“Making It in Western Massachusetts” in 2022 and beyond, will certainly be centered on growth: Needed growth in population; a growth of the workforce; a growth in the number of active medium and small businesses operating in our communities; and a growth of the variety of sectors doing business in the region.
We need to see and feel a holistic growth of the Western Massachusetts economy which needs to be equitable and beneficial for all the residents of the region.
The COVID pandemic – while devastating in so many ways – has refocused many employers and employees on the importance of work-life balance and has increased accessible opportunities for telecommuting and remote work. This positions Western Massachusetts as an attractive place when quality of life becomes a deciding factor on where you want to live, raise a family and work from.
We therefore have an opportunity for continued growth, however, can only do so when we invest in our communities, our region. We have an opportunity to immediately invest in building a robust broadband-internet system that reaches all residents and bridges the digital divide.
In efforts to attract newcomers and retain our current residents, we must invest in advanced technology to give Western Massachusetts the competitive advantage it deserves to thrive in this current economic landscape. This would be the most significant and impactful investment investment we could make as a region.
We also need to catalyze new business. Future businesses, in growing sectors such as, clean energy and cyber+, are business ventures that have great potential to take off in the region as they are not currently established in other parts of the country or state. In Massachusetts, we are consistently ranked within the top 10 states for research, innovation and talent generation when it comes to renewable energy technology. Clean energy jobs comprise 3% of the state’s workforce – 114,000 jobs – a number that has increased by 89% since 2010.
Western Massachusetts is well positioned to take a leadership role within the clean energy economy due to ample resources, both human and fiscal capital. In 2020, Western Massachusetts saw the second highest percentage of renewable energy jobs and business relative to total jobs and businesses in the region, at 3.2% to 3.3%, respectively. Soon, clean energy will replace textiles as the state’s 10th largest industry at a projected growth rate of 20% per year, three times that of any other industry.
The need for cyber jobs, education, training, cyber security certifications, and municipal upgrades is clearly only going to grow. The Governor and Legislature have recently announced a statewide initiative to invest in cyber education and training, and Western Massachusetts needs to position itself to take advantage of this opportunity. Fortunately, our region is home to some of the best colleges and universities in the country, all with talented faculties and extensive research for the development of our future. Leveraging our higher education institutions and their strengths is a strategic tactic to pipeline talent into local companies within the cyber+ ecosystem.
In addition to exploring new businesses in untapped sectors, the Western Massachusetts Economic Development Council (EDC) has deepened its commitment to growing the economy of the region for every resident. Over the last several months, through the leadership of the EDC, some of the region’s largest businesses have met to discuss how they can leverage their own institutional and operational resources to address problems caused by historic segregation and disinvestment in low-income communities and to grow the regional economy.
As a result, Baystate Health, Big Y, the city of Springfield, the city of Holyoke, United Personnel, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Springfield College, Holyoke Community College, Comcast and Bay Path University have formed the Western Massachusetts Anchor Collaborative. An “anchor” strategy is one where institutions commit to serving as place-based economic engines by using their institutional purchasing, hiring, and investing in intentional, locally focused ways.
The goal is to mutually benefit the long-term well-being of both businesses and the communities they operate in. This five-plus-year plan is a deliberate effort to develop an equitable and accessible system for diverse suppliers and small businesses to thrive.
None of the abovementioned work will be simple or easy. It will involve systematic changes, unlearning former processes so we can relearn and re-strategize how businesses hire, procure, and grow. There will be a true focus on the barriers that prevent individuals from entering or advancing in the workforce, as well as businesses from starting or scaling in our communities. It then requires intentional work to overcome these barriers.
The EDC is committed to this work because while it does help improve the quality of life for the communities we serve, it also is a good business strategy, a solid and equitable growth strategy, that only further supports the overall growth of our region in the present and our future.
Richard K. Sullivan Jr. is the president and CEO of the Economic Development Council of Western Massachusetts. To learn more about the council and its work, go online to westernmassedc.com.