Outcome of the Greylock Economic Working Group Forum on August 11
By Tela Zasloff
On the hot summer night of August 11, over 50 people gathered for three hours in the cavernous space provided by GreylockWORKS, a place fully appropriate for holding a public discussion on how to develop our Greylock region—the owners of the building, Karla Rothstein and Salvatore Perry, are architects-designers who plan to establish a large food production enterprise there, with public festivals and community events. The co-conveners of this August 11 Forum were The Greylock Independent and Northern Berkshire Green Drinks organization, with Bill Densmore as Moderator and Impresario. Participants were invited to join a circle-round, informal discussion followed by break-out sessions, focusing on this question: “What’s possible if we balance idealism with practical ideas to make good things happen, to make sure that a new economy works for all of us?” The mission of the Forum was “to foster business that matters, ventures that put employees, community and the environment on a par with profits.”
This is a daunting goal, but the participants felt up to it. We’re talking here about fostering a renaissance, maybe even a revolution. People enjoyed exchanging opinions and making contacts in a large network of representatives of the Greylock community—contractors, farmers, lawyers, academics, small business owners, public officials, teachers and school administrators, health care professionals, journalists, poets, film makers, business owners, students. The next step is to start putting some of the new ideas to work, while making sure the good ideas already in place, continue to work.
Below is a list of ideas that emerged from the Forum. Have a look and then join the discussion at https://greylockcreative.wordpress.com/–and stay tuned for the next session.
How to promote the Greylock region as a place for development
- We need to consult with expert marketing consultants. We might benefit from working with an organization like the Orton Foundation, and its ‘Heart and Soul Community Development Specialists’. Sounds rather ‘touchy feely’ but has been most successful in bringing diverse communities together, and in helping individual communities identify strengths and weaknesses and ways to getting people to work together toward common goals.
- We need to find consultant services that help us sell our area. We only have to look at the difficult-disappointing-emotional process when the Town of Williamstown dealt with a small development in South Williamstown.
- Hire a full time economic development/marketing person for the area.
- Build trust and coalesce around ways to attract employers who have a respect for the environment, pay fair wages and are committed to the long term health of Northern Berkshire.
- I am a product strategist who helps companies create investable opportunities and deliver on those opportunities.
- I have a professional background in mergers and acquisitions, private equity, early stage company development and turn-arounds, entrepreneurship and mentoring, corporate strategy, environmental remediation and permitting, energy company management, and business operations and management.
- How best to bring low-income residents into discussion.
- To improve the outlook for the lower income portion of the population, especially in regards to housing, food insecurity, and workforce development.
- Northern Berkshires needs someone dedicated to seeking out small businesses. Someone who “sells” the Berkshires. Whether from City hall, the Chamber or a consultant, the region needs more than tourism promotion.
- I’m particularly interested in getting current and future visitors to make their way from cultural destinations, to local businesses in the downtown area of North Adams. I’m also interested in helping more businesses open on Main Street and the other available
- I am working in northern Berkshire on community development issues that support growing and expanding small businesses. Currently we are implanting a state grant that is working to develop a Northern Berkshire Loan Fund for small businesses and help North Adams businesses with a succession plan to retain jobs.
- Create local venture capital fund.
- Residents and visitors can now purchase BerkShares at any Adams Community Bank. It now needs to be promoted to regional businesses and residents and visitors, as has happened in Great Barrington.
- We recently launched a Recreational Vehicle and Small Structure manufacturing facility in Adams. We started by building Tiny Houses and RV’s but can also produce writer studios, sheds, gazebos, and other small structures.
- One thing I’d like to see going forward is a commercial/industrial group of local entrepreneurs that already exist in our community. We MUST ensure their viability.
- I am interested in small businesses that also shift public attitudes such as a commercial composting business and a permaculture-based landscape and design business like the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield.
- New businesses should always be situated in existing buildings, especially ones that need to be rejuvenated, and in other previously blighted spaces. They should not impose machine noise, air or water pollution on the neighborhoods they enter. They should be linked by pleasant, safe bus, bicycle and walking routes through downtown for workers and customers.
