Holyoke Redevelopment Efforts Make News in China

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As Holyoke’s revitalization efforts continue to draw attention from stakeholders, developers and policy makers in the Commonwealth and across the country, Holyoke’s innovation-based economic development strategies have expanded its audience, drawing the attention of Chinese cable television with a recent feature on the Holyoke Innovation District.

The segment of “World Express” aired last month on CCTV13 and highlights the catalytic impact that the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center has had on Holyoke as an example of a U.S. City undergoing economic restructuring and attempting to stage a comeback to regain economic vitality. The segment features on-air interviews with John Goodhue, Executive Director of the MGHPCC, describing how Holyoke is fast becoming a world-class city with a network of scientific research. It also includes Marcos Marrero, the City’s Director of Planning and Economic Development, discussing how the surrounding neighborhood has benefitted from Center’s construction and how the City’s long-term vision has begun showing results after significant urban decline for over half century.

The full story explains how in most metropolitan areas, the costs to fund these state-of-the-art computing centers can be prohibitive to development, but goes on to state, “…that is precisely what Holyoke can provide at only a fraction of the cost that other urban areas could match to construct and operate such a state-of-the-art high-performance computing facility.”

CCTV-13 is one China’s most viewed TV channels, with an ‘all day’ average reach of 998 million viewers and a peak-time average audience of 2.1 billion viewers, according to a report from Publicitas, an international media sales firm.

Below is a full transcript of the video:

During the period of America’s declining manufacturing industries, some of the once-prosperous towns of industrial importance have witnessed steady economic deterioration. But many of those dilapidated cities and towns have embarked on a challenging journey of economic restructuring, attempting to stage a comeback and regain their former economic vitality.

Located in the Northeast of the United States of America, Holyoke, MA is one of those struggling small towns that few seem to have paid attention to these days. But in the middle of the 20th century, it had the highest output of office paper in the world. With its products unrivaled in quality and quantity, Holyoke was once known as the “Paper Capital of the world” across the Nation. In addition, the city was among the first planned industrial communities in the U.S.A. The region’s rich water resources offered local manufacturing industries nearly inexhaustible cheap power. Holyoke reached its peak of development in 1920s and 30s, and its population topped 60,000. Beginning in 1970s, the city’s economy was on a downward spiral and its population dropped drastically along with the collapse of its manufacturing industries. By 2010, Holyoke had barely 40,000 residents.

Marcos A. Marrero, Director of Planning and Economic Development, City of Holyoke speaks on tape: “Back in the day Holyoke… it’s still known as the `Paper City’ because of our heritage producing paper. But for a long time now, we’ve no longer been the `Paper Capital of the World.’ And what we’ve tried to do with the Innovation District is really change the paradigm of what is the value proposition of the city.”

It was at that critical moment of Holyoke’s economic restructuring when a state-of-the-art high-performance supercomputing center, team-funded by research institutions like Harvard University, M.I.T., Northeastern University, Boston University and University of Massachusetts, settled in town. The construction of the center infused new hope to Holyoke. In fact, many saw it as a goose of gold eggs, hoping that it could spur the city into action and lead it to resurrect from the ashes of by-gone industries and regain its former economic prosperity.

Massachusetts is America’s leading state that spearheads in the fields of science, research, and higher education. However, it has always been a headache for top-notch universities and research institutions to build and maintain their own supercomputing facilities.

John Goodhue, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center speaks on tape: “The Computing Center opened in late 2012. Each University managed its own research computing resources.  And this was very challenging, because often that meant that they had to build out space in metropolitan areas like Boston and Worcester, where the space is very expensive but also the electricity is very expensive.”

A state-of-the-art high-performance computing center places costly exacting demands on space, electricity, cooling system, and internet infrastructure, which are almost prohibitive in metropolitan areas. Yet, that is precisely what Holyoke can provide at only a fraction of the cost that other urban areas could match to construct and operate such a state-of-the-art high-performance computing facility. During the past golden era of manufacturing, Holyoke built a comprehensive canal system within the city, which resulted in an extensive, capable, but independent hydroelectric grid. The challenging demands of today’s high-tech development thus fit in perfectly with the infrastructure of yesterday’s by-gone industries in Holyoke. It is no exaggeration that MGHPCC has literally energized the city’s struggling economic restructuring.

Today, Holyoke is once again fast becoming a world-class city with a network of scientific research. It is one of the major hubs of America’s backbone optical cable network. Researchers and faculty of colleges, universities, and research institutions can access the MGHPCC’s supercomputing capability via high-speed internet anywhere in the state and across the country and take full advantage of its high-performance potential. Every month, MGHPCC executes several million requests for high-performance computing, communications, and data analytics.

John Goodhue, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center speaks on tape: “The goal of the universities is to make it so that if you need a computing resource, you get it immediately. Obviously, that can’t always be true. But building the Center has made it possible to deliver computing resources much more cost-effectively and flexibly, so that, for the most part, if you need a resource, you can sign up and get it more or less immediately. And the mechanics: you sign up for an account, and there is an automatic allocator that will schedule your work so makes the most efficient use of the computing resources.”

It is true that the direct economic impact and employment opportunities from the construction and operation of MGHPCC are limited. However, Holyoke has its eyes on the Center’s “golden brand-name” appeal for a new generation of businesses and talents. Since the beginning of its operation, several new innovative businesses have already sprung up in the surrounding area and positioned themselves to be a profitable part of the city’s economic transformation.

Marcos A. Marrero, Director of Planning and Economic Development, City of Holyoke speaks on tape: “[This is a] new development point in downtown Holyoke. All around the Computing Center, it’s now the focus of new development and public infrastructure: new passenger rail service in the city, new Canal Walk, new housing and commercial opportunities that are happening all around. It’s also been a great educational partner in the center of the city, working with the public schools, but also with organizations such as `Girls Inc.’, working with the youth to develop their careers from a young age and in interesting careers in high-tech.”

The scars of the by-gone industries are not going to disappear with the wave of a magic wand. Holyoke still has a long way to go on its journey of economic revitalization. But the 2014 official census reveals that the city’s long-term vision has begun showing preliminary results and its population growing again, albeit in small increments, after declining for a half century.