The Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), for so long little more than a "coming soon to this site" sign and the subject of considerable debate as to its purpose, is now a reality, its doors opened for business Friday amid much fanfare. The long wait over, BIC will now have an opportunity to demonstrate why its stalwart advocates held on to their vision.

Berkshire County has a long history of innovation, primarily in manufacturing. When General Electric and other major manufacturers pulled up stakes they left behind innovators who continued to make advances in their respective fields. Other innovators and entrepreneurs have come to the Berkshires and found it welcoming. They are scattered around the county, working largely in isolation.

The essential purpose of the BIC, as described by its leading partners at an editorial board meeting at The Eagle last week, is to bring these businesses together in the spirit of collaboration. Some people will find mentors, others, natural collaborators. Collective wisdom will be chaired and ideally projects and products will emerge that are greater than the sum of their parts. If they grow beyond BIC's means, it is hoped they will settle and expand within the boundaries of Pittsfield or the county. In essence, BIC will be a place that encourages and nurtures the kind of collaborative system that has come together in high-tech hubs like Cambridge, Ma.

"We want to show that you can have a meaningful life and a competitive business here in the Berkshires and you're not risking anything," said Stephen Boyd, the president and CEO of Boyd Technologies in Lee and the chair of the nonprofit BIC's 18-member board of directors.

The two-story, 23,000 square foot building at 45 Woodlawn Avenue in the William Stanley Business Park is a gleaming, high-tech structure containing laboratories, classrooms and meeting and conference spaces. The equipment, including a recently purchased state-of-the-art large format 3D printer, will be available to all of BIC's members in the spirit of collaboration and teamwork. Currently, 21 private businesses and 12 academic institutions from within and outside the Berkshires comprise the membership.

While the business component of BIC is readily apparent, the academic component is of great importance as well. Ellen Kennedy, the president of Berkshire Community College, which is one of BIC's seven academic partners, said the schools' collaboration within BIC should help students fill employment gaps that area manufacturers are experiencing. Ideally, she added, young people will learn about career opportunities they don't even know exist in rapidly growing high-tech fields.

Two members, Mill Town Capital and Electro Magnetic Applications, have office space in the building. Electro Magnetic Applications, which will build an aerospace testing chamber in the BIC, is essentially a guinea pig in testing how the center will serve businesses that commit themselves to the building and the overall concept behind it.

The road to this point has been a long and winding one. It took years just to figure out exactly what BIC would be and try to accomplish. Pittsfield bailed in 2011 but returned when the state, which has having trouble finding investors to buy bonds in the project, agreed to finance capital projects that were without funding. The emergence of a $3 million funding gap five years ago stalled construction for three years. Since 2008, when Pittsfield received a $6.5 million earmark for the project from a $1 billion life sciences bill advocated by Gov. Deval Patrick. Mr. Patrick, his successor, Charlie Baker, and the Legislature have come through regularly to keep the $13.8 million project alive.

The governor, Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, Berkshire state legislators, and Mayor Linda Tyer were among the many elected and appointed officials who joined much of the Berkshire business community at Friday's opening. The travails of the long journey were forgotten and a spirit of optimism prevailed. BIC has undeniable potential, and it will now go forward with the ambitious goal of fulfilling it.