- What is the unique opportunity offered by our area? Not our “quality of life”, which many areas offer, but close proximity to Williams College.—Enable Williams Faculty entrepreneurship. So the question is why would a business require being physically close to Williams College? The answer is because the potential founders already work there. After a brief canvas I discovered that several staff and faculty were thinking about establishing businesses (previous examples: Tripod and the Roper Institute) but did not want to give up their teaching or staff positions.
Environmental research and development, as small business
- Why not search out entrepreneurs wanting to establish a small business or plant in our area that aims at developing innovative environmental technologies (a better wind turbine, a better water filter, a better air pollutant filter, a safer energy source)?There are state and federal agencies offering funding for such R&D enterprises. RPI, the closest engineering school, might be interested in establishing such a plant here. And our local schools and state-level agencies are considering setting up training in these fields of engineering and science. [See the last paragraphs of this article for further discussion.]
- If we could develop employment opportunities in this area, then I would promote the development of an Environmental Science and Technology program at Drury High School. The curriculum for the Chapter 74 approved program can be reviewed at http://www.doe.mass.edu/cte/frameworks/enviroscitech.pdf
- I am interested in small businesses that also shift public attitudes, such as a commercial composting business and a permaculture-based landscape and design business like the Regenerative Design Group in Greenfield
- I wouldn’t mind being part of a Maker Space project, putting my 20+ years in aerospace and robotics to good use.
- I have been working on a patented countercurrent processor which can take ag and forest waste and break them down into high quality pulp, lignin and sugar streams in minutes versus hours or days with other technologies. This should be of value to our Mohawk Trail region and possibly other opening opportunities.
- A business that has rotating products using almost entirely locally-sourced “waste”/by-product materials that are upcycled. The work should be done at a human-scale and ideally should be a worker-owned cooperative (https://usworker.coop/home/). There are several good models operating in the Pioneer Valley.
Affordable housing, open, recreational space, and tourism
- I was part of the Northampton MA renaissance in the ’80s. My then-organization (which has changed mission since then) was particularly focused on issues of affordable housing and simultaneous preservation of open space.
- I am a North Adams City Councilor who is trying to maximize the city’s outdoor recreational potential via the Appalachian Trail.
- I have an extensive background in heath policy and aging issues. I am deeply involved in and concerned about the lack of suitable housing options available to individuals and families of all ages and incomes . . . Including those with moderate/middle incomes and seniors. New thinking and collaborative efforts will be needed.
- By acting together, we may help to guide the inevitable development lying ahead in a direction that provides the opportunity of future economic growth while asserting a strong mandate for valuing and preserving the extraordinary quality of our landscapes and townscapes.
- I would love to see Overland expand and a touring/hiking business connected to the Appalachian Trail that runs winter trips too.
- Market this area for wedding destinations year round. Explore a partnership with Jacob’s Pillow for summer dance programs in NoCo. Collaborate with nearby ski/winter resorts to foster winter packages for visitors.
Farming and food
- I am a local dairy farmer who needs to expand my business.
- I founded an organization working to advance economic development by employing food tourism and food production as the drivers behind sustainable growth. Our mission is to cultivate and promote the vibrant food culture of western Massachusetts. Inspired by the region’s rich agricultural history and its verdant landscape, our non-profit organization nourishes the strong connection between makers and producers and our region’s taste of place. We collaborate with farmers, food makers and tastemakers to produce events, foster dialogue and create awareness for the region’s food craft. We are looking to share ideas and hear from community leaders about what is happening in the Northern Berkshires and how it will connect to the greater region regarding sustainable growth, our foodshed, hospitality and tourism, and economic development in general.
- I think northern Berkshire County should continue to develop as a center for the arts and also as a model for a green community with strong links to local agriculture. Addressing our waste in a greener way would be important.
- Developing an ag program in conjunction with Burnett Farm in Adams and the McCann School — or by another route — since there is nothing in the region. This would train more people to stay in the area, develop resilient local food systems, and attract young, hands-in-the-ground entrepreneurs.
