PITTSFIELD -- A representative of the Berkshire's leading economic development agency says the possibility of bringing a railway car manufacturer to the county is a "once in a lifetime opportunity."

"Because it's getting a company to come here that potentially represents 200 plus jobs, and that's a rare thing for the Berkshires," said David Curtis, an economic development specialist at 1Berkshire.

"Our economic development growth comes through companies here adding a few jobs here and there," Curtis said. "To get this many in one opportunity is extremely rare."

1Berkshire is heading a group of county individuals that is planning to reach out to the eight or nine railroad car manufacturers who are expected to bid on a $1.3 billion contract to build new cars for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.

Besides Curtis, the group also includes Pittsfield Economic Development Authority Director Cory Thurston, Pittsfield's Community Development Director Douglas Clark, and recently retired former Crane Vice President Douglas Crane. Crane is also a member of PEDA.

"We've met as a group three or four times already," Curtis said.

Gov. Deval Patrick announced the initiative in October, and the MBTA has already put out a request for proposals, or RFP, seeking bidders for the project. The MBTA is looking to replace the current cars on its Orange and Red lines with 152 new vehicles. Curtis said the cars will have different size requirements because the Orange and Red lines use different styles of vehicles.

The MBTA is expected to award the contract during the winter of 2014-15, according to Boston Magazine, and the work is expected to get underway in 2015, according to Thurston. The new vehicles are expected to be delivered between the winter of 2018-19 and the fall of 2019.

What excites the Berkshire business community is that the contract stipulates that the final assembly of the new railway cars has to take place in Massachusetts. That means the company that is awarded the contract would have to establish a facility to do the final assembly work somewhere in the state.

A prospective vendor would sign an agreement to locate at a given site that is contingent upon obtaining a contract with the MBTA, state Department of Transportation spokesman Michael Verseckes stated in an email message.

As part of the procurement evaluation process, the manufacturers will be required to submit to the MBTA a manufacturing plan. This will include specifics on their selected final assembly site.

Aside from the procedural requirement, it is likely that prospective vendors would want to identify where in Massachusetts they would intend on locating a facility to demonstrate their commitment, Verseckes said.

Curtis said the Berkshire group plans to pitch three sites: the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires in Pittsfield, the former Schweitzer-Maudit Greylock Mill in Lee, and Beloit-Jones' former facility at Ashuelot Park in Dalton that is currently occupied by Northeast Fabricators. Those three sites all have access to rail, but Curtis said the railroad spurs at each facility would have to be upgraded.

A fourth site, a commercial industrial space in Lee, has been removed from consideration because it's not available, Curtis said. He declined to identify that site.

"The companies that we've talked to both directly and through other means of correspondence have some specific requirements for size, power, and access to transportation routes, either highway or rail," Curtis said. "Those fit some of those criteria."

On Tuesday, PEDA approved the offer of a $1 million incentive package designed to bring the company that wins the bid to the Stanley Business Park.

Among the railcar manufacturers that the group of businessmen has either contacted or plans to contact are Siemens, Hyundai/Rotem, Bombardier, CSR China, Kawasaki, Alstrom, and U.S. Rail, Curtis said.

Last week, Thurston attended a pre-bid meeting in Boston where representatives of five of those companies were in attendance. He also met with representatives of Siemens on Tuesday in Pittsfield after PEDA's monthly meeting.

It could not be determined what other state communities are interested in the project, but Thurston said representatives from the city of New Bedford attended the pre-bid meeting.

Curtis said the kind of work that is performed in the Berkshires would depend on which company receives the contract from the state.

"The definition of final assembly is going to mean different things to different companies," Curtis said.

Some of the companies already have facilities in the United States, including in New York, which means the amount of final assembly that would need to be done in Massachusetts would be minimal, he said.

However, two Chinese companies, a Canadian firm, and a French company with offices in the United States are expected to be interested in the proposal. Some of those companies don't have a major presence in the U.S.

"If someone is doing piecework to put the cars together, it would not be as big of an impact," Curtis said. "But some companies have no presence in the United States so they would need to do quite a bit of assembly in the Berkshires."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com
(413) 496-6224