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Springfield Economic Growth Initiative

Project Summary & Background

Springfield is Massachusetts’ third largest city with 150,000 residents and is located in the heart of the Pioneer Valley 90 miles west of Boston and 35 miles north of Hartford, Connecticut. It is a gateway to both the popular vacation destinations in the Berkshires and to newcomers to the United States, with 20 percent of its population foreign born. Its non-white population hovers around 50 percent, and 20 percent of its households are below the poverty level, rising to 1/3 of children under 18 and over 50 percent of Hispanic families. Like other northeastern urban centers, its manufacturing base has eroded, creating economic challenges for the city and its businesses. Nonetheless, Springfield has been able to attract and keep significant businesses, including MassMutual Financial Group, Bay State Health, Milton Bradley and others, and to add important civic space with an expanded and renovated convention center. Its historic architecture and natural setting surrounded by parks, ponds and rivers also point to opportunity for economic revitalization.

Like many of the nation’s older industrial cities, Springfield has been struggling economically for many years. Springfield and its sister cities across the state and nation continue to face the long term effects of de-industrialization and have not yet found a niche in the specialized knowledge-oriented economy. Since 1960, Springfield has lost over half its manufacturing jobs. In 2004, in response to the City’s financial condition, the State established the Finance Control Board and by direction of the Governor, it is anticipated that the Control Board’s mandate will expire in the summer of 2009. While its immediate financial condition has improved, Springfield’s economic challenges remain, reflecting many of the challenges facing other Gateway Cities, and its recovery and economic prosperity offer substantial benefits both in Massachusetts and across the nation.

The City, its business and civic leaders, and the Control Board recognize that economic growth is critical to the long- term recovery of the city, fueled by job creation, new investment and new growth, producing a synergy that results in overall community improvement. Given the critical importance of Springfield to the region and to the State, MassINC and the Urban Initiative have worked with city leaders and the Control Board to develop a process, to be facilitated by MassINC and the Urban Initiative, which will result in a long-term economic strategy for Springfield, as it expands its economic base. Working with an advisory group of local civic, political, and business leaders, MassINC and the Urban Initiative will manage an 18-month initiative to better understand how similar cities across the country are transitioning to the knowledge economy and what are Springfield’s best opportunities to strengthen its long-term economic prospects.

MassINC and the Urban Initiative are well suited for this role. MassINC is a statewide nonpartisan think tank focused on the growth and vitality of the middle class. Recently, MassINC released an in-depth study of the challenges and opportunities in Massachusetts’ older cities entitled, Reconnecting Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities: Lessons Learned and an Agenda for Renewal. Following the release of that report, MassINC has been discussing its findings regionally all across the state with civic and business leaders from these cities, and has been working with economic development directors of all 11 of the Gateway Cities to help them develop a common agenda for policy change and action.

Activities & Project Design

MassINC and the Urban Initiative will engage in a two-phase process to reach the goal of a thoughtful and realistic economic growth strategy that city leaders stand behind and are prepared to implement. This strategy will draw from best practices in similar cities across the nation combined with the community knowledge regarding Springfield’s specific competitive advantages and opportunities.

The Urban Initiative will share responsibility for the public education and outreach component of this work with MassINC, including the establishment of the advisory committee described below. The Urban Initiative will also work within the University of Massachusetts system to identify strategies for more effective University engagement in the city. MassINC will manage all research responsibilities and the production, distribution, and dissemination of the research report and the economic development strategy.

In the first phase, MassINC will research the practices of similar cities across the country as they too transition to a knowledge economy. They will seek to answer the questions: What efforts are underway? What is known about what works and what does not work? What are the components of the best practices? They will then use this first report to place the challenges facing Springfield within the national context as well as to identify promising practices and policies that are underway elsewhere. This first phase will help set the stage for local and state input on possible strategies for Springfield. During this phase, the Urban Initiative and MassINC will also begin outreach activities including interviews and the formation of an advisory committee with local civic, business, and political leaders to help inform our research.

