Tom Bernard: Expanding paths to job growth

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NORTH ADAMS — My vision in running for mayor of North Adams can be summed up quite simply: North Adams is The Place.

It is a place that offers an unparalleled combination of natural beauty, affordable real estate, buildable commercial space and scalable IT services, and world class culture. What will help leverage these assets, and create the long-term growth that is the key to our future prosperity, is jobs.

Tourism and the creative economy are certainly key economic drivers for North Adams and the region, but we learned the lesson over 30 years ago about the risks of relying on one employer or one industry. We must continue to diversify the local economy, to ensure that the benefits of the creative economy are not contained or constrained to just a few anchor sites, and to create a downtown business district that serves the needs of our residents AND welcomes tourists, in that order.

City government must support conditions that enable existing companies to expand and flourish, and that encourage new businesses to start. Different organizations will benefit from different supports and incentives, but I want to look at every equitable and reasonable approach to promoting growth. My administration will focus on the following key strategies to achieve economic growth:

* Connect employers and workers with technical assistance by working with partners including the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, the Small Business Development Center, BCC, and MCLA, among others. As we provide technical assistance, we also need to understand and address the barriers to workforce entry that exist when people are offered jobs.

* Incentivize investment by providing targeted, term-limited tax incentives for entrepreneurs who add value by renovating commercial properties. We also need a long-term plan to re-calibrate the commercial tax rate for all businesses over time -with new growth being the cornerstone of this plan - while ensuring that we don't place additional stress on residential taxpayers in the process.

* Take a regional approach to jobs by acknowledging that it is possible — and maybe even necessary — to live in North Adams and work in Pittsfield, the Capitol Region or the Springfield area (or even to telecommute). This regional view requires us to support efforts to enhance and upgrade our regional transportation infrastructure and public transportation strategy.

Business development post

* Strengthen the infrastructure to successfully run a business by working with our elected state officials and state agencies to secure funding to ensure that we have adequate broadband service. As mayor I also will also work with our state representative and senator, as well as the entire Berkshire delegation, to keep the costs of doing business, such as electricity rates, at a manageable level. Finally, I will partner with state leaders and local advocates to champion funding equity for our regional transportation system.

* Invest in job creation by making the decision as a community to fund a business development director position who will meet prospective employers and investors by traveling to job fairs and trade shows, and who will bring business prospects to North Adams. This will require making an investment in the short term, with the expectation that this position will become self-supporting over time.

* Commit to administrative renewal by reviewing operations and processes at every level. This involves asking some key questions: What works well? What doesn't? What doesn't work because "we've always done it that way?" — and changing habits and behaviors when inefficient and non-responsive practices are the norm rather than the exception. It also means a review of the city code and procedures to identify ways to streamline city permitting processes.

In addition to these strategies, we also need to do a better job of leveraging our home-grown and home-educated talent pool. With the combination of post-graduate and certificate programs at McCann, Berkshire Community College, MCLA and Williams College in the area, we have a wealth of students primed for possible entry to our local workforce. It will be important to continue engaging these students in the community while they are in school, either through service learning activities or internships at local businesses. Then, when they are looking for jobs after graduation, they will be motivated to stay in the Berkshires, and employers will be better positioned to access the talent pool that exists in the county.

The next mayor will need experience in organizational management, capital budgeting and fundraising, strategic planning, government and community relations, and communications in order to make progress. My background and proven experience in finance, nonprofit leadership and higher education administration has given me the experience, the vision, and the preparation to lead and succeed as mayor starting on Day 1, to join with community advocates and leaders in fighting for North Adams — from the street level all the way to the federal level.

Together we can continue the momentum of the past several years, but also accelerate the pace of change that is necessary to support economic growth.

Tom Bernard is a candidate for mayor of North Adams.


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