem to be on the cusp of something momentous, maybe even historic.

Those quoted in the stories comprising the Economic Outlook 2019 section speak of not merely optimism (there’s been lots of that over the years), but interest and activity. Tourism officials talk of rising occupancy rates and hotel-room rates and interest in developing new hotels. Meanwhile, commercial real-estate brokers and managers talk of interest in this market that they haven’t seen in decades — if ever.

Investors are looking at sites for everything from housing developments to cannabis dispensaries and everything I between.

It’s not as simple as ‘if you build it, they will come,’ but in many ways it is.

And what we’re building is a vibrant, livable, accessible city (and region) that people and businesses want to be part of. We have a long, long way to go, but more of those aforementioned pieces are falling into place, and more should come in the next few years.

MGM Springfield was certainly a big piece. It brought jobs, foot traffic, and interest in Springfield from people who might have had to look at a map or rely on the GPS system in the car to find it.

But there are many other pieces as well: Union Station and enhanced rail service are making it easier to get to the city; renovation of Stearns Square, Riverfront Park, and other facilities will make Springfield more livable; businesses and institutions moving into the downtown and investing there are prompting others to consider following suit; and an improved police presence is contributing to less apprehension about public safety — not to mention the many colleges now populating downtown, the ongoing remaking of Tower Square (White Lion Brewery will soon be moving in), the cannabis industry, and more.

When things like this start to happen, a city becomes more saleable as a place to live, and we’re seeing considerable interest in development of market-rate housing in and around downtown.

And when more people start to make the city their home address, more businesses — more restaurants, more clubs, some cannabis dispensaries, and more service-related ventures — will follow.

And then more people will want to relocate here, and more businesses will follow. That’s the theory, and in practice — and in some cities, like Cambridge, Lowell, and others — it works.

Will it work here? Perhaps. The signs are there. The pieces are falling into place, and the snowball is starting to take on size.

If 2018 was a year to build some momentum, then 2019 will be a year to capitalize on it. Big time.

Opinion

Editorial

Looking back, 2018 was, overall, a year of progress and accumulated momentum for the Greater Springfield region. As the calendar turns, we have a short wish list for 2019:

• Continued success for MGM Springfield. Not everyone is a big fan of gambling, but everyone should want this facility to not only succeed, but continue to grow and expand its influence. Most all of the things we wanted to happen with this casino — thousands of jobs, more vibrancy downtown, a boost to the convention and meetings market, and people loading ‘Main Street, Springfield, Mass.’ into the car’s GPS — have happened, and things we didn’t want to happen — traffic jams, turmoil in the labor market, and damage to other businesses — really haven’t happened. Let’s hope this pattern continues into the new year and beyond.

• More progress with helping the unemployed and underemployed get into the game. In most all respects, the economy is solid, and individual sectors are doing well. Employers are still struggling to find good help. But the regional unemployment rate remains higher than the national average, and many are still on the sidelines when it comes to the job market because they lack the needed hard and soft skills. Several area agencies and institutions, especially the community colleges, are aggressively attacking the problem, and it is our wish that these efforts generate some real results in the year to come, because, in many sectors, the only thing holding them back is securing enough talent to get the work done.

• More work to aggressively market this region and the many good things happening here. Yes, we know that Greater Springfield has come a long way since the dark days when a receiver controlled the City of Homes and its downtown was essentially dead as a doornail. But the rest of the region and the country don’t. We could wait for the New York Times and the Boston Globe to tel the story (they might get around to it someday), but we should probably tell it ourselves through targeted marketing, as other cities (New York) and states (Michigan) have done. We don’t need a catchy phrase, but we do need to get the word out. The Economic Development Council has recognized this as a priority and we hope to see some progress made in 2019.

• Continued efforts to inspire and mentor entrepreneurs. We’ve said this many times before, but need to keep emphasizing the point. The most logical way to create jobs and revitalize individual cities and their downtowns is not by luring large companies, but by building from within, by promoting entrepreneurship and then mentoring those who go into business for themselves. Yes, it takes longer, and for every Google — and we’re probably not going to get a Google — there are hundreds of ventures that fail to take flight. But we have to keep trying to build from within. We’ve made great progress in this realm through the efforts of Valley Venture Mentors and many others, and we have to continue building on the foundation that we’ve laid.