U.S. Sen. Markey tours economic development sites in the Berkshires

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Photo Gallery | U.S. Sen. Edward Markey tours Pittsfield

PITTSFIELD — The city's downtown revitalization and emerging industrial innovation center are impressive projects that should drive Pittsfield's future development efforts, U.S. Sen. Ed Markey said during a visit Monday.

Meeting at City Hall with Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi, state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, City Council President Melissa Mazzeo, Councilor Nicholas Caccamo and leaders of the Berkshire Innovation Center, Markey discussed the center and other projects, and later joined in a walk around The Common and sections of North Street.

"The state is transitioning to a higher percentage of life sciences job development," the senator said. "That has been a big focus of mine."

After hearing a presentation on the nonprofit BIC organization and planned $10 million facility, which is progressing toward a ground-breaking this year at the William Stanley Business Park, Markey said he will keep the regional collaborative in mind when discussing sources of federal funding.

Bianchi; Rod Jane, executive director of the BIC; Berkshire Community College Vice President for Community Education & Workforce Development William Mulholland, and other officials explained the center and gave the brief visual presentation. The BIC organization, which will have small manufacturing firms and educational and research institutions as members, is designed to play to the economic strength of the region, Bianchi said, by assisting companies that make products to support the life sciences industry.

The center now has 11 companies as members in the collaborative, Jane said, with more than 20 expected over time. Institutions, such as Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Williams College, Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, BCC, and the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Lowell, as well as the vocational component at Taconic High School, also are committed to the center, he said, and a number of vendor companies in the industry are expected to join as associate members.

Two large companies, General Dynamics and SABIC also are members.

The 20,000-square-foot BIC center is being constructed with the help of $9.7 million in funding through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center.

Mulholland said BCC also has received grant funding through the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center for laser scanning equipment that will support the BIC and be used in partnership with the Taconic vocational program.

The BIC will open with some $2 million in specialized equipment to support research and development initiatives as well as training programs.

"You will be able to create an educational dynamic," Markey said.

Jane said most of the member manufacturing companies will have 25 to 120 employees. Without the technical and product prototype testing equipment the BIC will have, "they are finding it very difficult to grow," he said, largely because of the great expense of owning the equipment that will be shared at the center.

Mulholland said the capacity for worker training, closely related to the needs of existing companies in the region, will help the firms expand and "move up to the food chain."

Earlier Monday, Markey visited North Adams, touring the MCLA campus, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art and the Berkshire Health Systems facility in the former North Adams Regional Hospital building.

He said collaboration between BCC, MCLA's new science center and other institutions and entities has formed "an educational chain that will reinforce economic development."

Representative Farley-Bouvier noted that the vocational education aspect of the center will provide a competitive edge and good-paying jobs for young people who aren't going to a four-year college, especially those coming from lower-income backgrounds.

"It's a great pathway for low- to moderate income students," Bianchi said, adding that about 60 percent of students in city schools receive free or reduced-cost lunches because of their family income level.

"This is a great concept," Markey said, "but the execution also is happening in a profound way."

The officials later took a walking tour of The Common, which is being upgraded in a multi-phase project costing nearly $5 million, supported by significant grant funding. Also highlighted for the senator were the downtown Streetscape project areas and the new Hotel on North.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.


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