Saturday, March 10, 2007

NA TRANSCRIPT: Plan for county growth focuses on arts, tourism


Plan for county growth focuses on arts, tourism
By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams TranscriptNorth Adams Transcript

Article Launched:03/10/2007 02:57:32 AM EST

Saturday, March 10

PITTSFIELD — Once dependent on factory work to support its economic base, Berkshire County is looking for a new way to survive, and it's going to take more than museums and ski resorts to bolster the economy, a new countywide strategic plan reports.
Unveiled Friday at The Colonial theater by business and community leaders, the Berkshire Blueprint focuses on capitalizing on the county's untapped artistic resources, investing in education and better marketing of the region both to tourists and businesses.
"This is not a plan for one organization or one company," said Tyler Fairbank, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., which oversaw the creation of the blueprint. "This is a plan for the county — a road map for success. There is no silver bullet, no one elixir. What we offer is silver birdshot, not as a solution but as a beginning.
"Just as you would not attempt to grow a business without a business plan, we cannot expect to grow as a region without a business plan — the Berkshire Blueprint."
The report suggests focusing on three business clusters — creative, plastics and hospitality and tourism — as well as investing in infrastructure, developing a new Berkshire brand, establishing an "angel network" of businesses willing to provide investment capital and finding ways to reverse the population decline.
A two-year, $1 million study, the blueprint is the culmination of two separate economic development projects — the Berkshire Creative Economy Project and the Berkshire Strategy Project — both of which examined challenges and solutions to upgrading the region's business environment.
"The studies reiterated the uniqueness of the region with its natural and cultural amenities, along with specialized manufacturing," David Bruce, president of Lee Bank and chairman of the blueprint's steering committee, said. "The blueprint gives us a new vision of a dynamic, creative and competitive economy."
"In short, art means business in the Berkshires," added Laurie Norton Moffatt, director of the Norman Rockwell Museum and steering committee co-chairwoman. "Until now, the impact of the creative cluster on the Berkshires hasn't been fully understood. It's an area ripe for economic development."
Moffatt and Ellen J. Spear, president of Hancock Shaker Village and steering committee co-chairwoman, headed the Creative Economy Project, which showed that 10 percent of the county's workforce, or 6,000 jobs, are involved in some type of art-related business.
"The creative cluster is an export business that brings millions of dollars into the region each year," Spear said. "But we need to remember the delicate balance this cluster needs — growth is possible, if it is done in a sustainable and balanced way."
One key component connecting the three job clusters is the need to invest in education and align education and training programs with regional employment needs.
"The findings of the Berkshire Blueprint's work validates the need for an educated and skilled workforce," Andy Mick, chairman of the Berkshire Compact for Higher Education and CEO of New England Newspapers Inc., said.
He said the compact is moving forward with programs to inspire area students to think of their educational journey as continuing through college, with the support of the Nellie Mae Foundation and the Donahue Institute.
Donald Dubendorf, Williamstown lawyer and chairman of the John Adams Innovation Institute's board of directors, also supported the blueprint's finding for a need to improve the education of the region's workforce.
"What is so powerfully outlined is that the value of a workforce is no longer the strength of its back but the quality of its minds," he said.
State Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams, challenged the region to move forward with the initiative — promoting education as the key to improving the economy.
"We've branded ourselves as a place of culture," he said. "We've branded ourselves as a place of beauty. We need to brand ourselves as a place of great jobs and great opportunities for growth."
While the plan does not offer specific solutions, it does offer "benchmarks" for success and a basic structure for the implementation of several oversight committees to help steer initiatives.
"This is a way to build a structure," Fairbank said. "It's very complex. Will this happen overnight? No. But it's a plan to help the region so we don't succumb to political whims or the whims of one or two large businesses ever again."

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