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County Planners Recap CEDS Progress, See Job Growth Potential
By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff
01:26AM / Friday, November 16, 2012
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BRPC's Brian Domina recapped the county's progress in economic development.
PITTSFIELD, Mass. — The county is close to completing more than $500 million worth of economic investments that were identified in the 2011 Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission approved its first performance report for the U.S. Economic Development Administration about the county's progress from the CEDS report.

According to Brian Domina, who heads the CEDS committee for the BRPC, the projects that were both identified as high priority and are nearing completion will create 347 jobs.

Those projects include redevelopment of the New England Log Homes site in Great Barrington, creating a Berkshire Hills Internship Program, development of the Rice Silk Mill for housing in Pittsfield, the new Mountain One Financial Center in the William Stanley Business Park, the Pittsfield Municipal Airport safety improvements, the Wal-Mart Super Center being constructed in North Adams and extending broadband access.

As for other projects completed or nearing completion, $146 million of public dollars and $366 million of private investment has gone back into the region's economy. Those projects include improvements at Harriman and West Airport in North Adams, Pittsfield's streetscape project, renovations on the Williams College campus, expansion of the Clark Art Museum in Williamstown, construction of the new Center for Science and Innovation at  Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, the Hoosac Wind project in Florida and Monroe, the new Williamstown Youth Center, rehabilitation of the Baird & Benton Block in Lee and development of Iredale Mineral Cosmetics in Great Barrington.

However, despite the investment, the county is still losing manufacturing jobs, median household incomes are still not keeping pace with inflation, unemployment is still 3 points higher than before the Great Recession and there are areas considered "economically distressed" by the EDA.

The county's wages have been increasing by 3 percent while statewide increases have been 6 percent.

BRPC also approved a Hazard Mitigation Plan that has been approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Only 19 of the county's communities joined the program, which allows them to access grant money to complete projects to limit the damage of natural disasters.

"The biggest issue we have is undersized culverts," BRPC Planner Mark Malloy said. The grants, for example, could help towns replace those as a way to prepare for storms.

Some of the towns have their own plans in place, others are working on plans and some showed no interest in BRPC's plans, he said.

Domina also reported that the state has again extended any permits that were in existence between April 15, 2008, until Aug. 15, 2012. Those range from environmental permits to building permits and are now extended four years past their expiration date.

BRPC also opened up the solicitation period for the District Local Technical Assistance Program, which helps municipalities develop policies for economic growth. The grants can be used for such things as zoning or shared service agreements. The state is hoping for towns to use the money to delineate development areas and preservation areas and housing.
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