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December 20, 2021 Economic Forecast 2022

WBJ's editorial staff predicted 10 news events for 2021. Here's what actually happened.

Photo | Matt Wright Crowds gather outside of Polar Park in 2021, ahead of a Worcester Red Sox home game

Every year, WBJ's editorial staff makes 10 predictions for news events in the coming year. Turns out, 2021 was almost impossible to predict, as we got three right.

Right: Polar Park will become the most expensive minor league baseball stadium ever built.

This one came true rather quickly. In January, the City of Worcester announced costs had risen to $159.5 million, surpassing the $150-million home of the Las Vegas Aviators, even after adjusting for inflation.

Wrong: Central Massachusetts will achieve herd immunity from COVID-19 by July.

Well, we couldn’t have been more wrong on this one. Back at the end of 2020, herd immunity seemed plausible, with the COVID vaccines in high demand and everyone anxious for the pandemic to be over. The initial positive wave of vaccinations and relaxed regulations to start the year came were followed the large number of anti-vaxxers, then the Delta variant, the fall surge, Omicron, etc.

Wrong: The number of Worcester restaurants at the end of 2021 will be equal to the number there were at the start of 2020.

Much like our predictions hoping for a quick end to COVID by summer 2021, the rebound of the Worcester restaurant industry never fully happened. Even after gathering restrictions were relaxed, the restaurant industry faced staffing shortages. By mid-year, restaurant sales in Worcester were down 12% compared to the previous fiscal year, according to the Mass. Department of Revenue.

Wrong: Worcester Regional Airport will still have zero regular commercial flights at the end of 2021.

By August, JetBlue Airways had returned to Worcester airport, with direct flights to New York City and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Delta Air Lines came back in November with its own New York City flight. American Airlines initially came back in November, too, with a flight to Philadelphia before dropping that flight in favor of another New York City nonstop.

Wrong: One daily newspaper in Central Massachusetts will close up operations.

It wasn’t necessarily a healthy year for local print media, but the region’s daily newspapers publishing at the start of the year were still publishing at the end of the year. The Sentinel & Enterprise in Fitchburg has been shedding staff and no longer has a physical office, but you can still read its content every day.

Wrong: Manufacturing employment will significantly rise.

In Greater Worcester, employment in the manufacturing industry was up 2.3% in October, compared to October 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Amid a labor shortage, supply chain problems, and the ongoing pandemic, a 2.3% increase is good, although short of a significant rise.

Right: At least 200,000 square feet of currently occupied office space will become available for sublease.

In the MetroWest region alone, more than 135,000 square feet of office space is available for sublease, and that’s before factoring Greater Worcester into the mix, where the likes of Unum vacated 80,000 square feet downtown. Office vacancy rates have been climbing steadily since March 2020. Even as vacancy rates are starting to level off, some of that is due to office space being converted into other uses.

Wrong: A woman of color will be announced as the new president of a Central Massachusetts university.

This one might turn out to be true by the end of the year, as Framingham State University is considering two women of color out of its three finalists to replace retiring President Javier Cevallos. However, the two new presidents of local colleges in 2021 – College of the Holy Cross and Nichols College – were both men, although Holy Cross’ Vincent Rougeau is the first Black person to lead the Worcester school.

Wrong: The host community agreement requirement for new marijuana companies will be dismantled and replaced.

Much was made of the Massachusetts legislature giving the Cannabis Control Commission explicit permission to regulate HCAs, but nothing was finalized in 2021. They remain a significant barrier to entry for those looking to start a cannabis business.

Right: More craft breweries will open and expand.

Heading into December, Central Massachusetts had 44 local craft breweries, including new additions like Double Down in Worcester and Penny Pinchers in Millbury. Breweries like Bull Spit announced new locations, while Wormtown continued its move into distilled beverages.

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