1Berkshire President and CEO Jonathan Butler welcomes members and local elected leaders to the organization's annual meeting.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — 1Berkshire's annual meeting last Thursday was a celebration: not just of the work the organization's been doing this past year but a reflection on the life of one its primary architects.
Vice President Lauri Klefos, who had been head of the merged Berkshire Visitors Bureau, had died unexpectedly just a week before, sending shockwaves through the tourism and business community.
"She saw 1Berkshire as a vehicle that would allow us to leverage our resources and amplify our voice for a larger audience," John Bissell, president and chief executive officer of Greylock Federal Credit Union. "When it came to the 1Berkshire model, Lauri just plain got it."
It was incumbent upon the 1Berkshire team to keep it together and push through and get the annual meeting ready, said 1Berkshire President Jonathan Butler, who like many of those affiliated with 1Berkshire was wearing a bit purple, Klefo's favorite color.
"You're all very familiar with what our organization has gone through the past week and it meant everything to this group that we proceed with this annual meeting," he told the large gathering at Greylock Works. "We did right by Lauri and we put together it all tonight so I just want to say, team, job very well done."
The annual meeting included a marketplace of members showing off their wares — from educational institutions to chocolatiers — and a breakdown of the initiatives and events of the past year, along with a reorganization of officers.
Also speaking were Kelli Kozak, vice president of community engagement at MountainOne, the meeting's presenting sponsor, and Danielle Gonzalez, human resources director at Williams College.
Butler said he believed one of his more important responsibilities was to report back to the membership on the efforts and results of the previous year.
"Keeping you updated about the work that we're doing, being transparent and detailed when highlighting the impact of your investments in the work that we do," he said.
The annual meeting is one of two major fundraisers for the organization, which is in its third fiscal year as an integrated entity of the former Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire Visitors Bureau, Berkshire Creative and Berkshire Economic Development Corp.
Butler said the organization continues to grow in revenue generated through dues from its 1,000 or so members, investors that give above their dues, state and federal grants, events and programs, and the initiatives such as the new "jobs thing."
Of the $1.8 million budget, about $400,000 comes from dues. Butler said 1Berkshire has a very diverse membership of small and large businesses in a wide array of fields from every one of the county's 32 communities. He believes there is room to continue to grow membership.
He pointed to the organization's new director of member services, Erika Allison, who has changed the way 1Berkshire communicates with its members by creating excitement and engaging members on social media promotions.
The pool of investor funds helps underwrite a lot of 1Berkshire's economic development work and the events bring in about $9,000.
Programs — products that the 1Berkshire generates itself — are a growing revenue source, Butler said, and include things such as ads on the website, guides, co-op marketing and the jobs thing.
On the economic development side, the team has had more than 200 interfaces with local businesses in 2018, offering guidance, assistances, mentorships and referrals, and graduated nearly two dozen through its mentor training sessions and business boot camp.
The jobs things also launched with the goal of attracting new talent to the region as well as being a local jobs resource. It's had 120 job postings for positions starting at $50,000 or more with 100 filled. The initial marketing campaign through Facebook and LinkedIn saw a half-million impressions.
1Berkshire is also the co-chairing a state-created commission on the Berkshire Flyer 2.0 project with the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission with the goal of restoring passenger service between New York City and Pittsfield.
"A huge percentage of the work we do is marketing," Butler said. "Marketing to visitors, marketing to new recruits, marketing to businesses. The backbone of this has always been how we communicate with visitors who bring lots of revenue into our economy."
1Berkshire had more than 162 million PR impressions (or interaction with any content) in fiscal 2018 but believes that counting other sites such as the Clark Art Institute or Jacob's Pillow creates a multiplier of three or four.
"So you're talking about the approach of billions of impressions in terms of the Berkshires brand around this country in different markets," he said. There are also more than 35,000 followers between This Is the Berkshires and 1Berkshire, the two primary social media outlets. "That gives us significant reach with very little expense."
The team has also found video is driving the most traffic and outperforming all other banner ads by 20 percent.
Butler said the 1Berkshire is still focused on the so-called "legacy visitor" but is finding the numbers are closing to a 50/50 split between legacies and next generation of Gen X and millennials so is shifting to communicate better with the younger visitors who may be more interested in outdoor recreation and the food economy.
"As an organization, the trend that Lauri worked hard on, we're spending more and more marketing on the all four seasons experience in the Berkshires," Butler said.
For 2019, the jobs thing will be getting bigger, Berkshires.org/Berkshires.com will be getting an overhaul, a podcast on living and working in the Berkshires will begin, and the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 will launch.
"It's been a huge initiative that's lasted 18 months and we believe we're going to publish this thing at the end of January and we're pretty excited," he said.
The blueprint, a followup on the decade-old countywide action plan, will take "a very deep dive" into five economic clusters: tourism and hospitality, manufacturing, health care, food and agriculture, and the creative economy.
Lauri Klefos was involved in the county's tourism industry for a decade. She died unexpectedly at Berkshire Medical Center on Nov. 28.
"It's going to create a roadmap for how we continue to leverage growth in those industries that are all on trajectories with the potential to grow right now," Butler said. "It's also going to outline massive regional investment made the past few years, which will probably be the most positive takeaway in terms of momentum that we have in the Berkshires. It's going to synthesize it in a way where people can better understand some of the good things that are happening here."
The business meeting was preceded by a 10-minute dedication to Klefos punctuated with cries of "We love you Lauri!" lead by Bissell and Diane Pearlman, executive director of the Berkshire Film and Media Arts Collaborative.
Bissell and Pearlman shared their stories of working with Klefos, her friendship and her dedication to the Berkshires.
"Lauri loved to explore this region," Bissell said. "Lauri always knew what was in the pipeline and how to package the message for the upcoming visitor season. ... She could tell you where to find the perfect gift, where to look for the best local bargain, and definitely where to find a good glass of wine."
Klefos was a stickler for detail and a thorough professional, they said. And while she expected a lot from her teams she also the inspired them to be their best, Pearlman said.
"What I learned about Lauri was when she put her mind to something, you just had to ride your horse in the same direction," Pearlman said.
She later added, "One person said to me on Facebook, she was a soft, powerful person. But my favorite line was this: she was kind, genuine and sort of a badass."
1Berkshire reorganized with the following departures and elections: leaving at the end of their terms are Van Shields, Joseph Thompson and John Vittori; voted in are Adam Davis and Jodi Joseph; renewing three-year terms are John Bissell, Jerry Burke, Gordon Dinsmore, Danielle Gonzalez, Donna Halton, Riad Maher, Vicki Saltzmann, Betsy Strickler and Colleen Taylor; elected are Chairman John Cahir, Vice Chair Danielle Gonzalez, Vice Chair Eva Sheridan, Treasurer Lori Gazzillo-Kiely and Clerk Jeffrey Cook.
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