1Berkshire CEO on Berkshire Blueprint 2.0: 'We think it's time for a new narrative'

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PITTSFIELD — Sort the local economy into clusters, and pursue action plans specific to each group.

That is the central approach of an ambitious strategy designed to guide the Berkshire economy over the next decade.

During a presentation Friday at the Colonial Theatre, economic leaders released their Berkshire Blueprint 2.0, an 80-page, self-described "action plan" that outlines the current state of the local economy and provides recommendations for moving it forward. The release of the plan was the culmination of two years' worth of work.

Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 is the successor to the original Berkshire Blueprint, which was released in 2007. The report's development was overseen by 1Berkshire, the county's state-designated economic development agency.

"We think it's time for a new narrative," said Jonathan Butler, President and CEO of 1Berkshire.

The report breaks down the Berkshire economy into five groups, or "clusters": advanced manufacturing, the creative economy, food and agriculture, health care, and hospitality and tourism.

During Friday's presentation, Butler and Benjamin Lamb, 1Berkshire's economic development director, discussed challenges and assets facing each of those clusters, and a series of "action steps" specific to each group that can be used as starting points for growth.

Use of the cluster model allows Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 to have a "central yet collaborative" structural support that provides significant attention to key growth areas of the Berkshire economy while also allowing "existing or future" industries to receive the attention they deserve, the report states.

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The broad action steps relevant to all five economic clusters include the creation of a unified and effective leadership team; adopting a clear set of strategies directed at strengthening each cluster; establishing a set of defined roles and responsibilities for organizations in the system; and the initiation of a "culture of systems" performance standard.

Butler referred to the five clusters as " a new system for economic development in the Berkshires."

"Within [the plan] is contained an approach to work with our five economic development clusters and the potential to add more. Beyond that, we're also venturing into themes that affect all industries in the Berkshires, public, private and nonprofit.

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"We've created a system," he said. "This isn't just about a report that goes on a shelf. This is a new way to collaboratively approach economic challenges in the Berkshires."

The report also identifies several "cross cutting challenges" that affect the entire Berkshire economy — broadband access and infrastructure; energy costs; population limitations; transportation; accessibility and workforce development.

It includes information and research culled from more than 100 interviews overseen by a steering committee that had over 40 members.

Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 Committee Chairman Tyler Fairbank also chaired the committee that compiled the original Berkshire Blueprint. He described the new report as "the younger, more robust brother" of the old one.

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"It was an amazing body of work," Fairbank said, referring to the original report. "It served us well, but we didn't get the full juice out of it that we should have."

State Sen. Adam Hinds, D-Pittsfield, said the information contained in Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 will allow local officials to present a comprehensive regional strategy to state officials when discussing future Berkshire economic development initiatives.

"What makes this process important is, it allows us to essentially leverage the work and the things that are highlighted here to say this is what we need from state resources," Hinds said.

"It's a deliberate plan to make sure that this is the pivot or the launch to make sure we are using this so we know where the investments have to go."

The report was released at the Colonial because that was also the site of the original report's release. Over 300 people had registered in advance to attend the two-hour ceremony, a number "that far exceeded expectations," Butler said. The attendees nearly filled the Colonial's orchestra section, which has 320 seats, according to theater officials.

Butler also said $50,000 in private money is being used to establish a Berkshire Blueprint Partnership Fund, which will work with partner organizations on recommendations that are contained in Berkshire Blueprint 2.0.

Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at tdobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6224.


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