Pittsfield’s one-stop business support team joins city, agencies, state

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A new business support team in Pittsfield brings city officials and representatives from local and state agencies together at the same table, giving businesses one place where they can learn about all the incentives and programs available to help them start and grow.
 
The city’s new Red Carpet Team includes Mayor Linda Tyer and staff from the city’s Community Development Department; Mick Callahan and Cory Thurston, board chair and executive director, respectively, of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority; and Jay Anderson, chair of the Pittsfield Economic Revitalization Corporation. The team includes staff from the Massachusetts Office of Business Development, MassDevelopment and Gov. Charlie Baker’s regional office.
 
A roundtable is held with the team when a local business wants to expand or a new business wants to open, Tyer said, so that the business operators can lay out their plans to each agency simultaneously.
 
Each agency can then lay out the support services they can offer businesses based on what fits for each particular scenario. The Revitalization Corporation offers grants for technical assistance services and small business loans. The Economic Development Authority oversees the 56-acre William Stanley Business Park. And the city offers funding for capital investments that create jobs through its economic development fund.
 
Tyer, who has also served as a city councillor and city clerk, said she has witnessed over the years that these different agencies were operating in silos.
 
“When a business prospect would come to the city, they’d get shuffled from one agency to the next,” she said. “It seemed to me, as someone who’s very committed to a streamlined process in all the things we do in government, that it wasn’t an efficient way of building confidence with business prospects.”
 
Like many communities, Pittsfield is working to support local businesses during a local and national decline in large-scale manufacturing. General Electric had a presence in the city for almost a century and was the largest employer for five decades, beginning in the 1920s. But GE began to downsize and move operations elsewhere in the 1970s, eventually leaving the city completely. Over the past three decades, Tyer said, the city has lost about 20,000 residents as jobs have gone elsewhere.
 
The former GE footprint in the heart of Pittsfield is now the Stanley Business Park. Tyer said the city has to understand that it won’t likely see that level of manufacturing again, and it probably shouldn’t rely on enticing businesses to relocate to Pittsfield.
 
Instead, the city is tapping into the vibrant arts and culture economy that the Berkshires is known for, while helping the businesses already there so they can thrive.
 
“In Pittsfield and the Berkshires, there’s still a core of advanced manufacturing, small- to mid-sized business operations producing products sold around the world,” Tyer said. “I happen to think our best strategy is to support that small group of core businesses here now, to help them move to their next level of growth and help them achieve their business aspirations. … They deserve as much attention and access to these incentives as any startup coming here from outside our city, state or region.”
 
Before launching the Red Carpet Team, Tyer said, Pittsfield officials spent six to eight months studying what each economic development organization in the city does and developing priorities for economic development based on the best opportunities available.
 
“In the Berkshires, Pittsfield is the urban center, so we have a different dynamic than a small community or a college town,” she said. “Assess your strengths, play to your strengths and then build your collaborations around that.”