PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Construction on the Berkshire Innovation Center is ramping up, according to Executive Director Scott Longley.
"We are literally within weeks of starting to frame interior walls. The momentum and the progress of the BIC construction have definitely begun to pick up," Longley told the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority on Wednesday.
The research and development center broke ground in September and is eyed for an October opening. In January, the steel structure was completed and celebrated with a topping off ceremony. In February, "the building really began to take shape. We put flooring. We put decking. Things were getting welded and put in place."
In March workers enclosed the facility to start working on the inside. Floors were poured and plumbing began. That plastic wrapped was pulled off this month and now the framing for the is expected to begin.
Longley believes the project, which had been a decade in the making, is on track for the fall opening. The $13.7 million building at the William Stanley Business Park is hoped to significantly bolster advanced manufacturing businesses and provide more educational opportunities. The center's membership is made up of various businesses and schools.
The BIC is thought of by many in local economic development as a key piece to the strategy moving forward. 1Berkshire recently released it's "Berkshire Blueprint 2.0" as a roadmap toward building the Berkshire's economy and cited the BIC as a piece to economic clusters in health care and manufacturing.
"We've got great goals in mind for the clusters. Now I wanted to see if we can put metrics and measurements in place so we can track our progress," Longley said.
The concept when open is to offer many companies places to use high-tech equipment to develop new products, participate in workshops and meetings to further their knowledge of subjects, and for educational institutes to use it as a training hub for workers to learn jobs in advanced manufacturing to close the skills gap in the workforce.
The training pieces had mostly been eyed to be done in conjunction with local universities, colleges and trade schools -- extending from the Albany, N.Y., area to the Pioneer Valley. Longley said he's begun talking with a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., about bringing pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical training there.
Longley said the company contacted him because their training center is maxed out. The Berkshire's location in proximity to New York and Boston could serve as a location for the nonprofit to run its training for regional companies.
Longley added that the organization recently began a partnership with the Mass Green High Performance Computer Center and the Northeast Cyber Team Initiative to bring resources and interns to member companies.
"It really is bringing high-tech resources to bear and offering them to companies here in the Berkshires," Longley said.
Later this month, Longley said the BIC, in partnership with General Dynamics, is bringing Director of Advanced Manufacturing Programs at MassTech Ira Moskowitz to the Berkshires to discuss with companies the federal M2I2 program that could have resources available.
"If companies want to make presentations to him, money will be available to allocate to these programs," Longley said.
The programming pieces have been held offsite for a few years now, at different levels depending on funding, and is expected to be moved to the center when it opens up.
Other recent activities for Longley and the BIC include updating the BIC's website, participating in the Berkshire Robotics Challenge, co-sponsoring a Berkshire Innovation Night, judging and mentoring businesses in the Lever Business Challenge, and Longley is participating in the search for a new dean at Berkshire Community College, a position that will oversee much of the training programs for companies.
"We really believe that a key aspect of the BIC is not only working with people like PEDA and local government but we also want to make sure we have a very tight and good partnership with Berkshire Community College," Longley said.
The company is also working to grow its membership.
In other business, Auditor David Irwin presented the PEDA board with a clean and unmodified audit. However, the situation at the park hadn't change all that much. PEDA had used about $250,000 in the last year for operations, which brings the unrestricted fund balance down to $1.78 million. About $227,000 of that has been approved to fund the BIC, provided it hits certain criteria.
"That $1.78 million is actually $1.56 million available. If we spend at an approximate rate of $250,000 a year, you are getting down to five or six years at this point," Irwin said.
The organization has been in existence for more than 20 years, funded by money left behind in an agreement with General Electric, to develop the former GE land. However, there are still multiple parcels left for development and the annual income from what has been developed still isn't enough to cover the annual expenses.
PEDA does still have other monies left from the original allocation but those funds are locked into being used on specific projects such as foundation work. The operating deficit with the unrestricted funds has been chipping into the amount the organization can offer as incentives to developers.
PEDA reorganized last year to help cut the overhead expenses but unless the revenue increases, the years are numbered.
"The money is dwindling down, especially if we continue to give grant money in big sums," Irwin said.
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