North Berkshire Coalition Forum Tackles Economic Development
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Everyone can play a role in the economic development of the region, local officials and experts said at the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition's monthly forum on Friday.
"Every single one of you is involved in economic development," Jonathan Butler, CEO at 1Berkshire, told the nearly 70 people in attendance at the monthly forum at First Baptist Church.
Butler kicked off the forum by giving an overview of the economic situation in the Berkshires, more specifically northern Berkshire County. He shared the sectors that are the largest employers in the county: health and wellness tops the list, followed by financial services, education, tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, food and agriculture, and the creative economy.
Butler said that while there is a lot of "growth potential" in those sectors, people are always asking him about specific jobs that are available. On that front, the news is both good -- and bad.
"The reality is … there's between 1,200 and 2,000 jobs posted all the time," he said.
But the availability of jobs doesn't necessarily equal access to jobs, for various reasons from lack of a skilled workforce to substandard public transportation to get people to these jobs.
"That's something we have a lot of work to do in the Berkshires," he said.
Measuring the strength of the region's economic development doesn't come just from counting jobs, however, Butler said: It comes from the "strong communities" that keep the county humming, including strong civic structures like chambers of commerce and downtown organizations, as well as a growth of investment in the region over the last few years by private institutions like hotels and museums.
Speaking to those kinds of projects, representatives from the three largest Northern Berkshire communities spoke at the forum about what development is happening.
Annie Rodgers discussed the NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative happening to revitalize Eagle Street in North Adams, where donations and grants are helping fund new signage and other improvements like community spaces and public artwork.
"There's going to be something on the street for everyone," she said. "It's slowly coming together, and we're pretty stoked about the project."
Over in Williamstown, there are a lot of exciting projects happening as well, Select Board member Andrew Hogeland said, including the development of public recreation spaces like The Spruces and Linear Park, private development like the new hotel being built on Main Street, continued investment in the town by Williams College, including its new bookstore in addition to its own new hotel on Spring Street, the new middle and high school set to open in September, and many affordable housing projects that have been completed or are in the works.
"The goal is to make it affordable for people to live and work here," he said.
Down in Adams, energy has been injected into the community by the work surrounding the Berkshire Scenic Railway project, said Christine Hoyt, the newest member of the Adams Board of Selectmen. Hoyt took the forum attendees through a history of the project, which has seen the creation of a scenic train route between Adams and North Adams and the development of an old car wash into a passenger boarding area. Trains started running last fall.
"And the trains were full," she said, adding that the next step is the opening of a new passenger platform and turning the station into a full-service train station that would include ticketing, restrooms and a museum.
"This truly would make Adams a destination for all things Berkshire Scenic Railway," she said, and that in turn will spark development around the downtown as people come to ride the train, stay in hotels and eat at local restaurants. "There are so many opportunities that the Adams station brings to the area."
Discussions among the forum participants ranged from the importance of outdoor recreation like the Ashuwilticook Rail Trail and quality entertainment at venues like Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art to attracting both visitors and potential transplants to the area. But many people kept going back to the idea that everyone plays a role in this. Teachers, for instance, make schools attractive for people considering moving to the area. Colleges, particularly the county's two state schools, help by offering programs to train the workforce needed to help grow the county.
"These things all contribute to the vibrancy of the region," Butler said in his presentation, expressing optimism that the county is heading in the right direction, despite the struggles that remain. "The trajectory is pointing up. If you asked that question 20 years ago, it wouldn't have been pointing up.
"We should all be proud of the work that's being done in northern Berkshire County," he said.
Tags: economic development, NBCC,