The absence of bad news constitutes good news on the economic front in this era of low expectations. In terms of the Berkshires, that translates to modest optimism tempered by realism about the long-term state of the economy locally, in the state, in the nation and globally.
Tony Dobrowolski’s story on A-1 of the Sunday Eagle painted a picture of an economy emerging from the doldrums of the past few years but slowly and with no indication of a major rebound. The Berkshire County unemployment rate has declined from 8.5 percent to 6.7 percent over the past year but that figure doesn’t include those whose unemployment benefits have expired or who are no longer looking for work. The national economy is rebounding with fits and starts, but that is not necessarily reflected in the isolated Berkshires where trends, for good or ill, can be slow to emerge.
Pittsfield and Berkshire County are in the same boat as are many New England communities and regions, but they have significant advantages as well. Sabic and General Dynamics Advanced Information Systems, the latter of which added a significant number of jobs last year, provide a base of well-paying positions. There are small businesses tucked away in the hills, many with deep roots and others attracted by the appeal of the county, and the $500,000 Mayor Daniel Bianchi with City Council approval targeted last month for its small-business fund will help those in the city expand or hire. MCLA in North Adams and BCC in Pittsfield include in their mission the goal of preparing students for the demanding, high-tech jobs that will need to be filled in the county.
With the summer season approaching, the importance of cultural tourism to the Berkshire economy will become even more evident. Many of those attractions are expanding their seasons into spring and fall and are working together on marketing and promotion more efficiently than ever. The communities, like Pittsfield and North Adams, that expand into cultural areas once seen as the purview of only a handful of towns will receive the economic benefits many comparably sized communities can only dream of receiving.