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More Than Casual Neighbors

February 21, 2005

When the Hartford-Springfield Economic Partnership was created in 2000, the response was underwhelming. Yes, Hartford and Springfield share an airport, a highway and a river - and even shared the Whalers briefly - but no one thought of the two cities as part of a region. And, what good could come of partnership?

Nearly five years later, we see the beginnings of a regional consciousness, because several good things have come of it.

Officials from both cities worked together to get federal funds to continue cleaning up the Connecticut River. They sent delegations to six national trade shows last year to market the region as "The Knowledge Corridor," which stresses the region's nearly three dozen colleges and universities as well as its educated workforce, cultural attractions and white-collar industries.

This year, the colleges are rolling out a Web-based internship program, the first of its kind in the country, aimed at connecting college students with area businesses. The hope is that many will decide to stay in the area after graduation, something almost half of them don't do now. Also, the partnership has promoted tourism in the area and plans to pursue the idea of a heritage corridor around such sites as the Springfield and Colt armories, Historic Deerfield and the Mark Twain House. Officials are also working together on the proposed Springfield-Hartford-New Haven commuter rail project.

The partnership, which was initiated by Northeast Utilities executive Douglas Fisher, is a somewhat informal, nongovernmental effort run by volunteers with a member-donated budget that is barely five figures. It works because the two metro areas have many of the same challenges and can achieve an economy of scale by working together.

It makes sense to work together on the river. From a marketing perspective, a combined Hartford-Springfield presents the world with a bigger product, something employers like to see. The six Connecticut valley counties on either side of the state line are home to 1.6 million people, which is in the same league with Orlando, Austin, San Jose and Raleigh-Durham. Finally, the "Knowledge Corridor" is a good way to put the region's best foot forward, in the way that the Research Triangle works for Raleigh-Durham.

So, when the flight attendant at Bradley says: "Welcome to Hartford-Springfield," it isn't just the airport. For more information see www.HartfordSpringfield.com.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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