Chamber's Butler: 'Time to start painting a brighter picture of the region'


LENOX — The Berkshires has a narrative problem and needs to paint a "brighter picture of the region," according to Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jonathan Butler.

Flipping the script away from job losses and regional challenges and toward emerging opportunities and one-of-a-kind offerings is one key element of a chamber marketing campaign Butler unveiled on Wednesday night.

At the group's annual meeting at Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort, Butler said, "It's time to start painting a brighter picture of the region — one that doesn't dwell on the sum of all the things we are not, but instead focuses on the incredible energy of what we are and what we have the potential to become."

A new video containing images of theater and dance performances, people getting out in nature and businesses and restaurants in operation — capped off by the slogan "Life is calling" — was shown, giving a flavor of how the chamber plans to market the county. Butler said after "more than 300" viewings, the video still "makes me smile every time."

Everyone in the packed room on Wednesday — representing interests of 1,700 local businesses, or a third of the total county business community — was offered a zip drive containing the video and various Berkshires' logos to use as they please.

Butler also addressed the fall's big news: Sabic Innovative Plastics' impending departure from Pittsfield, and how it will affect hundreds of skilled workers.

It's a challenge, he said, but not disaster. City and state officials have been working with the chamber to find homes for displaced workers, and "some of our largest employers immediately [and later many more companies] reached out and expressed a desire to become a landing place for many of these workers."

"We're hopeful that in 2016, we'll be able to connect much of this displaced work force with other quality employers in the region," Butler said. "These connections will not only keep people in the Berkshires, but will also serve to make the new employers that much stronger."

Pittsfield and the chamber are working with property owners General Electric to find "the best possible reuse strategies" for the two buildings Sabic will vacate.

He also enlisted chamber employees to draw attention to the good economic news of the Berkshires of the past year which did not garner as much attention.

Tourism revenue in the Berkshires grew 5.31 percent over 2013 in 2014, to $387 million, and since 2009, visitor spending has increased 25 percent, a difference of $78 million. Unistress Corporation is employing record numbers with a workforce totaling 625, and plans to expand its local operation using $5 million in investment in the coming year. Interprint invested $4 million in its business. Other highlights included new programs and projects by Mass MoCA and Berkshire Community College, and the opening of Ramblewild in Lanesborough and Hotel on North in Pittsfield.

The focus of the new campaign, Butler said, "doesn't mean we should avoid our challenges, or live in denial of real problems that require real solutions. It simply means that we're best equipped to take on our challenges when we do so from a position of strength."

Issues the chamber focused on in 2015 included energy costs and how to keep them reasonable, drawing entrepreneurs and new businesses to the Berkshires and how to retain the young population.

In other business at Wednesday's meeting, City Councilor-elect and Pittsfield Cooperative Bank Vice President of Branch Operations and Administration Peter Marchetti was awarded the Esther Quinn Award for outstanding community service. He became the 17th person to receive the honor.

Marchetti's career with the bank, his reviewing of the organizational structure of government with the city's Charter Commission, founding of the Pittsfield Morningside Initiative, activity in Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and annual organizing of the Fourth of July Parade were named as a few of his accomplishments.

Referencing the bank, Marchetti said, "Our job is to make Pittsfield a better place to work and live, and that's what I intend to keep on doing."

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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