Our Opinion: Giving kick-start to stalled BIC project

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Two essential ingredients for fostering a thriving and durable local economy are diversity and a trained workforce prepared to fill all jobs that become available. The latter is what attracts businesses to an area, thereby ensuring the former. This is particularly true of Berkshire County — no longer the manufacturing powerhouse it once was — whose economy now relies heavily upon agriculture and, increasingly, cultural tourism — two sectors that do not produce workers possessing the skills needed for modern industrial work.

Therefore, the Pittsfield City Council's unanimous decision on Tuesday to allocate $1 million from the city's Economic Development Fund to reinvigorate the stalled Berkshire Innovation Center (Eagle, Sept. 27) is a good investment of public funds that were originally earmarked for precisely this purpose. The center, which has languished for the past two years after a launching made possible by a nearly $10-million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, would house high-tech equipment and provide resources — especially for smaller local companies that cannot afford them — while simultaneously offering training in the technology of modern production, which if anything requires more sophisticated skills from the workforce than it ever did in the past.

A substantial funding hole of $4 million (which recently swelled from $3 million) dismayed advocates of the city project and led to two lost years. The Baker administration was in no hurry to make up the shortfall, nor should it have been. The state had every reason to believe the $10 million grant would be sufficient and it has other projects clamoring for funding.

As with any business investment, trust must be fostered between the stakeholders if the project is ever going to reach fruition, and Pittsfield's contribution toward addressing the shortfall sends an important message to the Baker administration, which is considering adding another $2 million in state money to nurture the project. In effect, the city is saying that it still believes in the value of the center and intends to see it through, in spite of the fact that it thought it would have been up and running by now. This show of good faith may persuade the governor to open the state's wallet.

The councilors have wisely withheld the actual payment of the city's money until the governor delivers at his end, and only under the condition that the project break ground within a year. The incentive presents little risk to the development fund while maximizing the possibilities for success.

Project leaders have indicated they can cut costs and dig up grant money to save about $1 million. They should show their own good faith to the city and state by delivering on those initiatives sooner rather than later. We urge them to come forth in a timely manner with detailed plans as to the implementation of the savings, and reveal how they intend to obtain the operating grants.

Pittsfield city councilors have kick-started the Innovation Center project. Quick follow-up is necessary to make up for lost time.


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