As we turn the page on 2022 and look ahead to a year filled with question marks, those of us at BusinessWest offer up some thoughts on what we’d like to see in the year ahead.
Some wishes would fall in the category of ‘obvious’ — a slowing of inflation, fewer and less dramatic interest-rate hikes (how about none at all?), improvement on the workforce front, and some real movement on job growth — while others might be less obvious. Here’s a short list:
The past three years have been a long, grueling grind for area businesses, large and small. They have had to cope with COVID, a workforce crisis, supply-chain issues, dramatic price increases, recession fears, waning consumer confidence, a microchip shortage, incessant employment-law challenges, cybersecurity issues, the various challenges of remote work, early retirement among Baby Boomers … the list doesn’t seem to end, and we certainly forgot a few.
The region’s business community could use a break, a breather, some real ‘party like its 2019’ normalcy, not the new normal. Let’s hope some is coming in 2023.
A More Impactful MGM Springfield
Let’s start by saying the casino complex on Main Street has had to deal with everything on the list above, just like everyone else. So it has certainly not had an easy ride since the parade that marked its grand opening in late August 2018. That said, few if any would say that MGM Springfield has had anything close to the kind of economic impact we were all hoping for, if not expecting, when it was blueprinted and then built.
Yes, it has had a stake in several meaningful initiatives, like the project to revitalize the old Court Square Hotel. But, overall, gaming revenues are not what were projected, and the same can be said for vibrancy in the casino area, the list of things to do at the complex, meetings and conventions, and impact. We’ve said it before, and it bears repeating … there are many days when, if you didn’t know there was a casino on Main Street, you wouldn’t know there was a casino on Main Street. This needs to change, and hopefully we’ll see some progress in 2023. Maybe sports betting will help.
Continued Growth of the Entrepreneurship Ecosystem
This has been one of the better economic-development stories of the past several years, and the region needs to continue and build upon its efforts to encourage entrepreneurship. As the immense competition for manufacturers and other kinds of businesses, and the jobs they create, only increases, perhaps the most realistic opportunities for growth in this region are of the organic kind. Progress in this fashion comes slowly and, in most cases, undramatically. But we have to continue to plant seeds.
Relief on the Workforce Front
We’re not sure if or how it can happen, but the area’s employers need some relief from the crushing workforce crisis. As the stories that begin on page 13 clearly show, workforce is the issue that is keeping business owners and managers up at night. Worse, it’s keeping many businesses from reaching their full potential and realize some of the opportunities that are coming their way.
The region and the state cannot simply wave a wand and bring thousands of people into the workforce. But what they can do is continue and accelerate the work to make this state more attractive, not just for businesses, but for the people who will work at them, by creating more affordable housing and taking other steps to bring people here instead of compelling them to look or move elsewhere to find a job, start a career, or write the next chapter.