PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The BIC, as an organization, is back on track after the infusion of money to get the center constructed.
"We're thrilled about the progress. It is great to be back in a posture of progression and see so many elements materialize," said Berkshire Innovation Center Chairman Stephen Boyd.
The non-profit had scaled back its operations just a handful of months earlier as the dollars were dwindling. Created several years ago, it began to launch training and other programming for its membership while awaiting its home to be constructed on the William Stanley Business Park.
And it waited and waited and waited.
The bids back in 2015 had come in too high for the innovation center and the entire project was delayed. Local officials turned their attention toward finding additional revenue to support the construction. It wasn't until March of this year, some two years after the doors were expected to be opened, that Gov. Charlie Baker deliver an increased earmark to make it happen.
During that period, however, the BIC's operating capital had been shrinking. It kept running programs and had equipment stashed at Taconic High School but the influx of companies to join once the doors were opened hadn't happened yet. The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority ultimately kicked more money to the BIC for operations, and the city and the state had come up with the remaining funding.
A secondary aspect is that the ownership of the project has shifted from the city to the BIC. That allows the nonprofit to avoid the public bidding process for the $13.7 million building. Boyd said the organization has reached an agreement with John Benzinger of Skanska USA -- the same company currently serving a lead role in the Taconic High School project -- to be the project manager. Consigli Construction, which recently completed the new Williams College science building, was hired to head the work.
"We estimate breaking ground between Labor Day and Columbus Day. We are currently considering dynamic compaction as part of our preparation for the foundation. The BIC, when it originally went to bid, was spaced with a driven-pile foundation system and that is both expensive and concerning relative to going deep into the ground," Boyd said.
Boyd walked PEDA members through updated drawings of what the building will look like. Boyd said the first floor will feature rooms for cutting-edge pieces of technology, an event space for organizations or companies to have networking events or job fairs, and breakout areas for people who can step out of the technical labs and work on a laptop instead.
On the second floor, there is another central corridor with breakout spaces, a few classrooms/conference rooms for businesses to rent, an amphitheater seating 75 for speaking series and interactive classes, two labs that can be fitted to be clean rooms, and two areas that will be relatively flexible -- though those flexible spaces are partly eyed to be leased to companies needing space while renovating or expanding or startups.
One of those spaces is expected to be Berkshire Community College's Office of Workforce Development. The BIC has been working with that office in developing its training programs.
Boyd envisions everything from TEDx talks to one-off college courses existing workers can take for specific certification programs for industries or on certain machines. He sees collaborative programs with places like Lever, an entrepreneurial incubator in North Adams.
Those programs had been scaled back considerably when funding for the building was still uncertain. Now, that has ramped back up.
"Training series at BCC will continue until the building is constructed," Boyd said.
The pieces of the center all come together to support what Boyd described as the innovation "ecosystem" in the Berkshires.
"Understanding emerging trends in the life sciences as an input creates germane training as an output. Good training as an input creates a skilled workforce as an output. A skilled workforce as an input creates more innovation and growth as an output. And the cycle continues. We think that this is a very important part of the BIC's role in the innovation ecosystem we are trying to build," Boyd said.
There remains a core group of 19 organizations -- from education to life sciences -- still involved with BIC. He said there is another dozen interested that are waiting for the building.
Boyd added that the timing is lining up well. He said it is predicted that the advanced sciences are going to break out in a massive way in the next five to 10 years. By 2025, it is estimated there will be a trillion smart devices in the world. He said learning machines, such as artificial intelligence, and digital manufacturing are all progressing quickly.
"These trends are all happening now, happening in 2018. You see it in the news, picture any science periodical and you'll see development in this space. I've heard experts refer to it as a primordial soup that we can't avoid, this collision course that is literally the dawn of a new age," Boyd said.
"I don't like sound grandiose all of the time but they've literally talked about it as those a new age akin to the industrial revolution."
He sees the BIC as being a key part of driving that here in the Berkshires.
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