Outgoing Chamber president reflects on area changes

July 15, 2016 | G. Michael Dobbs

SPRINGFIELD – Jeff Ciuffreda, the outgoing president the Springfield Regional Chamber, has seen many changes in his decades with the organization and believes the city and the region are on an upswing.

Ciuffreda served as vice president for governmental affairs for many years and was named president in January 2011. He is retiring and plans to leave the first week of August.

A former Peace Corps member, Ciuffreda served on the staff of the late Rep. Silvio Conte for eight years before coming to the chamber for a 29-year tenure.

He said for many years he witnessed the flight to the suburbs and a de-emphasis of Springfield but within the past few years that trend is reversing.

“There is a much better realization of how Springfield goes so goes the Valley,” he explained to Reminder Publications. He added, “People now realize a healthy Springfield is essential to a healthy Valley.”

Of the changes Ciuffreda has seen has been a major shift in the banking industry, which he hasn’t seen as a “real positive.” Local banks are no longer the norm and while many banks are supporters of the chamber, the decision-makers for today’s banks are often miles away from the city, he explained.

“It’s a huge change I’ve seen,” he added.

He said the consolidation and recapitalization of the banking industry had an effect on small business locally.

He said the shift of downtown housing from market rate to affordable further changed the nature of the area.

The “death knell” for downtown in his opinion was the closing of Johnson’s Bookstore.

Now, however, Ciuffreda is seeing a reversal. Silverbrick Lofts have brought more market rate housing to downtown, he noted.

“People are looking at Springfield in a different light than they used to do,” he said. “I think right now the future’s good.”

He said that between MGM Springfield and the CRRC factory he has “never seen development like this before.”

The rail car company building its manufacturing facility on Page Boulevard will strengthen the region’s manufacturing sector, which Ciuffreda said has “always been fairly strategic.”

One change for the chamber as an organization has been its shifting of roles. Ciuffreda said it used to be the “premiere economic development and networking organization.” With the creation of organizations such as the Economic Development Council and the Business Improvement District, the chamber “may not lead, but provides support” in various economic development activities.

Ciuffreda does not think this is a bad development, as the groups work “hand in hand for the betterment of the region.”

There are still challenges facing the return of downtown Springfield and further economic development, Ciuffreda noted. He mentioned, for example, there are 14 retail spaces within the Silverbrick building and the questions what kind of businesses should go in them.

A continuing concern is how to get the thousands of people who work downtown to come out of the office towers and participate in activities and downtown commerce.

He believe there will be “some filling in” of retail space with the arrival of Union Station, followed by MGM Springfield.

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