Berkshire Chamber of Commerce: The new collaborative approach to business

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PITTSFIELD — Small business owners hoping to improve their sales pitches are receiving a boost from one of the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce's partner organizations.

1Berkshire, the countywide economic development alliance that is affiliated with the chamber, is currently holding a "Pitch Competition," a training session that involves the evaluation of sales pitches by a group of judges.

The competition, which began in early February and continues through May, also includes prizes and feedback for the participants.

The Pitch Competition is part of Berkshire Starts, a 1Berkshire program that encourages entrepreneurship, innovation and economic growth throughout the county, said Economic Development Specialist David Curtis.

Berkshire Starts itself is just one key initiative in an array of programs being rolled out or strengthened by the chamber or its partner organizations.

Expanding development

Local business organizations are currently expanding their cooperative efforts under the 1Berkshire umbrella, according to Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jonathan Butler.

"The future is bright with this type of model," Butler said, referring to the increasingly collaborative approach involving the chamber, the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and Berkshire Creative under the 1Berkshire Strategic Alliance brand.

1Berkshire was formed in 2010 to coordinate the region's economic development engine and unify the efforts of the Berkshire Chamber, the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., the Berkshire Creative Economy Council and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau.

The Berkshire Economic Development Corp. no longer exists. Berkshire Creative officially became part of 1Berkshire last October. The Chamber of Commerce and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau still operate as separate entities.

The organizations will "continue doing what they have been doing," Butler said, but they also will be able to access each other's expertise, resources and staff expertise to enhance promotion of the county as a prime area to live, work and play.

Collaboration between these organizations was enhanced when they all moved into the historic central firehouse building on 66 Allen St. in 2012. Previously, the four organizations maintained separate offices in different locations.

That collaborative process will intensify shortly, Butler said, as a new 1Berkshire website is rolled out over the next month, further linking the organizations and encouraging innovative, collaborative efforts and new strategies to promote the Berkshires.

The website, constructed over the past year by Winstanley Partners of Lenox, will provide information on the organizations and programs, along with links to information on real estate, jobs through BerkshireWorks Career Center, BerkshireJobs.com and other sources, and information for tourists, people considering a move to the area, and for residents.

The Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, which runs BerkshireWorks, is also located at 66 Allen St.

"We are very excited about the website, and we will continue to add to it," Butler said, making the site a one-stop, user-friendly place for all things Berkshires.

"Our focus will be to continue getting the 1Berkshire brand out there," he said.

The 1Berkshire collaborative concept was developed over the past several years, as these separate organizations sought to pool their resources and strengthen the impact of their individual efforts.

"1Berkshire has continued its evolution into the regional economic development organization for the Berkshires," Butler said. "It continues to be served by the staff of its two primary partner organizations — the Berkshire Visitor's Bureau and the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce."

As for the chamber itself, Butler said the organization will continue to provide traditional programs like the Berkshire Young Professionals initiative; the Berkshire Leadership and Youth Leadership programs; the Nonprofit Business Network; Good News Business Salutes; and services for some 1,000 members like business mentoring and advocacy.

A new program known as the Berkshire Initiative for Growth is working on a variety of strategies to reverse a sharp decline in the number of county residents within the 22 to 40 age group.

Berkshire Starts is focused on networking for business owners and entrepreneurs, mentoring support and access to investors, Curtis said. The pitch competition includes a strong mentoring and networking component, he said, and give business hopefuls realistic experience as they made their pitches to judges who also serve as coaches or mentors.

Information for applicants interested in the Pitch Competition can be found at 1Berkshire.com.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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