Governor Patrick encourages biotech in the Berkshires
PITTSFIELD -- While the biotech industry has thrived in eastern Massachusetts, it's still developing in Berkshire County.
Following a tour of the Nuclea Biotechnologies facility on Elm Street Tuesday, Gov. Deval Patrick said the same strategies that expanded biotech in the Boston area can be used to grow the industry out here.
"You do it intentionally," Patrick said. "You grow with the pioneers, like Pat [Muraca, Nuclea's president and CEO], you create the kind of environment that enables the biotech industry."
Those investments include funding for universal broadband access in the Berkshire region, enhanced educational opportunities like the life sciences building at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams, and the proposed business incubator building at the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires, Patrick said.
"That is the formula that has worked in other parts of the commonwealth," he said.
Before touring Nuclea, a company that maps genes and proteins associated with diseases such as cancer, Patrick attended a meeting of the Berkshire Business Roundtable at the Country Club of Pittsfield where he fielded questions on a variety of topics, including the raising of the minimum wage, the governor's role in funding for defense projects, and the area's high energy costs, that were posed by the heads of several Berkshire businesses.
Patricia Begrowicz, the owner and president of Onyx Specialty Papers in Lee, said energy costs at her plant have increased 40 percent since she assumed ownership of the company five years ago.
Patrick said lowering energy costs in the Berkshires is "very much tied" to the natural gas pipeline across northern Massachusetts that the Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co. is seeking to build. A 3.8 mile segment of line in Sandisfield that the company also hopes to construct has raised the ire of some town residents, who say they are organizing a group to oppose it.
Patrick said he has spoken with the project's developer, Kinder Morgan Inc. of Houston, adding that they have expressed an interest in bringing more capacity to the state.
"It's an ambitious project," he said. "It certainly has a level of complexity because they're not going to use the existing right of way, which means they have to get a lot of approvals from a lot of landowners between here and eastern Massachusetts."
He's not sure how much a natural gas pipeline would save Berkshire businesses in energy costs, but believes lower costs would probably be based on supply and demand.
"If we increase the sources for generating electricity the cost will go down," he said.
Carl Pratt, the general manager of Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club, said businesses in the leisure and hospitality industry believe if the government raises the minimum wage the way it has been proposed payroll would increase so much that infrastructure improvements would "get squeezed."
"I hear that," Patrick told the media after visiting Nuclea. "But I think the minimum wage needs to go up. As I said at the state of the state address to those who oppose it, I would invite them to see if they could live on it."
Before the meeting began, Berkshire Business Roundtable Chairman Michael P. Daly said the group appreciates the governor's interest in this area of the state.
"He always says that he governs the entire state, and we all know that means Berkshire County," said Daly, who is the president and CEO of Berkshire Bank. "We appreciate that."
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