Economic Forecast

My favorite person of the year is...

Last year in this space, I wrote about Renee Diaz, owner of The Queen's Cups in Worcester, and how her enthusiasm and perseverance would be emblematic of the can-do attitude of the Central Massachusetts business community in 2018.

This year, my favorite person of the year had what most people would consider – in their most honest moments – a very bad year. Dave Peterson seems like an eternally optimistic person and a great asset to the Central Massachusetts community, and, even now, he acts how everything will be fine for his business through 2021 and beyond. But it won't be.

In August, Dave stood before the Worcester City Council for about three minutes and asked them what else he and his business could possibly do to curry their favor – so the councillors might want to protect his business, or at least not actively try to ruin it. The Worcester Bravehearts, Dave pleaded, have been a tremendous asset to the Greater Worcester business community since their inaugural season in 2014 and brought an average of 2,500 fan every game to the city to watch collegiate league baseball.

Dave, the general manager of the Bravehearts, was responding to the much ballyhooed enthusiasm by the City Council to the Aug. 17 announcement by the Pawtucket Red Sox of their intention to move into a new city-build stadium inside a $240-million development in the Canal District. In a short four years' time, the council went from awarding the Bravehearts a key to the city – for being the embodiment of everything the Worcester business community is supposed to represent – to spending more than $100 million in taxpayer money to curry the favor of a Triple A minor league baseball club.

Since his three minutes before the City Council, Dave has put up an optimistic front, saying how the Bravehearts will survive the arrival of the Worcester Red Sox by being a thought leader in the local sports community and use the built-up goodwill of its community give-back programs over the last four years. In reality, though, it is difficult to see how Worcester supports two baseball franchises beyond the first year or two after the WooSox arrive for the 2021 season.

This is the price of progress.

The Red Sox are undoubtedly a financial upgrade from the Bravehearts. Triple A baseball attached to the Red Sox brand indeed will bring in more ticket sales and corporate sponsorships than a collegiate league team. The City Council isn't wrong in pursuing that upgrade. If Worcester could bring in Amazon's HQ2 at the expense of a handful of local IT companies, it would be the smart decision.

But it is terrible for those homegrown players.
As Worcester continues down the path of progress, the new, better players will squeeze out the lesser ones. The region will have a net positive, but it doesn't mean there aren't casualties along the way. Worcester property values are rising because people with money want to live and work here, but the resulting impact in property costs – Worcester rents are up 16 percent this year – means lower income residents are forced to make hard

Near the end of his City Council speech, Dave said the Bravehearts weren't going to stand in the way of progress. He knows the city must keep moving forward by looking to attract valuable businesses and redevelop blighted property, which the WooSox will do. Economic development isn't a zero-sum game: These new places bring new customers and more wealth into the region, but it isn't all positive, as they take away from other businesses, too. New developments replace old ones. Hot new restaurants take customers away from existing eateries. Rising property values erode residents' expendable income.

Dave's message might have seemed like a business' angry response to a damaging move by the City Council. In a way, though, it was a commentary on progress. The community is moving onto the next big thing, but we all can't forget businesses like the Bravehearts were once the next big thing, too, and played an important role in getting us where we are today.

And that's why Dave Peterson is my favorite person of the year.

- Brad Kane, editor

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