Can Worcester Attract Tourists?
Thursday, January 16, 2014
Centrally located, offering myriad historical, cultural, and natural attractions, tourism and travel may not be a major economic driver in the region today — but there are serious ongoing efforts to showcase everything Worcester has to offer.
And better connectivity with expanding commuter rail and flight service should further open the door.
An initiative out of the Worcester Regional Chamber of Commerce offices, “Destination Worcester” is a new strategic investment focused on showcasing the region to meeting and convention planners and event and sports organizers.
“We're literally the center of Massachusetts, and the center of New England,” said Donna McCabe, president of the Central Massachusetts Convention and Visitors Bureau.
With fairs and festivals, shows and concerts, shopping and eating, and Civil War reenactments, McCade said travelers come to the region for the “New England experience.”
“Worcester is not only accessible, but affordable,” she said, with the city functioning as a “hub and spoke” for families and tour groups, who come and stay in Worcester to explore the city and surrounding areas.
Worcester as the 'Creative City'
Erin Williams, the cultural development officer in the city's Office of Economic Development and executive director of the Worcester Cultural Coalition, tallied 2.6 million visitors total in 2012 between all the coalition's arts and cultural organizations.
Williams said she serves as a “conduit for the creative community” in Worcester.
The coalition, a public-private partnership that promotes cultural and arts opportunities in the city, has grown from a dozen nonprofit groups to 78 today.
Combined with for-profit businesses taking part in Worcester's “WOO card” program, Williams said the combined effort involves “over 100 organizations that collectively work together to make Worcester a better place to live, work, and play.”
“And all of this comes together not from one organization or an office in city hall, but from the collaboration of all those organizations,” she said.
Travelers spend billions across the state
Broadly defined, travelers in Massachusetts directly spent $17.7 billion on transportation, lodging, food, entertainment and recreation, and retail shopping during 2012 (the most recent year available) according to a study prepared by the research department of the U.S. Travel Association for the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism.
That bottom-line figure represented a year-over-year increase of 4.9 percent from 2011. Travel expenditures in the state were up over $2 billion between 2008 and 2012.
Payroll income generated by visitors totaled $3.7 billion in 2012, directly generating some 126,500 jobs across the state — including about 5,300 jobs in Worcester County.
While Worcester wasn't among the top five counties for travelers, according to the state's report, the impact still totaled $771.12 million in total expenditures countywide in 2012.
The benefit for Worcester County equaled $145 million in payroll and $17.22 million in local tax receipts.
“Worcester as a cultural destination? There's no question,” said Joyce Kressler, a long-time former director of First Night Worcester. Citing the efforts of the cultural coalition, Kressler said there was a tremendous effort toward promoting the city to visitors.
“We are definitely on the radar screens of outlying areas ... and the caliber of things we can provide is first class,” Kressler said. “We have some pretty terrific stuff.”
Through 14 years organizing the city's New Years Eve celebrations, which annually draw tens of thousands of revelers, Kressler said surveys found fully half of First Night attendees came from outside the city.
So what's happening? There's Carnaval at Worcester Center for Crafts starting up next week.
“Anything outdoors is big right now,” said McCade with the visitors bureau. “We live here, so we take it for granted. ... (But) we have the seasons, and we have all this natural beauty as well — hiking, biking, skiing — and there's something for every season.”
“This is an area that offers so much,” she said.
Visits often result from schools and health fields
Last year's economic report by the Worcester Regional Research Bureau showed leisure and hospitality as one area where the city added jobs between 2001 and 2011, but the industry only comprised a little over 7 percent of employment — dwarfed by education and health services (nearly 45 percent).
But there's symbiosis between that main industry and travel and tourism according to Mario Cuevas, the general manager at the luxury Beechwood Hotel, who said guests often stayed during medical- and education-related trips.
“And outside of that is your typical social thing, from anything that's happening downtown, to the DCU, to Shrewsbury Street district,” Cuevas said.
At the DCU, there's the Worcester bridal show expo coming up this weekend.
“There's a real lot going on,” said James Moughan, assistant general manager and director of sales at the DCU Center. After massive renovations ($23 million's worth) between May and September of last year, the city's arena and conference center has been jammed since reopening with sporting events, music and art shows, monster trucks, and flower, spring, auto, bridal, and boat shows.
“We're very busy,” Moughan said.
Bill Randell, a GoLocal MINDSETTER™, said there were so many different things that drew visitors to the greater region, whether it was fall foliage, out-of-state tourists, or sports. “But we have to market it,” he stressed.
Complemented by economic development efforts, new travel options through Worcester Regional Airport courtesy of JetBlue, the economy rebounding, and gaming coming to the Bay State, “I expect growth,” McCade said.
“We expect good things.”
Related Slideshow: 14 To Watch in Central Mass in 2014
EcoTarium's Cox, who took the helm in 2012, is one to certainly watch in 2014. If you don't know Joe, he helped raise over $26.5 million at his previous post at the Galisano Children's Museum in Florida – and broke attendance projections in the process. If a track record of success is any indicator of a future one, expect to see amazing things at the Ecotarium.
Thanks to a $250,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, EcoTarium will soon house one of the most unique exhibits in the country. A team of researchers led by Robert L. Ryan, professor of landscape architecture and regional planning at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, along with Worcester's Clark University and Loyola Marymount in Los Angeles, will integrate the science of urban systems into a new "City Science" exhibit.
Next City Manager
With Michael O'Brien's departure from the City Manager post he'd held since 2004 for the private sector, Ed Augustus got tapped from his Director of Communications post at Holy Cross to fill O'Brien's shoes – but for an interim basis only. The former McGovern staffer and State Senator will take the helm for nine months only, leaving the big question in 2014 as to who will be the next City Manager.
