Thursday, August 14, 2008

Death in Springfield...

It seems that Springfield just cannot catch a break when it comes to "lists." First it was Morgan Quitno's detestable "Most Dangerous" list, which used a questionable formula. Now it is Forbes Magazine. They have placed Springfield on the list of Fastest Dying Cities. This list, too, has its problems. It lumps Springfield in with a number of Rust Belt cities, most notably Cleveland, OH, which although not what it once was has done okay in recent years, especially since its filing for Municipal Bankruptcy some years ago.

It seems that the only good press Springfield can get is from an Airline's In-Flight magazine and the occasional New York Times article.

Although Forbes thinking probably had less to do with numbers and more to do with, as G. Michael Dobbs said on, "equivalent of a Britney story" the article needs to bring Springfield, citizens and leaders into focus.
Surveying the blogs, the response has been varied. There is a definite amount of disbelief and anger, while acknowledging problems, like Dobbs. Simultaneously, there are a number of cynical responses, possibly from disconnected, disinterested former Springfield residents that can only focus on the past. One such tirade, ostensibly quoted by Tommy Devine on his blog, talked about the city's lost manufacturing base and how that is so frequently decried.

Let's explore that. For obvious reasons, the decline in manufacturing is bad for Springfield. Less jobs and less tax revenue. American trade policy has a lot to do with that as well as Massachusetts effectively turning its back on manufacturing because nobody needs it inside Rt. 128. However there is a bigger problem. Manufacturing provides good paying jobs to people who cannot or, less unfortunately, will not go back to school. This is a serious issue in Massachusetts and not one that relates to race at all.

Still overwhelmingly white, in Massachusetts the need for these jobs is accentuated in places like Revere, Everett, Lowell, New Bedford, Fall River and more. What communities right near Boston have going for them is a number of people who cannot afford Boston or Cambridge, and move to new condos isolated from the rest of the community along the Mystic River. Their situation may be a lot like Springfield, suffering form a loss of manufacturing, but artificially propped up by the wealth of somebody else. Believe it or not, this happens a lot in Boston proper, too.

So manufacturing is a must because the service and retail industry at entry level does not provide a good starting pay and offers some, but not many advancement opportunities. What Springfield leaders need to do is explore means to offer tax credits to new builders in new industries. We're not talking about semi-conductor plants. Rather, food production or possibly bio-refineries. Perhaps a bio-energy bill could lend a hand to the state's suffering rural areas and Springfield if properly targeted.

The other element of course is looking at what are the new jobs. What can Springfield do encourage development here? It might involve enticing Eastern Mass-bound companies to try Springfield and take advantage of its proximity to everything else in New England and New York. It means working with colleges and maybe encourage and develop a Co-Op system for local institutions a la Northeastern. Maybe an art school at one of the colleges may encourage more artistic outlets. If we can get those cogs working we can improve our business tax base and try to work on that high business tax rate.

Finally, there needs to be a level of honesty from politicians. Yes a contradiction in terms. Yes, its tough to say it ain't gonna happen, get elected, and move on. Perhaps part of the problem is the political infrastructure itself. There are differing opinions among the city's reform element where the blame lies there. Combined with a wider community investment a great deal of change may be possible and Springfield can have its true Lazarus moment at last.

1 comment:

springfieldmedia said...

Two articles published last week addressed the economic problems of this region. Along with Forbes, there was a column titled Up In Smoke in the Advocate.
As voters we need to make candidates confront economic development issues and hold them accountable once elected.