Some Things We’d Like to See in 2017
As we noted last issue, 2016 was, in many ways, and across the region, a year of progress. The economy didn’t grow by leaps and bounds — although the stock market certainly soared after the election — but that’s been the trend for roughly eight years now.
Overall, there was notable movement of the needle in the right directions — on economic development, entrepreneurship, revitalization of downtown Springfield, progress in efforts to reinvent the so-called Gateway Cities, and much more.
As the new year approaches, our basic hope is for essentially more of all of the above. Here, though, are some more specific thoughts on what we’d like to see:
• Continued movement in response to the aging Baby Boom generation. Everyone is talking about it, which is a good thing, but companies, and the region as a whole, have to move beyond talk. Baby Boomers are retiring in great numbers, and companies are waking up to the fact that, unless they are proactive, they may be facing a huge void in talent.
Much of the focus is on leadership and the higher rungs of a company’s management, but the problem will be felt at all levels. Succession planning is a must, as are steps to train people — in everything from soft skills to ever-advancing technology — so that, when it’s their time to lead, they’re ready.
• More and better efforts to promote the region. This goes well beyond efforts to find a new logo or slogan to somehow replace ‘Pioneer Valley’ and/or ‘Arrive Curious/Leave Inspired,’ which certainly needs replacing. And it goes further than making greater use of Dr. Seuss and his worldwide fame to promote Springfield, as one consultant has recommended. We’re talking about real marketing campaigns — for Springfield and the region, whatever we decide to call it from now on.
With MGM due to open in 18 months or so, the Dr. Seuss museum nearly ready to open its doors, Union Station set for its rebirth, and Springfield primed to put its troubled past behind it, the world needs to know what’s going on here. Yes, this takes money, but the region needs to find some and tell its story with a loud and effective voice.
• More momentum on entrepreneurship. We’ve managed to create quite a bit of it over the past few years, through Valley Venture Mentors, the EDC, other agencies, and the region’s colleges and universities, but the region as a whole needs to keep the pedal to the metal.
As we’ve said countless times, promoting entrepreneurship and mentoring those who choose that course is one of this region’s best economic-development strategies. Large numbers of jobs will not come overnight, and there is certainly a temptation to become frustrated with the pace of progress. But entrepreneurship is a huge part of this region’s business history, and there are many chapters still to write.
• A continued focus on keeping talent here. In some of the more rural areas of this region (such as Stockbridge: see story, page 10), the exodus of young people is reaching what amounts to crisis proportions. Indeed, the average age of the residents of some of the communities in Franklin and Berkshire counties is approaching 60, and this is dangerous territory.
Young people are leaving because there are no jobs — or no jobs that can become careers. With fewer and fewer young people, cities and towns lose vibrancy, tax dollars, and leadership. The problem is less acute in Hampden and Hampshire counties, but it remains a threat.
Elected officials and economic-development leaders have to work together to diversify economies and bring good jobs to some of these towns. If they don’t, they will pay a huge price down the road.