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The monthly Berkshire Chamber breakfast was attended by more than 200 people.

BCREB Chair Calls For More Public, Private Partnerships

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Albert Ingegni III was the keynote speaker at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce breakfast on Wednesday where he spoke of the efforts of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Government can't simply create jobs.

But, it can help private companies create them, according to Albert Ingegni, chairman of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.

Ingegni was the keynote speaker Wednesday at Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's Good News Business Salute, at which he advocated for stronger public-private partnerships to build up the local economy.

"I think from my perspective, we've come to a point in the country where government doesn't do a very good job of creating jobs and driving the economy," he said. "I think we can be very helpful in working with private-sector companies to create economic development and provide some of the training and support to make things work better."

He said private companies need to take the lead in growing the economy and to do so, the regional employment board is there to help with job training and tax incentives.

"The REB works closely with our workforce and economic development partners to ensure that employers and residents are provided with quality education and workforce training opportunities," he said.

BCREB has a hand in nearly all of the federal economic development programs and their job is to stay on top of what the shifts and needs in the local economy. Locally, a big issue is the pool of qualified workers.

"There actually are jobs in Berkshire County. The region continues to have the highest job vacancy rate in Massachusetts. The open positions range from all types of entry-level positions to high-level engineers," Ingegni said. "There are on average 1,300 job postings in the Berkshires listed daily on the state website. And I venture to say there are probably twice that because not everybody posts on that website."

Meanwhile, the local unemployment rate is at 7.1 percent, which is above state average. That unemployment rate does not include the 530 jobs lost with the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital.

To train workforces, BCREB has partnerships with local educational institutes and will provide the technical assistance a companies needs to apply for workforce training grants.

"We help companies access tax incentives and on-the-job training resources, which helps saves businesses hundreds of thousands of dollars annually," he said.  "Last year, 20 Berkshire County companies saved $400,000 utilizing those resources."

BCREB is about to launch a three-year, $350,000 grant to boost training of health-care professionals. The program will train nursing assistants and nurses.

"When we combine efforts with public entities, our opportunities become significantly increased," he said.

BCREB receives about $2.5 million in government funding every year to help employers. With that it runs youth development programs, connects job seekers with open positions and provides technical assistance to companies.

"We assist about 1,000 companies, 5,500 job seekers and 2,500 youth within a year," Ingegni said.

When a business is close to closing, a rapid response team is dispatched to help the employees. With the closure of North Adams Regional Hospital, the rapid response team set up shop the morning after the announcement to help the former employees get insurance coverage and do financial planning. The team is still helping the former workers with resume and interviewing skills and holding job fairs, he said.

On the youth development side, the organization runs various programs with schools to give the youth the skills and experience to enter the workforce.

"We are always looking to the private sector to serve as mentors," Ingegni said.

Ingegni believes there will need to be more private, public relationships to move the economy forward. But, he said both on the national and the local level, signs show improvement.

"After the winter slowdown, the U.S. job market did hit a milestone in March. The private sector finally recovered all of the jobs we lost in the 2008 financial downturn. The U.S. economy added 192,000 jobs and the unemployment rate remained at 6.7 percent in March," he said. "I think it is a sign that the nation is starting to recover and that the private sector has more confidence in the economy and is hiring."

Locally, 307 new jobs were created between 2012 and 2013 while other communities have seen a decline. New Berkshire business establishments have grown by about 1 percent.

Even with the closure of the hospital, Ingegni says he think the local economy will grow after the "transition." He credited Berkshire Health Systems with "stepping up" and hiring back many of those who lost their jobs in the closure. Ingegni says the health care delivery services may not look the same in the future, but many of those jobs will be restored eventually.

"I think there is a transition here and the short-term transitions aren't always pleasant. Sometimes they are painful but ultimately the final result can be better," he said.

Tags: economic development,   employment,   workforce training,   

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