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Study Addresses Manufacturing Climate in Berkshires

Jim Levulis

A study released today in Pittsfield, Massachusetts identifies manufacturing growth opportunities for a region that has seen job loss in the sector since the 1980s.

The Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation, or PERC, joined with theUniversity of Massachusetts Donahue Institute in its Berkshire Advanced Manufacturing Study. PERC’s President Jay Anderson says the $70,000 study didn’t produce anything earth shattering.

“I think the old mindset if you’re going to sit around and wait for somebody to put a multi-million dollar, 100,000 square foot manufacturing facility somewhere in the Berkshires, while maybe someday that might happen, you could wait as we have an awful long time without that taking place and what are you left with?” said Anderson.

The study tracked trends in manufacturing jobs dating back 30 years, when the sector supplied more than 40 percent of Berkshire County’s employment base. The departure of General Electric from Pittsfield by the early 1990s took more than half of the sector’s jobs in the region. In the last five years, more than 18 manufacturing companies closed, taking an additional 2,700 jobs. Eric Nakajima is the state’s Assistant Secretary for Innovation Policy. He says advanced manufacturing is still alive in the region based primarily on small and medium-sized companies.

“Fact of the matter is there are still over 7,000 manufacturing firms statewide that have transformed themselves, become highly competitive, sophisticated and are exporting to global markets including places like China,” said Nakajima.

While the number of manufacturing jobs in the state decreased by nearly 35 percent from 2001 to 2011, there was still a growth of 65 percent in the gross domestic product for the sector. The county’s GDP fell 21 percent. Still, manufacturing contributes the second most wages in the county behind education and health care. Nakajima says one of the primary goals of the state is to fill an estimated 100,000 job openings over the next 10 years to replace an aging workforce.

“Trying to focus on the companies that are in place now that have made that hard transition, but frankly are meeting a workforce and educational marketplace that hasn’t yet transitioned to the reality that these new manufacturing jobs, yes they’re high-paying, they’re high-skilled, but they also need a quality pipeline of workers from vocational schools, community colleges and elsewhere to meet their growing workforce demands over the next few years,” said Nakajima.

Democratic State Representative Tricia Farley-Bouvier of Pittsfield says she and community leaders are working to develop a vocational school to go along with recent efforts at Taconic High School and Berkshire Community College to create a workforce pipeline.

“I think it’s very important for this group of practitioners to be part of that process in designing the school so it is ready on day one for them, as opposed to them having to fit their needs into an existing building,” said Farley-Bouvier.

Oreste Varela is the Springfield Branch Manager for the U.S. Small Business Administration. He says areas throughout Massachusetts need to look outside their own workforce pool to fill the void.

“I think a lot of communities try to solve their own problems,” Varela said. “But this is region-wide. It even goes beyond Massachusetts. I would urge the community to reach out to some of the other communities like Franklin County which has their own technical school. They have a state-of-the-art machine shop.”

The study noted a lack of transportation, broadband, and limited “shovel ready” sites are roadblocks to new companies moving to the area. Nakajima says the Berkshires are uniquely located to tap into manufacturing markets in the Pioneer Valley, Connecticut and Albany, like GlobalFoundries in nearby Malta.

“Particularly in Albany when you look at the concentration they have of nano-technology and semi-conductor work,” Nakajima said. “New York State has invested billions of dollars in it.”

The study noted development opportunities such as the $6.5 million earmarked from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center to create a facility building at the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield.

Jim is WAMC’s Associate News Director and hosts WAMC's flagship news programs: Midday Magazine, Northeast Report and Northeast Report Late Edition. Email: jlevulis@wamc.org
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