PITTSFIELD -- With less than a month to go before rail car makers are required to submit proposals to the state, local business leaders say the Berkshires are still under consideration as a possible manufacturing site for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority project.
Rail car proposals, which include a designated site, are scheduled to be filed with the state on May 1. But the contract isn't expected to be awarded until late 2014 or early 2015. The deadline for submitting bids had originally been Feb. 27.
The Berkshires are one of several areas in Massachusetts that have expressed an interest in being the site for a manufacturer to build 226 new vehicles for the MBTA's Orange and Red lines.
The $1 billion contract stipulates that final assembly of the vehicles must take place somewhere in Massachusetts. The project could bring between 200 and 250 jobs to the Berkshires depending on the amount of work that needs to be performed here.
One of the nine companies expected to bid on the proposal, Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. of China, committed to a site in Springfield last month. A South Korean company, Hyundai Rotem, which has previously built rail cars for the MBTA, has officially announced that it plans to bid on the project, according to The Boston Globe.
But neither action has any effect on the Berkshires as a potential site for a manufacturer.
"This is not a done deal for anybody at this stage of the game," said 1Berkshire economic development specialist David Curtis, who is heading the local efforts to bring the rail car manufacturer to the county. "We're still as enthusiastic and excited as we've ever been."
During a visit to the Berkshires last month, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Gregory Bialecki said the four counties of Western Massachusetts have been the primary area of the state that rail car manufacturers interested in bidding on the MBTA project have explored.
"I am not personally involved in the process," Bialecki said. "But I can tell you that any of the potential bidders that have expressed an interest in a site have been looking at Western Massachusetts.
"They're looking here not just as a matter of regional equity," he said. "It's the best place for a facility like that. It's a great opportunity to put a lot of people to work. Also, to us, it would be an exciting signal to the marketplace that this is an area where manufacturing can still be successful."
Based on his observations and on conversations he has been a part of, Curtis also believes the Berkshires are still in play.
"I sense that there is some serious interest in the Berkshires," Curtis said. "As we've talked about before the advantage we have to offer is the overall cost of doing business here."
According to Curtis, four of the nine companies expected to bid on the proposal have officially visited the Berkshires. The latest firm to visit, German manufacturer Siemens, came to the county about three weeks ago, he said. Curtis said Siemens was interested in the Greylock Mill in Lee, one of the four county sites that are being offered to manufacturers. The other sites are located in Adams, Dalton and Pittsfield.
"They're at a stage right now where they're immersed in completing the paperwork for their bids," Curtis said, referring to Siemens. "It's a pretty intense time for them. They're trying to nail down sites for actual assembly, and where the parts are coming from."
Curtis believes that some of the other companies interested in bidding on the project may have visited the county unofficially.
"Some haven't said boo," Curtis said. "But we think they've been around."
In Pittsfield, officials have offered $2 million in incentives to a rail car manufacturer who would be willing to locate a facility at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires. The 52-acre site is the only Berkshire parcel that doesn't contain an existing structure, but the park does have a 120,000-square-foot building foundation that the Pittsfield Economic Development Auth-
ority describes as "ready to build." PEDA is charged with the Stanley Business Park's development.
PEDA recently upped the ante by including confections from the Chocolate Springs Cafe in Lenox as part of their package.
"This is a unique way to grab their attention," said PEDA's Executive Director Corey Thurston.
Changchun Railway Vehicles Co. is planning to build a 125,000 square foot rail car assembly plant and a 33,750 square-foot-office building in East Springfield on the 40-acre former Westinghouse site, according to MassLive.