For many years, Worcester thrived on being kind of an island in the middle of the state, marching to the beat of its own drummer and having at least a psychological separation from the more populous and influential center of gravity 45 miles to the east.
Of course, times and circumstances have changed. Where once Worcester and Central Massachusetts thrived on a robust manufacturing industry, today's varied business landscape and stronger highway connections have linked the city's economic fortunes with those of Boston and the Interstate 495 corridor.
That was driven home recently by the state-sponsored 495/MetroWest Compact Development Plan, a 78-page report that outlines the state's priorities for economic development down I-495 from Westford to Franklin, and westbound along Route 9 into downtown Worcester.
Transportation behaviors and patterns have also contributed to the changes. The development of I-495 in the 1950s and of interstates 290 and 190 years later made traffic into and out of the city easier and opened the door to increased mobility among the region's employment base. Within the last several years, the widening of Route 146 has eased traffic flow between Worcester and Rhode Island, and the relatively new Massachusetts Turnpike connection further strengthened access.
The state is right in placing emphasis on economic development in the region. In a recent interview with the WBJ, Gregory Bialecki, the state's top economic development official, said the plan will make the area more competitive when it seeks state money for development efforts, such as road and sewer infrastructure. It has already committed about $25 million to replace and widen the Burns Bridge on Route 9 that serves as a gateway across Lake Quinsigamond to Worcester from Shrewsbury and other towns to the east. That project, scheduled to begin later this year, will allow for smoother two-way traffic flow to the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, as well as what state and city officials hope will be a more aesthetically pleasing downtown area once demolition work is completed and the CitySquare development gains momentum.
Over the last two decades, the growth of the suburbs east of the city, fueled by a booming technology business, has led newcomers in the region to turn toward Worcester for their health care needs and to spend some of their leisure and entertainment dollars. Capturing a much greater share of business from those living to the east remains a critical objective of many greater Worcester businesses. So, the state's linking of Worcester with the communities along I-495 is not just a reflection of that trend, it's an endorsement of the economic potential of Central Massachusetts.
There are many stories of entrepreneurs who start businesses in their garages and grow them into successful companies. Myles McDonough, who passed away March 30 at the age of 82, was one of those outstanding stories, as the business he launched in a garage in Spencer grew into his legacy, FLEXcon: a multimillion-dollar global manufacturer of adhesive film and coatings that has, for quite some time, been one of the top employers in Central Massachusetts.
He also made notable contributions to a myriad of the region's nonprofit institutions, including his work at WPI, where he served as a trustee for 10 years. He understood both the dedication and perseverance required in growing a company, as well as the responsibility of being a leader in the community.