Pittsfield City Council approves $1 million in economic development funds for Berkshire Innovation Center

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PITTSFIELD — Councilors unanimously approved a motion on Tuesday to allocate $1 million from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund to help close the funding gap for the stalled Berkshire Innovation Center.

Officials said during the meeting it's "highly likely" that Gov. Charlie Baker's administration will kick in another $2 million to further fill the financial hole, estimated to be close to $4 million, upon the city's commitment to the $1 million, leaving a roughly $1 million hole.

Councilors also unanimously approved $580,000 from the fund to help LTI Smart Glass, a company that specializes in laminated glass and polymers, with its expansion. The planned addition would bring manufacturing work to the headquarters that is currently outsourced to other states.

With regard to the innovation center, councilors agreed "now is the time" to rev the engines on a project that gained traction in 2014 with a $9.7 million grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, but then sat seemingly still for the past two years after officials discovered the $3 million hole in funding, which grew by another $1 million or so over that time period.

The 20,000-square-foot center would make available advanced technologies and resources for manufacturing companies, particularly for the smaller and mid-sized companies for whom it is more difficult to invest in the type of equipment required to excel in the rapidly evolving field.

Another key part of the center, Mayor Linda Tyer said, is to provide valuable job training for the manufacturing field. She said she commonly hears from owners of such companies that it's difficult to find skilled workers to fill the jobs.

"We have an obligation to try to train the workforce for the jobs that are available," she said.

Tyer said she's been talking with state leaders about how to get the project back in motion.

"They are committed to this project," she said before the vote. "But they want to know that we're committed."

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Members of the governor's office didn't say in advance of the meeting whether or not the state would provide additional support.

"The administration will continue to work with the Berkshire Innovation Center, local delegation and stakeholders to advance opportunities for growth and investment in Berkshire County and Western Massachusetts," said Billy Pitman, Baker's press secretary.

Conditions for the city's award say funds will be provided only if the state contributes an additional $2 million and if the project breaks ground within a year.

Leaders of the project also said during the meeting that the center's budget could be cut to address the remaining gap — estimated at $900,000 to $1 million — and operating costs could also be covered by grants.

At the start of the discussion, Melissa Mazzeo moved to waive a council rule that would have sent the debate back to committee. She asserted councilors already devoted "countless hours" to the issue.

"This is the last piece of a puzzle that we've been dealing with for a long time," she said, adding the original 10 business members remain committed to the project despite the delay. "Everyone's still at the table and I think that speaks volumes for what we're trying to do."

The Economic Development Fund is a $10 million settlement that the city of Pittsfield received from General Electric as part of the PCB cleanup agreement. Under the terms of that agreement, GE provided $1 million annually to Pittsfield for a 10-year period that ended in October of 2010.

The last time the city used money from the Pittsfield Economic Development Fund was last year, when it awarded $562,000 to Covanta to keep the business — and corresponding jobs — in the city. The fund, established in 2000, had a fund balance of $4.6 million as of Aug. 31.

Reach Amanda Drane at 413-496-6296, or @amandadrane on Twitter.


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