Our Opinion: City's new economic QB must address skepticism
Ever since major local employer GE reduced its presence and ultimately withdrew from the Shire City altogether, Pittsfield has watched its population and optimism melt away while awaiting rescue in the form of new outside business and, possibly, local startups that would employ its willing labor force. It is understandable that a skepticism flourished over the years as one initiative after another failed to come to fruition. The context surrounding Monday's announcement that 30-year sales and marketing veteran Michael Coakley of Lenox would be spearheading the push toward economic redevelopment may ultimately turn out to be a major factor enabling this mission's success.
For any long-term stategy to achieve its goals — be it in the business environment or on the football gridiron — everyone involved needs to be working in unison. It is encouraging, therefore, that Mr. Coakley's position and its associated expenses are being funded through three sources with similar goals. The city of Pittsfield (whose City Hall will house Mr. Coakley and his office), the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority and the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation are officially on the same page. We urge him to work with 1Berkshire, as the city and county economies are closely linked.
The new development manager faces daunting challenges, among them being a lack of faith among the public that there is any way out of the city's economic doldrums. Therefore, one of his most important priorities is to engender confidence and optimism and demonstrate that he is not just another functionary thrown at the problem and who is destined to ultimately fail. He must lay out a set of priorities that reflect a coherent strategy, welcome and listen to the wants and needs of residents and businesses in crafting that strategy, and, help the city scare away the ghosts of GE that continue to haunt it.
The disintegration of Walmart's plans for a supercenter at the idle William Stanley Business Park provides an opportunity to explore better options for the former GE property rather than wait around for a white knight to swoop in and save the day. In today's ruthless economic reality, wherein cities are engaged in cutthroat competition to attract businesses, a confident, steady and committed representative — strengthened by support from all levels of the community — is an absolute imperative for Pittsfield to prevail in this environment. We hope that he and related agencies will pursue imaginative projects for the property and pursue them.
More generally, Mr. Coakley's job now is to aggressively present Pittsfield and its environs to the outside world as a locale that is eager to do business and offers good schools and a good standard of living at relatively low cost. In this way, the citizens of the city may come to believe that while a prosperous era has come and gone, another much different yet successful era could arrive.
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