Our Opinion: Stockbridge tries to bridge the gap

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It's a dilemma facing a number of Berkshire towns but it is dramatized in Stockbridge because of its ironic, Rockwellian status: How to boost the economy while preserving the qualities that make the town unique.

Resident Laura Beasley coordinated a volunteer group that confronted that dilemma (Stockbridge's dilemma: Diversify local economy without too much change," Eagle, August 13). Standard & Poor's has told the town that it must move beyond its thriving hospitality industry to maintain its second-best AA+ bond rating or moving up to AAA.

Ms. Beasley told the Select Board that an economic development committee might find ways to "bridge the gap" in town between those who want no change and those who want dramatic change. She described the town's industrial park on Route 102 as an "untapped resource" that may help fill this gap and cited a few other places in town that could be of better use economically. Big box stores, which too often move on, leaving giant husks behind, would be out of place in Stockbridge and need not apply.

Second-home owners are a critical part of the Stockbridge economy, but their purchases tend to drive up housing prices. As a result, Stockbridge is losing its middle class, the source of the young professionals who can serve on town boards and committees and bring in new ideas. (See editorial below.) Businesses also need a housing market that their employees have the resources to buy into.

The Select Board decided to meet with the Finance Committee and Planning Board to explore the proposed economic development committee. Such a committee should cast a wide net but also have reasonable expectations. Finding ways to address Stockbridge's economic weaknesses while preserving its distinctive character and economic strengths will be a tough needle to thread, but the attempt is necessary for the town's future well-being.

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