Our Opinion: Aerospace firm has potential for Innovation Center, Pittsfield

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The introduction of Electro Magnetic Applications into Pittsfield has the potential to contribute significantly to the city's efforts to boost its high-tech profile. How much potential remains to be seen as EMA begins to establish itself in the city.

The Denver-based company is a "simulation, software and consulting shop," specializing in electromagnetic environments according to a brief promotional blurb found on YouTube. The administration of Mayor Linda Tyer says the company is planning to build a space environment test facility in the new Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) by the end of 2020 to increase the testing and simulation services that it provides to clients. It would be the first confirmed tenant for BIC, which is expected to open in January.

The test facility will provide six jobs to begin with but the company evidently plans to expand from there along with a booming non-manned space program. "We're building an empire," said Justin McKennon, the principal scientist on the project, at a press conference Thursday. A Pittsfield resident since 2013, McKennon came here to work for General Dynamics. This is the kind of symbiosis among high-tech businesses that Pittsfield would like to see on a far larger scale. The presence of General Dynamics and EMA in the city, along with the new BIC, will ideally lead to the arrival of similar businesses at the William Stanley Business Park and elsewhere.

Pittsfield and North Adams were once a hub for pioneering power-generating companies thanks to General Electric and Sprague Electric. EMA's YouTube blurb notes that the company provides "lightning simulation support," which while not on the agenda for EMA in Pittsfield, does recall the decades when GE's High Voltage Lab located in Building 9 would set voltage records in their experiments with power-generating technology and show off their man-made lightning bolts to awed spectators .

Mayor Tyer said Thursday that EMA's arrival in the city is the product of months of work, and Michael Coakley, the city's business development director, said the announcement came this week because this is when the funding and paperwork fell into place. That will not allay the suspicions of supporters of City Councilor Melissa Mazzeo, who finished 289 votes ahead of the mayor in Tuesday's preliminary election, that the announcement was specifically timed for right after the first vote of the season. Regardless of how the timing of the announcement came about, it does amount to the mayor's kickoff to the general election campaign, during which she is sure to stake her claim as a developer of the city's economy.

On Tuesday, Mayor Tyer will propose using $140,000 from the city's Economic Development Fund to support the new lab, and a tax increment financing plan will follow. This presumably will begin a process in which residents will learn if EMA is a game-changer for BIC and for Pittsfield.

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