Executive Spotlight: Ben Sosne, executive director, Berkshire Innovation Center
PITTSFIELD — Ben Sosne has worked as an appellate lawyer in Brooklyn. N.Y., helped run a summer collegiate baseball league team in Holyoke, and served as general counsel and senior project manager for Thomas Krens' proposed railroad and architecture museum in North Adams.
Sosne, a Williamstown resident who grew up in Stockbridge, brings all that experience to his current job as executive director of the new $13.8 million Berkshire Innovation Center in Pittsfield, which conducted its grand opening ceremony last week.
He assumed his current duties six months ago, joining a project that took almost 12 years to complete from start to finish and survived a series of roller coasterlike ups and downs that have sunk many similar initiatives.
We met with Sosne recently to talk about why he became the BIC's executive director, what he hopes the BIC can accomplish, and why he might get involved in summer collegiate baseball again.
Q: You left a pretty good job with Thomas Krens to take this position. Why?
A: This is just an exciting opportunity for the county. This is all about economic development in the Berkshires, which was my real interest in working with Tom Krens on his project.
When I saw this coming online, it was so exciting and so timely. It was an opportunity that I was just thrilled to have.
Q: What attracted you so much?
A: You reach across a spectrum of Berkshire County: the private sector, the educational sector, the community partners. It's really about connecting all these sectors that is so important. ... I grew up in South County; now I live in North County, and I really grew up in and around Pittsfield because my father was an attorney who worked a lot in Pittsfield.
This strikes me as a real opportunity to break down barriers all the way from north to south in the county the way that [the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams] did. I think that's very important from a countywide economic development perspective.
Q: Why is it so important to break down these regional barriers, and how would that help the Berkshires?
A: There's a lot of assets. We're well-positioned between Boston, New York and Albany, and we should take advantage of those assets.
If you look at the Berkshires as a county, you start to lay out outdoor recreational possibilities, cultural possibilities and the opportunities for professional development. It makes a very compelling case for why people want to live and work here.
Q: You're not the first person who has told me that. But, how do you put that philosophy into practice so that it betters the region?
A: I think it's a real opportunity. One thing we stress is that we are the Berkshire Innovation Center. We're bringing in companies, bringing in individuals, bringing in innovative, creative people from different parts of the county. They bring in different ties, different connections.
The BIC is all about connecting people and breaking down barriers to make economic development easier.
Q: How have you done that so far?
A: Growing up in South County, going to high school [Monument Mountain] in South County, then leaving for a while and coming back to North County, I have networks in both parts of the county. It's activating those networks and trying to get people to come from South County up to Pittsfield; getting people from North Adams and Williamstown down to Pittsfield.
It's not like they're going to come down here every day, but those networks are expanding ... the larger our network is, the more we can share resources and expand our contacts.
Q: How did you get involved in so many other things?
A: I went to Monument and graduated in 1998. At that time, I was dying to go to a big city. I was dead set to go to New York or Boston. I went undergrad at Columbia University. I majored in U.S. history. I did a lot of writing. I wanted to be a reporter (when Sosne was a senior at Monument, he did an internship at The Berkshire Eagle's South County bureau with late Eagle reporter Derek Gentile). ... I went to Rome for a year, teaching English to students and businesspeople who were trying to get into the U.S.
When I moved back, somebody hired me to do a media project in economic development for the city of Holyoke. ... While I was there, somebody approached the mayor of Holyoke to move a team [in the New England Collegiate Baseball League] from Middletown, Conn. ... The mayor approached my friend and I who were working on this sports documentary media project and said, "I need someone to help this guy out."
So, we ended up being co-general managers of the Holyoke Giants for a couple of years.
Q: Why didn't you stay in sports?
A: I wanted to get back to New York. I started working for Major League Baseball, MLB Advanced Media, it's sort of CNN for baseball online. They do recaps of games, and the fast cast, three minutes around the world of baseball.
You put on a little show every night during the season. I loved that job. ... I wanted to go back to law school because of my father. ... I got a scholarship to Pace University. ... I had a professor who was a sitting judge in the appellate division (in New York state). He got me a job in the appellate division (in Brooklyn) and I really enjoyed it. ... [But], I always wanted to move back to the Berkshires. ... I wanted to move back here not just as a place to raise my kids, but to get involved in the community.
Q: Why is community involvement so important to you?
A: I see a place so rich in opportunities and I think, naturally, that I wanted to get involved in local economic projects, what you can do in your own backyard to make it better for your kids and have other kids stay here.
I've always felt like a bit of a champion of the Berkshires. I just naturally enjoy that.
Q: North Adams also has a team, in the New England Collegiate Baseball League. Do you think you'll ever work for them?
A: I have a few friends who are involved with the SteepleCats, and they're trying to drag me back in. I think when my kids are older, I'll get involved. I really like that end of it, the community end.
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