The next City Manager will have a myriad of issues to deal with, from economic development, to crime – a top issue as far as residents are concerned. Will the next City Manager address the fact that while more than 40 percent of Worcester's population is a minority, the City has more than 1,600 full- and part-time city employees and well over 80 percent of them are white. Will city government ever reflect the population of Worcester?
The Hamilton native, who did a stint at Syracuse before declaring for the NBA draft this year, is already making an impact as a pro.
In February, GoLocal's John Barone broke the news that Hamilton native, and Syracuse Orange guard, Michael Carter-Williams would declare for the 2013 NBA draft after his sophomore season.
Carter-Williams, a 2011 McDonald’s All-American at St. Andrews in Rhode Island, was drafted 11th overall by the Philadelphia 76ers. He is currently having himself quite a rookie year, with 17.6 point and 7.8 assist per game averages.
Dr. Dickson, who was named President and CEO of UMass Memorial Health Care this past February, will no doubt continue to have an influential role in the community.
During his tenure to date, challenges have included financial and labor issues, but also oversight of major changes as well -- Dickson appointed a new president of UMass Memorial Medical Center, Patrick Muldoon, and embarked on closer collaboration with Baystate Health to improve quality, access, and affordability of care.
Republican activist and Boylston school committee member Brad Wyatt will definitely be someone to watch in 2014, having just announced he's running for State Representative.
Wyatt is eyeing Hank Naughton's seat in the 12th Worcester District, as Naughton's now seeking the office of Attorney General. According to the Red Mass Group, the district, which includes Boylston, Clinton, Lancaster, and Berlin is the 38th most Republican leaning district in the Commonwealth. Scott Brown took the 12th in 2010 63-36, and Charlie Baker got 51% to Deval Patrick's 40%. Could Wyatt see a similar success in 2014? Stay tuned.
The Holy Cross senior is no stranger to politics – both locally, and in Washington, DC, having worked as an intern in the Office of Communications at The White House (and before that both in the office of the Governor of Massachusetts and the Mayor of Worcester.)
As President and co-founder of the Worcester Student Government Association, Hakim told GoLocal's Susan Wagner, "Lately I have been describing myself as a pragmatist. I’m definitely a dreamer, but I believe the only way to get anything done is to make an honest assessment of where things stand and then go from there."
Who will get medical marijuana licenses in Worcester County will be watched for certain in 2014.
The Massachusetts Department of Public Health in November released the names the 100 applicants for potential medicinal marijuana dispensaries who made it through to Phase 2 of the state’s licensing process. Worcester was named by 10 different applicants, more than any other city. The county itself has 14 finalists for dispensaries, more than any other county than neighboring Middlesex, which has almost twice the population.
Future of the T&G
What will become of the Telegram and Gazette will no doubt be closely watched in 2014.
GoLocal's Dean Starkman wrote in November of the scenario, "The Telegram and Gazette, a wallflower among New England newspapers that has suffered years of benign neglect by distant owners, seemed poised for a revival, after John Henry scooped it up as part of his landmark deal to buy the Boston Globe. Now a month later, he’s putting it on the block."
The potential future of the paper that has a nearly 150-year presence in the city and circulation of roughly 75,000 was broken down by Starkman. One of the major question marks is if new ownership would be local, or a return to a New York parent company.
The quintessential power player in Worcester has been a tireless advocate for the Commonwealth's tourism and visitor industry – with clear focus on developing the Canal District and the Blackstone Valley.
Giangregorio sits on the boards of Preservation Worcester and the Worcester Convention and Visitor Bureau, and also serves on the steering committee of Citizens for Business and as representative for the Canal District on the Mayor's Small Business Roundtable.
Be Like Brit
The legacy of Britney Gengel, who perished in the 2010 Haiti earthquake while on a service trip with Lynn University, continues to move forward through the Be Like Brit orphanage.
What started as a project built in her memory is now home to 35 children, and employs more than 40 full-time employees. According to the Be Like Brit website, hundreds of American and Canadian college students and other volunteers visit or volunteer at Be Like Brit each year.
He might have gotten the nod earlier this year for his cool factor, but GoLocal is putting Corazzini on our list of people to watch because of his "kid" factor.
While we feature the business and political minds needed to move Worcester – and all of Central Mass – forward, we recognize that the future of the Commonwealth depends on the education, and development, of our youth.
Waterman, the CEO of Girls, Inc., didn't always know she'd end up in the role of spearheading the 97-year-old organization in Worcester that allows girls the ability to participate in enrichment programs and get the tools, opportunities, and encouragement needed to grow.
A 20 year veteran of the mortgage banking industry, Waterman created "Divorce Mortgage Specialists" to help women in transition, before switching gears to head up Leading Women Massachusetts as President, providing cutting-edge leadership development solutions for women in organizations. Now, Waterman is setting her sights on the 100 year anniversary of Girls Inc. in 2016.
Central Rock Gym
Could 2014 be the year you start climbing to the top? If you haven't already been to a Central Rock Gym, watch out, because you could just catch the climbing bug.
Now in four locations in MA and CT, the gym offers climbing opportunities for all ages and abilities, and hosts climbing camps, regional, national – and international – competitions.
Trial attorney Paczkowski is as busy out of the courtroom as she is in – sitting on the Community Legal Aid Access to Justice Campaign Leadership Committee and co-chair of the Young Lawyers' Division of the Worcester County Bar Association, Paczkowksi is also the founding member and President of the Young Professionals Women's Association.
With goals of serving as a platform for women to share their voice on issues relating to the region's vitality, connecting with women through social and educational events, and providing opportunities for self-enrichment, the YPWA's esteemed found was recently named a 2013 Massachusetts Super Lawyers Rising Star.
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