PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Christopher Kapiloff has some big contracts in the works for Laminated Technologies Inc. and he'll be looking to expand.
He can expand anywhere and down South, where his competitors are based, it is less expensive to do business. But he is a Berkshires guy, grew his business in Pittsfield, and wants to stay. He went to the mayor's office and asked if there was some way the city could help cover the gap to build an expanded facility.
"I don't know what I was expecting. But, it would be fair to say my expectations coming in were low. What I got was a roundtable of 10 people who represented all of the decision makers in Pittsfield to educate us about what was available, took us through the step-by-step process of submitting an application, and we are on our way now to hear back from the city of Pittsfield," Kapiloff said.
Mayor Linda Tyer had rolled out what she is calling the "red carpet team" focused on growing local businesses. The city has an array of technical assistance programs and business incentives but those had been dispersed throughout a number of agencies. Tyer is now condensing those and, provided City Council approval, would be creating a business development specialist position shared with the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corp.
"We sought ways to sync up so we are delivering the absolute best in the competitive arena of economic development," Tyer said.
"What we know for sure is having a diverse, vibrant, dynamic economy in every sector is what we need for prosperity for our businesses, for our citizens, and for our city. Success depends on being well prepared, organized, welcoming, and polished. We agreed that breaking down silos and strengthening our connections is imperative."
Tyer has tried out the "red carpet team" multiple times throughout the last year, bringing in representatives from the city, PEDA, PERC, MassDevelopment, and the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, and said business prospects have responded well to it. Now, the city, PEDA, and PERC have vacancies for key jobs in their organizations, providing a chance to formalize that approach.
"The city of Pittsfield has no time to waste and neither do the companies who are endeavoring a new startup, who are seeking an expansion. We must be good ambassadors and skilled technicians," Tyer said.
PEDA's Executive Director Corydon Thurston is leaving his post; Ann Dobrowolski, who was the clerk for PERC and worked for the city's Office of Community Development is retiring (her position will not be filled); and Janis Akerstrom, who was director of Community Development, is gone.
Tyer announced on Thursday the return of Deanna Ruffer as the director of Community Development. Ruffer had served in that role for eight years, from 2004 when she was appointed under former Mayor James Ruberto until 2012 when she took a similar job in Chatham.
"She understands the culture of our city, knows every inch of every neighborhood, can navigate the business and housing landscape, and has a deep familiarity with state agencies that we rely on for our success," she said.
Ruffer has been credited with reeling in more than $22 million in grants and had taken major roles in the development of the Beacon Cinema, the downtown streetscape project, the First Street Common, the Colonial Theatre renovation and the Rice Silk Mill residential project. Her appointment, or re-appointment, will go before the City Council on Tuesday.
Dobrowski's position will now become the new business development manager, a post that is being shared between PERC, PEDA, and the city. Tyer is putting $25,000 toward that shared position in the city budget and the other organizations will be paying portions of the compensation.
"They will function as the first point of contact to requests from businesses on city procedures, eligibility for programs, incentives, and services. They will have the pulse of Pittsfield's commercial real estate market and they will create and lead a sales and marketing strategy," Tyer said.
The mayor has previously said she wanted to bring more of a business development eye in the Community Development Office. The new position will now serve as the "quarterback" of the team of economic professionals, coordinating the efforts of the various development agencies.
"A full menu of opportunities are presented, strategies are aligned, and a road map is created," Tyer said.
PEDA and PERC will both retain their own board governance structure, and PEDA is required to have a director. But Chairman Mick Callahan said this shared position focused on sales could help reduce the role of whoever becomes the next director. The hope with the new position is that PEDA can shrink its overhead so it can offer more in incentives.
"There is a requirement that we have a director at PEDA. There is no requirement as far as how many hours and what that timeline looks like. Our goal would be to support this new person, energize the sales process, avoid any duplication and inefficiency, and at the same time put our dollars to work so we have more resources for incentives," Callahan said.
Thurston had already been doing some of the work the new position is intended to do. When prospects came to PEDA but there wasn't a fit, he directed them to other city agencies.
"We are doing work outside of the perimeter of the William Stanley Business Park every day. I think just aligning ourselves more efficiently is a role our business community has to take," Callahan said. "We cannot continue to think like yesterday."
But, Tyer doesn't believe a prospect should even have to contact so many different agencies. She said often a business was shuttled between the agencies only to become "exhausted, frustrated, confused, and unsure." She added that often small, locally homegrown businesses aren't aware of all various resources. That's where this new coordinated effort will come into play.
"We don't want any missed opportunities," Callahan said.
Kapiloff was one of the first to experience the new approach and was happy with the welcoming process. Now it is up to the city to see if the agencies can put together the package LTI needs to expand within the next year.
"A lot depends on the response we get from the city of Pittsfield but it could be up to $2 [million] to $3 million and an increase of people at a minimum of 10 and a maximum of 30," Kapiloff said. "It would require a building footprint expansion of at least 30,000 square feet."
LTI already employs 100 or so people at its current location on Federico Drive. It has earned an international reputation and provided glass for Air Force One and Sandy Hook Elementary School. It's provided decorative work for large companies like Google and Amazon. If the city's "red carpet team" can make the numbers comparable to other parts of the country, it will be glad to continue to call Pittsfield home.
"We do projects that much larger companies around the world are very envious of and we're excited to be able to headquarter that in Pittsfield," Kapiloff said.
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