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Collaboration Aims to Help Berkshire Entrepreneurs

On Monday, a new initiative to bring together the public and private sectors was announced to help foster small business development in the Berkshires.

The Berkshire Enterprises program, part of Berkshire Community College’s Office for Workforce Development, was presented with new collaborative space at the 1 Berkshire Strategic Alliance in Downtown Pittsfield.

The space, which occupies the same building as the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce, Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, Mass Development, and the Berkshire Film and Media Commission, will allow participants of the Berkshire Enterprises program at BCC to collaborate, provide educational opportunities for area small business owners, and expand small business development in Berkshire County.

The Berkshire Enterprises program is funded by a $20 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Labor, through the Massachusetts Community College and Workforce Development Transformation Agenda.

Ellen Kennedy, President of Berkshire Community College, says in the past five years of the program originally started in 1989, 85 percent of small businesses owned by graduates are still operation. Kennedy said that bringing fledgling small business owners closer to each other and to economic development agencies can greatly improve their chances of success in an area with a comparatively smaller economy than the rest of the state.

Kennedy also said that the program can be used in the future to leverage more state and federal funding to expand entrepreneurial training in the Berkshires.

2nd Berkshire District State Representative Paul Mark, vice-chair of the joint committee on Education, agreed that allowing a public community college to work more closely with business associations will help him make a case in the legislature for more funding to support public-private partnerships.

The Democrat also advocated for governor’s plan to invest more in public colleges and universities in the commonwealth as a need to support the future of a commonwealth still recovering from the recession.

In a report released last fall by the New England Public Policy center of the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, the Berkshire Economy suffered hard losses during the recession from 2007 to 2009 in several sectors, with the largest being the Management of Companies and Enterprises. During those two years, more than 63 percent of those employed in that sector lost their jobs due to the recession.

The report also highlighted that Berkshire County’s average worker remains older than the state’s average worker, which suggests the need for more educational and workforce training opportunities.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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