The advisory committee will consist of local and regional civic and business leaders along with statewide policy leaders to provide feedback and advice throughout the project. A similar committee was created for the Gateway Cities report and significantly strengthened the project, and specifically the policy recommendations. The advisory committee is expected to provide and support the emerging “coalition” interested in Springfield’s long-term renewal. This committee will provide valuable input and feedback as the process moves forward and help in planning and hosting outreach activities.

The second phase of the project will use the findings of the research to engage an even broader group of stakeholders in the process of developing the components of a strategy, which, with our engagement approach, those same stakeholders would then own and carry forward for implementing in the longer term. After the research is completed, the Urban Initiative and MassINC will conduct a series of briefings, events, and interviews with community, business, and political leaders to obtain further feedback on the research as well as to gather additional input on the direction of a strategy tailored specifically to Springfield. Based on the findings and discussions, MassINC and the Urban Initiative will develop an economic development strategy that will include:

  • current social and economic conditions in the city and the region
  • a survey of economic development efforts across the country in similar cities
  • short and long term challenges to economic development
  • short and long term opportunities for economic development
  • recommendations
  • implementation strategies

The final report will be released in late 2009/early 2010 for circulation and discussion by advisory committee members, civic stakeholders, and the general public in a series of briefings.

About MassINC

Massachusetts Institute for a New Commonwealth (MassINC) is a non-partisan think tank and civic organization focused on putting the American Dream within the reach of everyone in Massachusetts. MassINC uses three distinct tools - research, journalism and civic engagement - to fulfill its mission, each characterized by accurate data, careful analysis, and unbiased conclusions. It is not an advocacy organization but a new kind of think tank, rigorously non- partisan, whose outcomes are measured by the influence of its products in helping to guide advocates and civic and policy leaders towards wise decisions consistent with MassINC’s mission and in helping to engage citizens in understanding and seeking to influence the policies that affect their lives. One of MassINC’s greatest strengths is its capacity to communicate effectively about its work. Its rare combination of journalism, print, electronic and event- based capacities, combined with an extensive database of over 25,000 leaders across the state, make it a highly effective and strategic communicator. Since our inception in 1996, MassINC has established widespread credibility as a non-partisan resource for policy analysis, and it’s no wonder that the Boston Globe has called the organization “one of the state’s most valuable resources.”

Recently MassINC released an in-depth study of the challenges and opportunities in Massachusetts’ older cities, Reconnecting Massachusetts’ Gateway Cities: Lessons Learned and an Agenda for Renewal. As follow-on to the release of that report, MassINC has been working with economic development directors of most of the older cities in the state to help them develop a common agenda for policy change and action, and has been discussing its findings regionally all across the state with civic and business leaders from these cities.

 About the UMass Dartmouth Urban Initiative

The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth stands at the forefront of many of the major public policy issues that currently confront the regional communities it serves and the entire Commonwealth. With its thumb on the pulse of a wide range of issues including environmental and sustainability concerns, increasing regional educational achievement, and innovative approaches to energy conservation, among others, the University has a history of uniting its educational, research, scientific, and technological resources toward positive efforts that contribute to the progress of our state. Recognizing higher education’s further potential to pursue and promote constructive statewide growth, the University’s Chancellor, Jean F. MacCormack, commissioned the establishment of the Urban Initiative, specifically to act on behalf of the many older urban communities throughout the Commonwealth that continue to struggle with the transition from manufacturing to today’s knowledge-based economy. Since then, the urban revitalization movement throughout the state has garnered significant momentum and has earned the Urban Initiative a prominent role in its progression.

Among other elements, the Urban Initiative’s mission encompasses a fusion of research, project development and implementation, technical assistance, and policy analysis that supports the work of municipalities, state and local agencies, private/non-profit entities, and other organizations. Specifically, the Initiative seeks to accomplish these goals by engaging our elected leaders, issuing research reports, hosting events and conferences, offering technical assistance and training to policy leaders, encouraging civic participation, and linking the University’s resources to the region and beyond. Under the leadership of Fall River’s former mayor, Edward M. Lambert, Jr., the Urban Initiative has experienced a period of rapid growth and its work has garnered significant attention from state and local officials throughout Massachusetts, several business and industry leaders, and philanthropic organizations.