As the nation’s first planned industrial city, Holyoke became a thriving paper and textile manufacturing center powered by the Connecticut River. Like many New England mill towns, the city entered a period of economic hardship during the 1970s and 1980s with the relocation of many textile and manufacturing businesses.
Today, city and state officials are joining research universities, local business leaders, and worldwide technology companies to work together to revitalize Holyoke into a city of innovation, entrepreneurship and modern, environmentally-friendly urban living. A central component of this work is the development of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center and the Holyoke Innovation District — a public-private strategy to make Holyoke a major player in the state’s thriving innovation economy.
The product of an unprecedented collaboration among five world-renowned research institutions (MIT, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University, and Harvard University), the MGHPCC provides world-class computational infrastructure that is vital to both the universities and the state’s innovation economy, bringing opportunities for collaborative research on some of the biggest issues facing engineering, science and society.
The $90 million data center was supported by investment from these universities, which was supplemented by a grant from the state to establish the project on a downtown brownfields site, where it would have the greatest economic impact. In addition, two of the Commonwealth’s largest technology employers, EMC and Cisco Systems, provided their support.
Local government, business and education leaders and the Patrick administration have since continued the work with the launch of the Holyoke Innovation District, a public-private effort focused on upgrading infrastructure and transportation, expanding opportunities for new careers through workforce training and education, and leveraging the existing talent in Holyoke by supporting entrepreneurship from within the Holyoke community.
Just a few of the notable successes of the Innovation District strategy include: new passenger train service in Holyoke scheduled to start later this year; new private investment such as Gateway City Arts; and, an award from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston’s Working Cities Challenge to support SPARK, a community entrepreneurship program in the Holyoke Innovation District.
The efforts from the state and the city are attracting entrepreneurial businesses that are already bringing new life downtown. New additions include VertitechIT, a fast growing IT and communications infrastructure company with national reach, Simple Diaper & Linen, a company started by two mothers that uses a chemical-free cleaning process, and Gateway City Arts, an incubator for all types of creative businesses.
While there is plenty of work still to be done, Holyoke continues to demonstrate that collaboration among political, business ,and academic leaders, combined with imagination, discipline and perseverance, will overcome the most troubling economic challenges we face as a community.
Alex Morse is the mayor of Holyoke. Greg Bialecki is the state’s Housing and Economic Development secretary.