Our Opinion: Long-awaited BIC has potential for Pittsfield

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Build it, and they will come. Berkshirites will finally get the chance to give that phrase a road test come the final quarter of 2019, when the much-heralded, historically troubled Berkshire Innovation Center is slated to open for business at Pittsfield's William Stanley Business Park.

The 20,000-square-foot innovation complex was first conceived during the administration of former Governor Deval Patrick in 2008 with passage of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative. The project hit the shoals in 2014 when it was put out to bid, revealing that there was a shocking $3-million shortfall between funds appropriated and the actual cost of the planned design. Since then, public officials have worked with many in the private sector to close the gap, securing an extra $2.3 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center (the state agency created by the initiative that bankrolled the BIC's original grubstake), $300,000 from the Pittsfield Economic Development Agency (tasked with administering the project), $1 million from the city of Pittsfield and $450,000 from MassDevelopment, (the overage will cover operating costs).

With the final funding elements in place, a gaggle of dignitaries from Boston to the Berkshires convened Friday at Pittsfield City Hall to bless the project. Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, whose administration shepherded the project to fruition, were in attendance, along with other key figures, among them Stephen Boyd, BIC's board chairman; Mick Callahan, the chairman of PEDA; members of the Berkshire Business Roundtable; Jay Ash, secretary of Housing and Economic Development; U.S. Representative Richard Neal, state Senator Adam Hinds; state Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier; and Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer, whose faith in BIC's potential in spite of its problems reinforced the efforts of all involved.

Massachusetts has built a reputation for playing a leading role in the development of life sciences technology, a business sector that requires the right concentration of brain power and financing in order to burgeon and thrive. The state's superlative educational facilities provide the intellectual raw material while the Legislature has done its part to create a fertile environment to nurture the industry. Historically, however, Berkshire County has found itself at the back of the line when the pieces of economic development pie were being handed out. Ideally, BIC will contribute to changing this.

What the center will provide, it is hoped, is critical local workforce technological training as well as sophisticated equipment to encourage the startup and growth of new and existing businesses that normally lack the wherewithal to make heavy capital investments. It will include training facilities, lab space, clean rooms and office and event space. In today's economic environment, Mayor Tyer and others consider BIC to be a key component of Pittsfield's and the surrounding region's development.

Traditional manufacturing, which used to be one of the core sectors of the Berkshires economy, has become an unstable provider of jobs in the era of global trade, but cutting-edge industry has proven itself to be a robust engine of growth in the eastern part of the state. With BIC in place, and with proper management and marketing of the facility, the Berkshires will have a fighting chance to get in on the high-tech action.

Ideally BIC will become a catalyst for further growth; a technologically-trained workforce will attract employers to the area, and businesses nurtured by the project will in turn need their own skilled workers. When combined with the Berkshires' myriad other attributes, BIC may well provide the impetus for a more prosperous future.


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