PITTSFIELD -- Newly elected U.S. Sen. Edward Markey plans to "frequently" visit Pittsfield and Western Massachusetts, helping the region deal with issues such as economic development, higher education and transportation.
During a meeting on Tuesday with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, Markey vowed he and his staff would be familiar faces in Berkshire, Hampden, Hampshire and Franklin counties.
"It's important Pittsfield thrive [as the] heartbeat of the Berkshires and its economic development," he said.
The veteran Democrat's stopover was his first in the county since winning the special election two months ago to fill the seat vacated by John Kerry. After 36 years in the U.S. House, Markey on June 25 defeated Republican Gabriel Gomez, succeeding Kerry, who had resigned this winter to become the U.S. secretary of state.
Pittsfield was one of four Western Massachusetts communities Markey traveled to on Tuesday, part of his August sojourn to hear the concerns and needs of municipalities across the commonwealth.
Prior to touring the downtown and William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, Markey gathered with Bianchi and several other Berkshire dignitaries in his corner office at City Hall.
Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Michael Supranowicz began the discussion touting the need to stem the tide of a projected shrinking employment base in the county.
"Population loss is going to affect us the worst as we foresee the workforce shrinking by 8,000 to 10,000 [people] over the next few years," he said.
Supranowicz and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing noted that investing in employee training programs and local colleges will be key to replenishing and maintaining local jobs.
"MCLA and BCC provide that first foot in the door for many families," Downing said. "If we can keep more [students] here, it will be a boost to the economy."
Downing also called for federal support of an effort to revive passenger rail service from the Berkshires to New York City.
"I think we can partner with you on transportation issues," Markey replied.
The U.S. senator also indicated support for Pittsfield's effort to create a 20,000-square-foot life sciences building in the William Stanley Business Park. In June, the city received $55,000 to study the feasibility of the 52-acre business park hosting such a high-tech facility.
In addition, Bianchi informed Markey that 16 to 18 acres have old foundations standing in the way of redeveloping the former General Electric factory complex. Currently Mountain Financial One and Nuclea Biotechnologies are the only business park tenants.
"It may take as much as $10 million to get it ready," said the mayor.
Markey said he would look into the availability of federal money to help Pittsfield and other communities redevelop former manufacturing sites.
As the 66-year-old political veteran continues to settle in among the 100 members of the U.S. Senate, he says he has made a smooth transition in the upper chamber of Congress.
"My first time in the Senate, I realized 51 of the senators I had served with in the House," Markey pointed out. "It makes for a pretty comfortable landing as I'm not your typical freshman senator."