There are signs. Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company is selling one of its major holdings in the downtown. The head of the non profit development corporation of which MassMutual is the primary funder has decided to move on. Some subsidiaries are already being shifted to other regions.
GE is moving to Boston, Aetna is moving its top brass to New York City. MassMutual will move its top executives and people involved with markets and investing to Boston, New York, or some other major hub. It will be emotionally devastating for a while, especially with the optimism that’s been growing with CRRC, MGM, and the reopening of Union Station. The real economic impact will be less significant as the overwhelming majority of the jobs, and of the salaries that were ever really spent within the region, will stay here. How often did the CEO dine at Red Rose or pick up a rotisserie chicken at Big Y anyway?
The charities and non-profits which depend on MassMutual’s largesse will no doubt experience a diminution of commitment over the long haul but that may not be a bad thing. Perhaps another kick in the teeth is what we need. For Springfield, MassMutual has become a “too big to fail” institution, and that isn’t healthy.
We need a greater variety of healthy businesses. The fundamentals are here: housing stock, population, solid infrastructure, educational institutions. We need smaller, more agile home grown enterprises, small enough to fail without devastating the region to put some oxygen back into the economy, to create space for growth for people who might be committed to the area, who might actually live here and spend here.
Of course, I’d much rather be completely wrong about this. I’d love to see a doubling down by MassMutual of its commitment to the city, I’d love to see its executives walking through instead of flying over the city. But that doesn’t jibe with what has been happening in the broader world for years and years now. The winners are self aggregating and isolating themselves in a handful of superstar cities and the rest of us are losers; yes, the losers from which the winners hope to continue to express all of their future winnings, but losers none the less.
The only option for the losers is to close ranks and make one another winners in our own internal game. I can see it starting right here in Springfield in our North End. The streets and the sidewalks look better than they ever have, numerous buildings have been restored to a grandeur not seen since before World War I and yet there are still empty lots and vacant buildings ready to be improved upon and built on in order to welcome hundreds, maybe thousands fleeing a devastated island in the Caribbean.
We’ve survived the closing of the Armory, the elimination of the Farm Bank, the disappearance of Monarch Life, Uniroyal, Westinghouse, American Bosch and a dozen more factories, and we can survive this as well, but it is going to take individuals starting with very little and growing small scale enterprises right here and people from the community supporting them in return.