Berkshire Blueprint Details Progress

By Jen ThomasPrint Story | Email Story
PITTSFIELD – Nine months after unveiling the Berkshire Blueprint, key leaders on the project outlined formal benchmarks for the action plan that aims to move Berkshire County toward prosperity and future development through collaboration and innovation. "Berkshire County is an abundantly rich and exciting place to live and do business. This substantive and quantified self-examination, and the highly evolved research behind it, will give us new muscle with which to affect change and improvement where we most need and desire it," Michael Supranowicz, president and CEO of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement released on Wednesday morning. "Measures for Success" – as the first scorecard for the Berkshires is called – details how the county has faired in four categories, using 15 indicators, in areas like economic and business climate, people and prosperity, innovative capacity and the environment. Chosen for their critical need in "improving the economic climate," these categories will be the criteria by which the Berkshire Blueprint's success is measured. "This progress report is the first of many forthcoming reports, reliant upon solid research by Berkshire Navigation [a countywide data collection organization], that are intended to help us continually evaluate our work and meet our goals," said David Bruce, the chairman of the Berkshire Blueprint steering committee and president of Lee Bank. Released in March, the Blueprint is a strategy and implementation plan that uses the county's own unique resources to help support future economic growth, while maintaining "Berkshire County's quality of life" and marketing the area as a destination for visitors and entrepreneurs alike. As Supranowicz, Bruce and Berkshire Economic Development Corp. President Tyler Fairbank highlighted the progress of the project throughout the year, Bruce was quick to note that not all the information was positive. "Keep in mind that all the data presented today is not good news. We'll show our weaknesses and where we are downright failing," he said. Out of the 15 indicators, the data indicated that the Berkshires were excelling in nine areas, failing in five and there was room for improvement in three. In the "Economic and Business Climate" category, growth in the gross domestic product, the labor force, the average wage and the number of new businesses was sullied by a poor mark in the cost of health care. From 2001 to 2005, the median monthly cost of employers' share of a family plan increased from $488 to $713. The national average in 2005 was a $681 share. Positive scores in benchmarks in the environment category underscored the countywide commitment to preserving the natural beauty of the Berkshires but low marks in the innovative capacity category reflected areas where the Blueprint needs to work to gain momentum. "Though we have not painted a completely rosy picture, there's a lot to be proud of," said Bruce. "Our community's blueprint is necessary to preserve the economic health and vitality of Berkshire County. When we announced the Berkshire Blueprint, we said that this was not just another survey. We promised action; we promised results." According to Fairbank, the planning stages of the project are over and the implementation phase is moving forward – and has been for some time. "The planning is over and, now, we're doing. This is the not-so-glamorous aspect of things. This is the part where you roll up your sleeves and start doing all the work," he said. With the launch of the Angel Network, which pairs aspiring entrepreneurs with individuals looking to invest in creative startup businesses, the Berkshire Creative Economy Project and the BEDC can already claim success. Further, the BEDC and the Chamber expect to announce tangible goals during the early part of next year. For David Pellegrino, an engineering manager at Hi-Tech Mold and Tool Inc. in the city, the Blueprint means a bright future for his company. "My company really represents the future of what's going on in Berkshire County," said Pellegrino of Hi-Tech, a plastics manufacturer that employs approximately 100 people. "And it looks to us that our growth potential is only limited to how many capable people we bring in." Pellegrino said he expects the sales growth of Hi-Tech to increase by 50 percent in 2008 and the staff to grow by 15 to 20 percent. Further expansion is needed, however, and Pellegrino said he hopes the Blueprint can attract a trained and educated work force to the area. "How do we get people out there to understand that you can live in a place like this – with such natural beauty – and still have a good career?" he asked. For Supranowicz, the answer may be in getting more public input in the next phases of the project. "We have to say not 'Where do we go from here?' But 'Where do we see ourselves?'" Supranowicz said. The link to the Powerpoint presentation was removed at the request of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce.
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