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Building for the Future

Foundations for a Springfield Comprehensive Growth Strategy

Published Date : June 15, 2009

Springfield has enormous assets, but like other midsize cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest, it struggles to get past decades of disinvestment brought on by manufacturing decline and residential disinvestment. To rebuild and reposition for the knowledge economy, communities like Springfield need long-term strategies – plans that address challenges and leverage opportunities by channeling resources and energy with patient yet persistent focus.

Building for the Future, authored jointly by MassINC and the University of Massachusetts Urban Initiative, analyzes the city’s social and economic conditions as they relate to future growth and development. To provide useful context, in addition to comparing Springfield with national averages, the report contrasts the city with similarly sized communities located in the Northeast and Midwest, regions where the same fundamental forces, such as higher labor costs, cooler climates, and a shortage of developable urban land, limit growth.

This report, which was prepared to inform a dialogue around long-term growth strategies for Springfield, offers a rich array of data and the following four findings:

1.      Springfield – like most midsize cities throughout the Northeast and Midwest – has struggled for decades against adverse social, economic, and political trends. The loss of manufacturers, along with the movement of people and jobs out to the suburbs and off to faster growing regions in the South and West, sparked a prolonged cycle of disinvestment in older industrial cities. To respond to this challenge, these communities needed support from higher levels of government. Unfortunately, for several decades, state and federal policies did more to hinder than to help.

2.      While Springfield has a relatively strong economic base that continues to provide good jobs, the city’s residents struggle to gain the skills necessary for work with family sustaining wages. This disconnect undermines Springfield’s families, its future workforce, and its economic growth.

3.      To compete in the future, Springfield and communities throughout the Pioneer Valley must build a stronger metropolitan economy. With nearly half of all city residents now working in suburban jobs, the strength of the regional economy has direct consequences for the city. But equally important, the region needs a strong, productive core city to remain competitive in the new knowledge economy. Compared with the regions of the 16 peer cities, Greater Springfield appears less innovative and less attractive to skilled young professionals, two strong indications that the city’s challenges are impacting regional productivity.

4.      Changing social, economic, and political trends provide new possibilities if Springfield and its partners can pursue growth with strategic vision and coordinated action. External forces that once led to challenges for older cities are now shifting in their favor. Springfield can leverage its many assets by preparing a long-term plan to address the major restructuring in global markets and emerge stronger from these extraordinary times.

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