- Our BMC county health facilities received poor grades. We have to have a complete and well-run hospital in our region to attract development and newcomers.
- I want to bring social justice, reproductive justice, and issues of public health and global health, and women’s health to the table as a medical anthropologist and activist who has worked on these issues for 30 years in diverse settings including US, India, Nepal, and elsewhere in Asia.
- I want to be part of our quixotic quest for equity in health care. . .which is essential for a vibrant economy.
- I would like to share the number of ways that my film production company offers opportunities that enhance and broaden the Berkshire experience.
- How best to integrate higher paying jobs into an arts/tourist economy.
- I would like to see economic opportunities develop for the many visual artists like myself who have settled in North Adams. There are world-class museums here, and opportunities for college interns, arts management students, and emerging artists–but no economic opportunities (such as galleries) exist for the mid-career artists who live here.
- I would like to see an artist retreat center (like McDowell).
- I’m not sure if it already exists, but does The Clark have a residential training program in art restoration?
Planning and research in development strategies
- I am an academic with experience in citizen planning (town and regional governments), research, and teaching about regional and area economic development.
- I encourage the Greylock Economy Working Group to be in touch with Peter Hirschberg, author of the “Maker City: A Practical Guide to Reinvention in American Cities.” (com). I’m hoping in the next few years to be able to move to Williamstown and open a dojo, and wouldn’t mind being part of a Maker Space project at the same time, putting my 20+ years in aerospace and robotics to good use.
- Another prep school that college spouses among others could teach at as well as some think tanks.
- Education is a major component of economic infrastructure.
- Am interested in retraining the work force currently unemployed. Am interested in how to encourage the graduates of local high schools to stay in North Berkshire vis a vis jobs, transportation, and skills development.
- Local and state school systems are figuring out how to put in programs in training and apprenticing students in new technologies. Now we have to provide the jobs for them.
Transportation, communication and collaboration in infrastructure development
- Creativity and culture are important but a more important driver of economic development is transportation. Broadly defined, transportation is the movement of people, goods, and information (via the telecom/internet). The internet is the only transit mode in Greylock Valley that is realistically expandable. Greylock Valley is isolated regarding most transit modes with one exception. In about 1982 a fiber optic trunk line was buried through the area (along the rail right of way). I explored this when thinking about the Williamstown Business Park and MASS MoCA. Although this line is older technology, it should at least be investigated along with other digital modes.
- I’m interested in and have experience with developing collaborative projects, especially those focused on improving infrastructure (such as public transit), and would like to draft local college students to participate in such projects both during the academic year and the summer.
- I would like to find ways to connect student learning with businesses in the area through cooperative ventures.
- Developing fast broadband and supporting our local news media are extremely important.
- I am devoted to the cooperative structure of business, and of community building.
- Improving communication in the Northern Berkshires
- I have a small (one-person) company that provides archival research for documentary films that promote the region. About half of my work is for the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), the other half a mix of feature docs, museum exhibits and high-end cable.
Environmental Research and Development
As an example of how one of the above ideas could work for our area, consider the suggestion to establish a small business or plant that aims at developing innovative environmental technologies. Secretary of State John Kerry, in an interview with Rolling Stone last December, commented: “So much energy is being concentrated in the context of America’s amazing allocation of capital and brilliant innovation that something’s going to break out at Berkeley or MIT or wherever the hell it’s going to be, and technology, hopefully, will save us on this. . . .People are going to quickly see there’s money to be made here. This is the biggest market in the world.”
A quick look at the US Environmental Protection Agency website showed that the EPA has a Small Business Innovation Research Program (SBIR) that funds environmentally-minded small businesses so they can bring their innovative technologies to market, create jobs, and promote U.S. technical innovation. Last February the EPA awarded eight contracts to small companies nationwide, including one in Marlborough, MA that proposed to develop a filtration device to control drinking water contaminants. To be eligible to participate in the SBIR program, a company must be an organized, for-profit U.S. business and have fewer than 500 employees. (www.epa.gov/sbir) This is just one agency, among a growing number nation- and worldwide, that encourages environmental R&D. Why not do this in our area?