PITTSFIELD -- An economic development specialist at 1Berkshire said on Thursday that local business leaders should consider the possibility of bringing a transit rail car manufacturer to the Berkshires as a "rare opportunity."
Speaking at a Berkshire Chamber of Commerce function at the Country Club of Pittsfield, David W. Curtis also provided his perceptions on how the county can continue to develop its economic potential. The 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance is the county’s leading economic development agency.
Regarding the transit rail car project, Curtis said local interest has been so high that a meeting scheduled for Tuesday to discuss the project with local companies interested in becoming suppliers to such a manufacturer has already been moved to Berkshire Community College.
The meeting was originally scheduled to be held at 1Berkshire’s administration building at 66 Allen St. It will now take place from 8 to 9 a.m. Tuesday in the auditorium at BCC’s Koussevitzky Arts Center. Curtis said last week that 1Berkshire would move the meeting to a larger site if there was enough interest.
Berkshire County is one of several areas interested in bringing a transit rail car manufacturer to the state to make new rail transit vehicles for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The contract stipulates that final assembly of the new vehicles has to take place somewhere in Massachusetts. The initiative could bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the Berkshires depending on the amount of work involved.
1Berkshire, the county’s leading economic development agency, is heading the local efforts to bring the project here. Ashuleot Park in Dalton, Schweitzer-Maudit’s former Greylock Mill in Lee, and the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires in Pittsfield are being marketed as sites.
Curtis called the project "very, very exciting," due to the number of jobs involved, but said it won’t be easy for the Berkshires to bring that manufacturer here.
"My guess is that we’ll have very, very tough competition," Curtis said. "But we have some attributes over other areas. Our workforce here is very talented."
Curtis, who came to the Berkshires from Cape Cod where he was the managing partner of the Entrepreneurial Research Partnership, listed several methods the Berkshires can use to promote the county’s economical potential.
He said business leaders need to help the Berkshire firms that are already here, and identify the companies that have the desire to grow.
While addressing the voids in the local economy, Curtis suggested that business leaders need to "address and maximize" the benefits that already exist in the Berkshires. Local business clusters, such as the plastics industry, offer "tremendous opportunity", Curtis said.
"Right now three out of every five companies is adding jobs," in the local plastics industry, he said. "You don’t even hear about it because it’s one at a time, two at a time, sometimes three or four ... I wish more people knew that."
Curtis said he and Keith Girouard, the director of the Berkshire Chapter of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center, have been working with a small group of investors to form an "angel investment network" in the Berkshires that would provide a funding source for local entrepreneurs,
"There’s a huge need for a well-known identified angel investment group in this area," he said.
Building a comprehensive data base of Berkshire companies so that those outside the county can find the firms they may need here easier, is one of 1Berkshire’s goals, Curtis said.
Berkshire businesses also need to improve their marketing efforts outside the county.
"We do a terrible job of marketing ourselves," he said. "Beyond the beautiful trees and the lakes and the recreation folks don’t have a clue how talented (the Berkshires) is in the area of business."