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Drive and passion will carry Central Mass. forward in 2018

12/25/2017

Worcester Business Journal's annual Economic Forecast issue gives us a chance to take a step back and reflect on everything that happened in the past year, which we use to predict what will come for the Central Massachusetts business community in 2018.

Both the WBJ editorial staff and WBJ readers (through our annual Economic Forecast survey) are creatures of habit. We're not doing deep dives into economic indicators or warning signs, so all of us see next year as an extension of what happened this year: The economy improved slightly in 2017 and will improve slightly in 2018; the Worcester restaurant scene grew and became more prominent in 2017 and will do more of the same next year; housing prices went up in the past 12 months, and that trajectory will continue. Sure, we'll look at upcoming milestones like the applications for recreational marijuana facilities opening up in April to predict a drastic upturn in the weed manufacturing and retailing industries, but largely, though, we expect more of what we've already seen.

In my two years since I came to Worcester to take on this role, what I've seen is a region very passionate about its future. Companies and industries have had their ups and downs, but when it comes down to it, business leaders are bullish about what the Central Massachusetts economy will look like in 2018, 2020, 2030 and beyond.

My main direct interaction with the region's movers and shakers comes with the Shop Talk interview I do for the biweekly print edition. This Q&A-style story appearing on the inside back cover of every issue is a sit down with an owner or executive of a company making some noise, in one way or another. Of course, I'm mostly interacting with these people when they're making some kind of positive development like a second location, anniversary or new product line (professionals who are about to close their businesses or lay off their workers typically don't want to be interviewed), so this may skew my impression somewhat, but these Shop Talk interviewees all are excited to be a part of the growing economy.

My favorite Shop Talk interview from 2017 was – by far – with Renee King, the founder and owner of The Queen's Cups bakery. When we talked in September, King had just moved her cupcake business from Millbury to Worcester's Canal District, where after a month she had already seen a 300-percent increase in sales. As we sat and talked in a quiet corner of her new eatery – and she still had a little bit of flour on her apron from her hands-on approach in the kitchen – King was unguarded and honest in a way most professionals aren't when talking about their business. King discussed openly the debt she had taken on in moving the store; her need to remake her staff to meet a higher standard; the extra time and resources needed to sell quadruple the amount of product; and the times she cried when she first opened her Millbury shop because of the long hours and unforeseen problems. In her new location, King still cries, but they are tears of joy from what she has created.

In this way, I view King as the symbol of the Central Massachusetts economy in 2017 and beyond. She and her business don't have the long history like the manufacturing or higher education industries do in Worcester, but she is a young up-and-comer riding the new wave of excitement and attention in the region's economy to grow her business. In her plans, she has encountered numerous setbacks and obstacles; but rather than being defeated by them, she uses her passion to surge forward.

That is what I see in the Central Massachusetts business community, and I can't wait to see how it plays out in 2018.

- Brad Kane, editor