U.S. Senator Edward Markey visited Pittsfield today on a tour of western Massachusetts.
The Democratic Senator joined Pittsfield Mayor Dan Bianchi, Berkshire Chamber of Commerce president Mike Supranowicz and other community leaders this afternoon to discuss economic development and public safety. Supranowicz says the Berkshires region has lost about four percent of its population every year since General Electric left Pittsfield in the 1980s.
“Our workforce over the next seven or eight years may shrink 8,000 or 10,000 people, Supranowicz said. "That’s got us concerned."
In June, Markey won a special election to fill the seat left vacant by John Kerry's resignation from the Senate to become U.S. Secretary of State. During his muted Senate campaign in which western Massachusetts seemed like an afterthought, Markey has now visited this part of the state twice in a month. Supranowicz says the Berkshires are suffering from an aging population and a low area birth rate.
“Some of our school districts face the real possibility of losing about 400 students over the next four years," said Supranowicz. "That’s a lot of funding dollars that go out the window.”
Markey says he believes the Federal Government can partner to find grants to revitalize the William Stanley Business Park that used to house GE.
“Reclaim it’s old General Electric properties and re-purpose them into a new manufacturing promise for the 21st century in a way that will attract young to people to stay here, make their lives here, and to make this region very prosperous," said Markey.
Markey echoed fellow U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren, who said during her trip to Pittsfield earlier in the month that federal transportation aid for a passenger rail system from the Berkshires to New York City is the key to the area’s economic development.
“It’s all about the economy, it’s all about job growth, it’s all about putting together a business plan for the 21st century for western Massachusetts," said Markey.
While touring the Pittsfield Police Station, Chief Michael Wynn and Mayor Bianchi stressed transportation issues related to area law enforcement and the department’s lack of a juvenile detention center.
“If they’re not eligible for release back to the family, we have to take them to a secure juvenile facility," Wynn said. "The closest one is in Westfield; the next closest one is in Fall River. So it’s not unusual for us to put a kid in a car, start driving east, check him into a facility, turn around and drive back for court.”
“There are an awful lot of nice aspects of living out here in the Berkshires, but operating, especially for the police is a real challenge because of the lack of facilities," said Bianchi.
Wynn says the nearly 80-year-old building is outdated, lacking elevators, efficient technology, and space. Markey said he felt like he was on 1930s movie set-version of a police station. Chief Wynn also pointed out major safety issues.
“Contemporary cell blocks have pass-throughs for meals, pass-throughs for handcuffs," Wynn said. "We have to open these doors every time we want to transfer a prisoner. There’s a fight every time we want to transfer a prisoner.”
Markey left Pittsfield heading for stops in Chicopee, Springfield, and Greenfield.