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Updated: December 25, 2023 Economic Forecast 2024

WBJ's 10 bold predictions for 2024

PHOTO | CHRISTINE PETERSON The unfinished $29-million surgical pavilion at Heywood Hospital in Gardner

Every December for this Economic Forecast special edition, the journalists in the WBJ newsroom forecast 10 possible news events for the coming year, based on their expertise and the trends in the Central Massachusetts business community.

Following its bankruptcy, Heywood Healthcare will merge with UMass Memorial Health.

UMass and Heywood have already explored this option once, before UMass pulled out in early 2023 over concerns with Heywood’s finances. Once Heywood emerges from bankruptcy and sheds some of its debts, the two entities will again come together to help stabilize access to care in North Central Massachusetts.

[Related: Click here to see how many of the WBJ newsroom's 2023 predictions came true.]

The Massachusetts Cannabis Control Commission will make Debbie Hilton-Creek the permanent executive director.

This year was particularly hard on the marijuana regulatory agency. The legal battle over the suspension of Chair Shannon O’Brien is dragging on, and Executive Director Shawn Collins resigned in early December. Hilton-Creek was initially hired as chief people officer and was named interim executive director following Collins’ resignation. She appears to be working to put the agency back on track, and the commissioners will further stabilize operations by making her leadership appointment permanent.

Life sciences companies will lay off a collective 500 employees in Central Massachusetts.

After years of growth and investment, the life sciences industry in Massachusetts hit a bit of a wall in 2023, pulling back on operations and planned expansions. Locally, both UMass Chan Medical School in Worcester and Boston Scientific in Marlborough laid off workers this year, although they were at locations outside of Central Massachusetts. As local life sciences players right-size their operations, some of those layoffs will begin to hit home.

The improvements at Worcester’s Union Station will lead to an increase in Commuter Rail ridership.

The expected completion of the $45-million project to build a center platform has been pushed back to the spring, but regardless of the delay, this investment in public transportation infrastructure will lead to more people using the trains into Eastern Massachusetts, especially as more workers from Greater Boston seeking affordability settle in Central Massachusetts.

The new leader of the City of Worcester’s Executive Office of Diversity, Equity & Inclusion will have a moderate level of success.

The 2022 resignation of Chief Diversity Officer Stephanie Williams rocked the City of Worcester, and new City Manager Eric Batista responded by beginning an honest assessment of the government’s diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts, including creating the new executive office and increasing funding 67%. Once the office’s new leader is hired, that person will still face headwinds toward making change, but more public officials will buy into those efforts and at least one major initiative will begin.

The Amazon facility at the former site of the Greendale Mall in Worcester will remain unused.

The Seattle-based online retail giant bought the site in 2019, demolished the former Greendale Mall, and finished construction on a new distribution facility in 2022, as the company was enhancing its warehouse and delivery network. Amazon has kept the facility idle since then, as it re-evaluates its operations. We don’t expect any significant progress on its use next year.

Attendance at Worcester Red Sox home games will drop noticeably.

Paid attendance, which is a different metric than the number of people who physically attend games, rose on a per-game basis for the 2023 season, the team’s third in Worcester. With the WooSox now heading into their fourth season, some of the shininess has worn off, and that will be reflected in ticket sales.

One major cannabis chain pulls out of the Central Massachusetts market.

From 2018 to 2021, the legal marijuana industry was a gold rush, as businesses vied for licenses in the only state on the East Coast where adult-use cannabis was legal. The industry has since been contracting, as competition grows from in-state operators and legalization in surrounding states. This year, Florida-based Trulieve pulled out of Massachusetts and closed dispensaries in Worcester, Framingham, and Northampton. Next year, at least one major operator will follow suit.

As interest rates come down, the number of single-family home sales in Central Massachusetts will grow.

As the Federal Reserve raised interest rates throughout 2022 and 2023 to combat rising inflation, mortgage rates rose and constrained an already tight residential real estate market. In 2023, Worcester County saw a 25% drop in the number of sales. Now that inflation might be under control and the Fed is considering lowering interest rates, pent-up demand for both buying and selling single-family homes will lead to an increase in sales.

Two private schools in Central Massachusetts will close.

Statewide, enrollment in private schools dropped to 80,102 in the 2022-2023 school year from 80,809 the year before and 113,673 from 10 years ago, according to the Massachusetts Department of Education. This trend in enrollment hits the schools directly in the pocket book, and by the end of 2024, at least two private schools in Central Massachusetts will close.

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Stephen Adams
December 27, 2023

You folks sure are cranky.

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