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Pittsfield Council Approves Rail Car Incentive

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
12:20AM / Wednesday, February 12, 2014
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The City Council approved the $1 million incentive on Tuesday night.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — In one unanimous voice, the City Council approved offering $1 million to any company bringing the state rail car contract to Pittsfield.

The city is trying to attract the nine companies vying for the bid to build new Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority train cars. That contract is estimated to be worth at least $800 million and carries the requirement that the assembly must be done in Massachusetts.

The city is coupling $1 million from the General Electric Economic Development Fund, an account formed with the settlement with GE regarding pollution, with $1 million from the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority.

The goal is to have the train-car makers choose Pittsfield as their site when they submit a proposal for the state contract.

"It's important that the city of Pittsfield speaks with one voice and shows manufacturers that we are extremely serious about attracting new business to the city and provide opportunities for our citizens," Mayor Daniel Bianchi said following the vote, added he was "very pleased" to see all of the councilors on board.

Bianchi brought the proposal to the council a month ago and a later subcommittee crafted conditions on the incentive. On Tuesday, the City Council further amended it — adding an expiration date and limiting the city's auditing authority — before approving it.

"I think we need to be serious about trying to land these jobs," Councilor at Large Barry Clairmont said, adding that the mayor might want to consider asking for even more.

The incentive is eyed to help offset the construction costs of a new building. The city has a site on Kellogg Street with a foundation but no structure. Building new can be more expensive than purchasing an existing property.

"The whole purpose of this is to put the money on the table to have a company take a serious look at Pittsfield," Director of Community Development Douglas Clark said.

The council wanted to add conditions to the proposal because of the many unknowns with the project. The nine companies have to outline their plans — including locations — by May for submission. Each company could have a different plan.

Councilor Barry Clairmont questioned Community Development Director Douglas Clark on various aspects of the incentive.

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"We are far from having a draft agreement with both parties ready to sign on the dotted line because we don't know who the other party is," Clark said.

Clark said some of the companies have manufacturing facilities nearby and Pittsfield would be the host of final assembly while others may want to create a facility to build the parts as well. The definition of final assembly includes putting all of the parts together and the state outlines the bare minimum amount of work needed to be done.

"This certainly is more than slapping a sticker saying 'made in America' on something," Clairmont said.

The total contract is estimated to create some 250 jobs and the city added a minimum of 100 jobs paying an average of $35,000 in case the number of jobs is reduced because the manufacturing of parts or testing is done elsewhere.

"We thought we'd set a floor to that so if someone came in with 180, we didn't have to start over again," Clark said.

A clause adding "with benefits" to the salaries removed by Ward 5 Councilor Jonathan Lothrop last week narrowed the intent to ensure the jobs were high paying. Clark expects those numbers would be reached four years after the contract is awarded.

The council added a condition that if the company has not signed a contract with the city by a year after the state awards the contract, the incentive is automatically rescinded. That amendment, made by Clairmont, barely passed by a 6-5 vote.

Bianchi said that type of restriction was unneeded.

"You folks have the ability at any point in time to file a petition to rescind this," Bianchi said, later adding that he thinks it is too early for the council to start setting restrictions.

With the approval, PEDA will now get to work trying to entice the companies and market the property. Bianchi, who sits on the PEDA board, has the added responsibility of gaining support from state and federal officials.

"My job is now to work with our federal delegation to see if we can influence the decision maker for the positive of Pittsfield," Bianchi said.


Tags: economic incentive,   manufacturing,   PEDA,   rail,   

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