What We’d Like to See in 2016 (Part 2)

In the last episode of ‘what we’d like to see in 2016,’ you might recall that we desired to see — and actually expect to see — progress on a number of fronts — everything from efforts to promote entrepreneurship to workforce-development initiatives in light of retiring Baby Boomers; from strategies to bolster the once (and still) proud manufacturing sector to what we called a ‘normalizing of relations with MGM’ after an unnecessarily stormy 2015.

For part 2, we have something else for the wish list — something probably more elusive but in many ways just as important. Let’s call it an attitude shift, or adjustment.

You know what we’re talking about, and it goes by different names in these parts. Some would label it an inferiority complex, while others, those who are slightly more cynical, might describe it as a ‘can’t-do attitude.’

It’s the sentiment that there’s something wrong, or lacking, in this region, and that we can’t ever rise above it and be like Boston or Cambridge, or even Lowell or Worcester. Such sentiments are reinforced every December when BusinessWest presents its annual Economic Outlook. Economists from area colleges and universities and AIM talk about how great the state’s economy is doing, and then present the obligatory caveat — ‘except in Western Mass.’

So there are some good reasons why this attitude prevails, especially when one considers the city of Springfield, the unofficial capital of this region.

Indeed, when people talk about it glowingly (which isn’t that often), it is almost always with the past tense that they get the job done. That’s what’s needed when we talk about everything from vibrancy downtown to the state of the manufacturing sector, to the health and vitality of specific neighborhoods. The good old days were decades ago, and by most accounts, especially from those who fuel the inferiority complex, we’re not likely to see them again, at least anytime soon.

Meanwhile, the skyline of the city — maybe the most telling sign of progress when it comes to a metropolitan area — simply hasn’t changed (unless one counts the MassMutual Center) since Ronald Reagan was in the White House and Mike Dukakis was in the State House. That’s a long time to go without a major new building initiative. In the 30 years prior to that, the downtown changed dramatically.

And this brings us back to our hope for an attitude adjustment. It’s not going to instantly change our fortunes, but it certainly can’t hurt.

We have to accept the fact that this region is not going to Boston, any more than Albany or Troy can be New York City, or Augusta can be Atlanta, or Bethlehem can be Pittsburgh. And in the meantime, there is a lot to be proud of here — a high quality of life, affordability, culture, history, tradition, and some extremely livable communities.

What we don’t have … OK, that’s a long list. We don’t have a large biotech sector or major technology employers or a robust financial-services sector. Perhaps more importantly, we don’t the vibrant nightlife and myriad entertainment options often needed to attract and retain the professionals needed to fuel all of the above.

But people are working on it. Dramatic change won’t come overnight, but it’s very easy to envision a Springfield, and therefore a region, that is more vibrant — and still has all those other qualities listed above.

How easy? Much more easily than any time in the past 30 years.

Will it happen? Maybe. We’ll even offer a ‘probably.’ And an attitude adjustment might just help get it done.