Berkshire County is still waiting on anticipated state aid to advance the nascent Berkshire Innovation Center.
Speaking during a visit to the region Thursday, Massachusetts Secretary of Housing and Economic Development Jay Ash says funding for the Berkshire Innovation Center is coming, maybe.
“We are getting close,” Ash says. “We’ve been doing an awful lot of look at making sure that if we are making the investment that Pittsfield and the greater Pittsfield community gets exactly what they are expecting, and so while it may seem like it’s taking a lot of time sometimes the best things happen for those who are more patient and thoughtful about how they plan things out.”
The plans for the Berkshire Innovation Center, intended for the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield, are more than a decade in the making.
In September, the city approved $1 million to close a funding gap. But several administrative holdups have delayed construction costs for years, and the center, facing a $3 million funding gap, has low operating funds.
The city expected the state to kick in an additional $2 million by October 10th.
Pittsfield Mayor Linda Tyer told WAMC Wednesday the city is still hopeful money is on its way.
“We are hoping to see if they can partner with us,” Tyer says. “Those conversations are still happening and I hope to have an announcement very soon.”
The property lease and $9.7 million in funding from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center are in the process of being transferred from the city to the BIC. The nonprofit will now take responsibility for its own lease, construction and ownership of the building.
Secretary Ash says the region needs advanced manufacturing.
“It’s a major emphasis of ours to support the life sciences and advanced manufacturing,” Ash says.
Ash toured Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing in Lee during an open house Thursday.
“Manufacturing has had a long run in western Mass., Berkshire County. And we are happy to see advanced manufacturing, the next phase of manufacturing, alive and well,” Ash says. “And Berkshire Sterile is an example of what the possibilities are.”
Berkshire Sterile Manufacturing specializes in making small-scale injectable drugs for clinical trials in a clean-room insulator. The company, which formed three years ago, employs 60 – most of whom were former interns.
Ash says training and employing a strong workforce is the state’s goal.
“The idea of introducing students to what the possibilities are in a company and helping a company to get to know students that matchmaking, and that’s an important part of what we do,” Ash says.
Under a grant from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Initiative, companies like Berkshire Sterile accept interns from colleges in the state. Many new hires are right out of school.
Berkshire Sterile hopes to double in size next year.
“What we have found in the past is that students don’t go to school thinking about manufacturing or advanced manufacturing, and when they do , they think of their grandparents manufacturing (You know, dirt, loud, nothing to be really proud of). And when you come into a place like Berkshire Sterile you can’t help but say ‘Wow, there is some really cool stuff happening here,’” Ash says.
Ash says another economic development opportunity Berkshire County might be able to capitalize on is in producing cross-laminated timber – an engineered wood product that’s cost-effective and eco-friendly.
“We think that the Berkshire Innovation Center will be a little bit more innovative than your typical mill buildings,” Ash says. “You have plenty of those.”
The new Design Building at UMass Amherst, unveiled in April, was built using cross-laminated timber.
Meanwhile, Ash says his office has been busy pitching Boston, Springfield and the Pioneer Valley for Amazon’s second North American headquarters. The deadline for bids was Oct. 19th.
“Amazon already has a presence in Massachusetts at multiple locations,” Ash says. “We have had a running dialogue with Amazon about the wonders that are Massachusetts. We are pleased that a number of communities, more than two dozen communities, here in Massachusetts are looking into the opportunity.”
Massachusetts formally submitted its proposal Thursday. Whichever state lands the deal, Amazon expects to invest $5 billion and employ more than 50,000.