State and local officials gathered in Pittsfield, Massachusetts Tuesday for the groundbreaking of a project that has been in the works for a decade.
Rain was no deterrent for the crowd that packed into a hay-lined tent on the grounds of the William Stanley Business Park Tuesday to witness the symbolic birth of the long-awaited Berkshire Innovation Center.
“We’re all crammed into a small space, but all of us have a big place in our hearts for this development, and it’s very exciting to be part of this historic occasion for the city of Pittsfield, for Berkshire County, and for the entire commonwealth," said Jay Ash, the Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, who presided over the ceremony. “The old saying that failure is an orphan and success has many parents? Well we’ve got many parents in the house here tonight.”
That included everyone from state officials to heads of local economic development agencies to the county’s state legislators. A similar assemblage of the project’s proverbial parents met in Pittsfield in March to announce that the funding goal of almost $14 million had been met, $12 million of which came from the Mass Life Sciences Center.
“Ten years ago, Pittsfield began planning for a life sciences center and today we break ground for the Berkshire Innovation Center," said Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer. She offered a sense of just how many political figures in the state had their fingerprints on the project over the years, “including three mayors, a long roster of city councilors, a succession of two state representatives and two senators, two governors.”
Noting the similarly timed completion of the city’s new Taconic High School building and its focus on career technical education for students, Tyer outlined a vision of the future with a focus on high-tech job creation.
“Pittsfield and Berkshire advanced manufacturers will have access to a high-tech research and development facility, cutting edge equipment to design and engineer new products," she said. "The innovation center will have smart technology and modern spaces for hosting conferences and training sessions, teaching a new generation of employees that are so desperately needed by our growing and successful advance manufacturers will happen right here at the Berkshire Innovation Center.”
She cited the project’s alignment with local colleges like Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College Of Liberal Arts in North Adams as part of that job creation pipeline the center aims to encourage.
“We’ve created an intersecting pathway for future workers and future employers in this amazing building that will soon rise out of the ground,” said the mayor.
The presidents of both colleges were present. Also making a rare swing to the county: Governor Charlie Baker.
“From where the Lieutenant Governor and I sit on this one, we view this as a tremendous opportunity for the region, not just for Pittsfield, but for the whole region to create a game changing think tank, accelerator, incubator, place where smart people go to trade big ideas with people who’ve been there and done that, and find investors and other sponsors to do really great things,” said the Republican.
State Senator Adam Hinds framed the center as an element of Berkshire and state leaders’ response to the looming issues the community faces, acknowledging the significance of the center’s location on the former campus of General Electric — once the largest employer in the county.
“What are we doing to make sure that we’re on firm ground in the context of a GE leaving the region, and what are we doing in the context of being one of three counties in the commonwealth that is experiencing population decline, and having a median household income that is lower than the rest of the state?" asked the senator. "And I have to say — I am actually optimistic.”
The center is aiming to open before the end of 2019.