Regional Economic Vitality
Twenty-five years ago, the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission (PVPC) convened business, civic, social service, and academic leaders to develop a plan to guide the region’s economic recovery. The first of its kind in Massachusetts, the plan clearly expressed the region’s distinctive strengths and challenges, many of which are still relevant today.
Titled the Plan for Progress, this blueprint would be reviewed every five years and revised every ten years going forward. Consistent themes over the years include the need for the private sector to play an active role in the region’s economic development. The plan also recognizes the fact that the region doesn’t stop at the state border.
Western Massachusetts and northern Connecticut share common assets and interests. The regions are connected by Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River and share an international airport, conveniently located midway between Springfield and Hartford. Major aerospace and defense contractors in Connecticut depend on a multitude of precision manufacturers in greater Springfield. Many residents travel both ways, north and south, to work in the insurance industry.
Both regions have an abundance of two- and four-year colleges and universities, a strong healthcare sector, and thousands of small businesses. These two regions, if they were one, would represent an economic powerhouse. Over the years, a cross-section of regional leaders have regularly assembled to share research and best practices regarding such an idea.
To get a sense of some of the differences between the two regions, consider the two anchor cities: Hartford and Springfield. During a typical workday, 80,000 people travel to work in downtown Hartford. In Springfield, the number is 8,000. The makeup of Western Mass is largely smaller cities and towns. The region has a significant challenge retaining residents and employers as well as the tens of thousands of students who come to the region’s colleges and universities. Once they graduate, few see career opportunities here and depart.
The Role of the Springfield Center
UMass Amherst has been involved in the Plan for Progress from its beginnings. Since opening the Springfield Center, we have forged strong relationships with area business and civic leaders. The Center is viewed as a reliable community and regional partner. Because we are on the ground in Springfield, we have a more acute awareness of community needs. We are able to shape our programs to better serve our students and meet the high-demand job needs of the region’s employers. We work closely with our community college partners, in particular, Springfield Technical Community College (STCC). Many Springfield residents earn their certificates at STCC and then transfer to UMass Amherst to earn their undergraduate or master’s degrees. More often than not, these students remain in the region and make valuable contributions to its economic vitality.
Collectively, we have made some progress in restoring the region’s economic vitality, but we have plenty of work to do. For the UMass Amherst Springfield Center, we count every Springfield resident who completes a certificate or degree program and then gets a meaningful job as evidence of being one step closer to our goals.