Casino’s regional economic impact remains hazy

For the Recorder
Thursday, March 01, 2018

NORTHAMPTON — When it comes to the effect that the opening of MGM Springfield will have on Hampshire County, there is still a lot that is unknown.

“I think the jury is out,” Northampton Mayor David Narkewicz said.

This viewpoint is shared by many throughout the county, said Suzanne Beck, director of the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council and executive director of the Northampton Chamber of Commerce.

“We don’t know,” is the most common sentiment Beck hears from people trying to dissect the casino resort’s potential impact.

Speaking in her capacity as tourism council director, Beck said that the state has an optimistic projection of the casino’s economic impact. At the same time, she noted a study commissioned by Northampton from Camoin Associates on the casino’s impact.

The 2013 study predicted that Northampton would lose $4.4 million to $8.8 million in sales, 90 to 180 jobs and $1.6 million to $3.2 million in earnings.

Narkewicz did note, however, that the methodology of the Camoines study has been contested.

Beck said that when she examined where MGM Springfield is looking to pull its customers from, it matched where Northampton draws its visitors.

“It was an exact overlay,” she said.

Whatever the impact is, Beck said the fate of the city will ultimately be determined by itself.

“The question is, how to mitigate the impact?” she said.

She also noted the advantages of having a tourism council, which was formed in 2012 to market Hampshire County outside its borders.

“We have a head start,” said Beck. “Hats off to (Sen.) Stan Rosenberg.”

She said that the council receives $100,000 to $200,000 a year from the commonwealth to fund its promotion efforts.

Narkewicz opposed the legalization of casino gambling in Massachusetts, and argued that it was not a good economic development strategy.

“I still feel that way,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said that he was trying to stay positive and promote the interests of Northampton.

“I’m going to advocate for and try to protect my city,” he said.

In September, Northampton received $100,000 from the state in casino mitigation funding. Narkewicz set up a small advisory group, which includes Beck, to advise him on selecting a consultant that will use the money to promote Northampton.

A request for qualifications was sent out last week. From there, the committee will evaluate the response and then seek quotes from qualified vendors.

Curt Shumway, chief operating officer for the Hampshire Hospitality Group and a board member of the Hampshire County Regional Tourism Council, said that efforts are being made to get visitors to MGM Springfield to spend part of their trip in Hampshire County.

“That’s the million dollar question,” said Shumway, when asked if this could turn the resort into a net positive.

Hampshire Hospitality Group has six hotels, all of which are located in Hampshire County.

Shumway thinks the casino’s biggest impact will be on the region’s entertainment sector.

“That’s yet to be determined,” he said, speaking of the exact effect.

Something that he said would affect his business is the impact the resort will have on area employment opportunities. Shumway noted Hampshire County’s low unemployment rate, and said that Hampshire County businesses will have to compete with MGM Springfield for employees.

“We have to be better employers,” he said. “We’re competing for the same people.”

Shumway said that Hampshire Hospitality already treats its employees well, and that some people may choose to forgo higher pay because they enjoy being in their current jobs.

MGM Springfield isn’t only looking to exist in a vacuum, however. Instead, the resort is engaging in an effort to include outlets from local businesses on its campus.

“Partnerships are really important to us,” said Michael Mathis, president and chief operating officer at MGM Springfield.

“From a retail standpoint, we will have numerous opportunities to partner with local businesses,” said Sarah Moore, vice president of brand marketing and retail for MGM Springfield, via email.

The first and so far only announced business on this front was Kringle Candle, whose main campus is in Bernardston in Franklin County. It will be opening a store in the former First Spiritualist Church building, which was relocated to a new location on the resort’s campus.

Moore did write, however, that there is a lot of interest in such partnerships.

“Interest level has been incredible and we’ve had the ability to meet with many wonderful local and regional business opportunities,” she said.