Page 12 - BusinessWest March 17, 2021
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WMGM Must Get Back on the Ramp
hen everyone gathered on Main Street that hot field was enjoying before the pandemic made Main Street a quiet, August day back in 2018 to mark the opening of MGM almost depressing, place to be.
Springfield, no one really knew what to expect or And a lot will have to go right for such a comeback to happen.
what the future would bring. First, people will have to regain the confidence needed to gather
John Gormally [email protected]
George O’Brien [email protected]
Kate Campiti
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Joseph Bednar
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Kate Campiti [email protected]
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 Certainly, no one could have predicted what the scene would be like two and half years later.
Indeed, the COVID-19 pandemic took a resort casino that was ‘ramping up’ — that’s the phrase we kept hearing over and again from past and present leaders — and knocked it completely off
the ramp. The casino was shuttered for several months, and when it reopened, it was only at a fraction of its full capacity. Until very recently, the hotel and most of the restaurants were closed, and the event venues were quiet and dark.
These days, the capacity is not quite half and destined to keep inching higher. The hotel is open on weekends, and the sports bar has reopened its doors as well. But huge question marks surround just when and under what circumstances the casino complex
will again be able to host concerts, shows, and other large-scale gatherings.
In some ways, we’re all back where we were almost 32 months ago ... wondering what will happen and just what the casino will mean for Springfield and this entire region. That’s where we are as MGM Springfield tries to get the ramping-up process back
to something approaching the plane it was on before the world stopped almost exactly a year ago.
We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again ... this region needs MGM to make a solid comeback from all that COVID has tossed at it. It needs to come, well, roaring back and play an important role in restarting, if that’s the right word, the renaissance that Spring-
in large numbers. In other parts of the country, and especially Las Vegas, where the casino business is coming back to life, the signs are quite positive. ‘Pent-up demand’ is the phrase we’re hearing a lot these days, and the hope — the expectation — is that there will be large quantities of it.
But Springfield’s casinos — and all the state’s casinos — could use some help as they proceed back up the ramp. And the state Legislature could deliver some in the form of sports betting.
Lawmakers have been dragging their feet on this issue for years now, and we cannot understand why. Sports betting, if done right, would provide another, potentially huge revenue stream for the state’s casinos at a time when they really need it.
New Hampshire and Rhode Island now have sports betting, and Connecticut is poised to join the fray. Much-needed tax dollars are going to other states or the illegal-betting arena, and Massachusetts simply cannot afford to keep sitting on the sidelines. To borrow still another sports phrase, it needs to get in the game, and soon.
Reflecting once more on that day in August 2018, the expecta- tion among many was that MGM Springfield would not solve all the region’s ills and would not magically transform the region over- night. Instead, it would be a player — a large and important player — and an economic engine.
The pandemic has certainly altered the timeline, but hopefully it hasn’t changed those expectations, or the probability they can be realized. v
  One Year After the Shutdown
BAy Nancy Creed
s we mark the one-year anniver-
sary of the state of emergency in
Massachusetts, we continue to take steps on our path forward.
Last week, legislators reached agree- ment on a COVID-19 package to support our business community as it begins to recover from the pandemic. The package would include two items that the Spring- field Regional Chamber has been aggres- sively advocating for: unemployment- insurance rate relief and tax relief from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan proceeds.
The agreement calls for a freeze in the unemployment insurance (UI) rate at the current Schedule E rate for 2021 and 2022, limiting the increases employers will see. Without passage, employers could see the unemployment insurance rates increase from an average of $539 to $866 per employee. This legislation would hold the average UI rates to $635 per employee in 2021 and $665 per employee in 2022.
The agreement would also exclude PPP loan amounts forgiven in 2020 from taxable gross income for those small businesses
that are organized as pass-through enti- ties. While Congress excluded these loans from federal taxation, without legislative action, these loans would have been taxed as income at the state level.
The agreement would also guarantee paid leave to employees who are sick with COVID-19, required to quarantine, or need to take time off to get the vaccine. As well, it will allow for state borrowing, through a temporary employer assessment, to ensure the solvency of the UI trust fund, which is projected to have a $5 billion deficit by the end of 2022, triggering higher increases in unemployment-insurance rates to remain solvent.
We applaud the Legislature for recogniz- ing the long-term economic impact this pandemic has had on our employer com- munity and to take these steps to support its recovery.
The federal government also recently took action, with the Senate approving
a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. One item your chamber supports in this package is the state and local aid to help our region’s cities and towns as they deal
with their own economic hardships result- ing from the pandemic. As specific details around this aid remain to be seen, we
will continue to watch this closely, as we believe this funding is critical to the fiscal health and stability of our communities.
The CDC has also issued much antici- pated guidance for individuals who are fully vaccinated. As of last week, more than 715,000 people in Massachusetts have been fully vaccinated, ranking Massachusetts first among states with 5 million people
or more for total COVID-19 vaccine doses administered. Massachusetts is currently in phase 2 of its vaccination plan, with teach- ers becoming eligible last week.
We have been through the wringer, and we know we have a ways to go, but these are all significant steps on our road to recovery and, we hope, the first of many more to come.
Stay safe and stay well. We can — and will — get through this together. v
Nancy Creed is president of the Springfield Regional Chamber.
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