PITTSFIELD -- As thousands gathered Friday morning for the parade down North Street, it became apparent that rain would only add character, not hurt attendance, of the city's annual July Fourth celebration, one of the 10 biggest and best in the country, according to USA Today.
"Under the circumstances, it could not have gone any better," Pittsfield Parade Committee President Peter Marchetti said in an interview following the event. "I was impressed."
Dozens of floats, sports teams, dance and cheerleading groups, nonprofits, veterans, area first responders and musicians of all sorts got a spotlight in a parade that literally stretched for miles.
A crowd of regional attendees lined both sides of North Street for this, the main event, which followed the Pittsfield Independence 5K Road Race where more than 1,000 runners braved the rain and reportedly favored the cool precipitation to last year's heat.
Kent Lemme, 40, of Pittsfield, finished first in 15 minutes, 47 seconds, and Emily Mareb, 20, the top female finisher, turned in a time of 17:19.
Participants and attendees alike donned rain jackets and embraced the weather. One attendant even created a makeshift kids pool in a truck bed using a handy tarpaulin sheet.
Dignitaries taking part in the parade, including Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, took an opportunity to reflect on the parade's theme, "Made in America."
"Manufacturing in Massachusetts is growing 50 percent faster than the national growth rate," Patrick said. "We're making more of the things we invent. We're working real hard to get some two or three billion dollars worth of new subway cars assembled here. Add to that the fact that as of last month not only have we regained all the jobs lost in the recession, but we are at the highest level of employment in 24 years. The commonwealth is coming back, and coming back strong."
"What matters is that the recovery touches everybody," he added. "We're not there yet, but we're making progress."
Bianchi reflected on the city's role in this development. He said residents should take pride in Pittsfield manufacturing history -- as local companies played key roles in developing transformers, defense systems, polymers and paper.
Looking ahead, applied materials useful for life science -- various plastic parts and medical supplies -- could become the city's new signature industry.
"We seem to do that pretty well here with some successful companies making intricate plastic pieces that go into the life sciences," Bianchi said. "I think that's a great opportunity for growth for the city of Pittsfield."
Patrick and Bianchi both stressed the importance of bolstering the educational infrastructure connecting young minds with future jobs and needed work.
"The things that we are making [in Massachusetts] are in the precision manufacturing fields -- medical devices, aerospace industry parts, transportation-related products -- it requires, in many cases, more than a high school diploma, but not necessarily a four-year degree," Patrick said. "There is a middle-skills gap and we anticipate 100,000 jobs will be needed in that space over the next decade. That's why we've engaged the community colleges and the tech schools to work together."
Bianchi lauded the work of Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, while highlighting the promising future impact of The Berkshire Life Sciences Innovation Center at the William Stanley Business Park.
"For a lot of families, growing companies here in Pittsfield means there's a greater chance the children will stay," Bianchi said. "My greatest wish is that most grandparents won't have to hop on a plane to visit their grandchildren."
To reach Phil Demers:
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On Twitter: @BE_PhilD
Grand Prize Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity
2nd place Salvation Army
3rd place Bentley Brook
1st place marching unit Columbia and District Pipe Band
2nd place marching unit Berkshire Highlanders
3rd place marching unit St. Peter's Drum Corp
1st place mobile unit Jailhouse 3 plus 2
2nd place mobile unit Racing City Chorus
3rd place mobile unit Past Tense
1st place Pittsfield
2nd place Dalton
3rd place Lanesborough
1st place Soldier On
1st place Bob Quattrochi, 1956 Chrysler Roadster
2nd place Jim Chivers, 1956 Chevy Nomad
3rd place Peter Marchand, 1931 Ford Model A Pickup