Mayor Linda Tyer gets down to business, teases incoming jobs during 'State of the City'

PITTSFIELD — Bullish on economic development, Mayor Linda M. Tyer intends to pursue new businesses and nurture existing ones as she looks ahead to her next year in office.

During her State of the City address on Monday, the first ever in Pittsfield, the mayor hinted at four business prospects — two that would be expansions of existing Berkshire County businesses and two that would be new to the area.

In the wide-ranging speech that looked back on her first of four years in office, Tyer highlighted the "multifaceted" work she and other leaders have done.

"The work that we do each and every day on your behalf is a collaborative effort," said Tyer, who was joined on stage at the Colonial Theatre by 21 others including members of the City Council, School Committee, police and fire chiefs, and city department heads.

She touched on education, public safety, economic development, employment, grant funding, the addition of fire and police officers, neighborhood revitalization projects, new budget strategies, approval of the Community Preservation Act, renewable energy, expanded events and public entertainment among other areas.

After the speech, she told The Eagle the four potential businesses could bring approximately 100 new jobs, with potential to expand beyond that. And she said they "perfectly illustrate" a strategy she discussed in her 50-minute public address — that the city can attract businesses from outside of and within Berkshire County.

"We can do both at the same time," Tyer told the crowd of approximately 220 people who gathered at the downtown theater.

Tyer declined to name the businesses, citing a need for confidentiality during ongoing discussions, and instead described them in general terms.

The farthest along, she said, is a Berkshire County business that is creating a "unique health and wellness product" and is growing substantially. She said that business could be up and running in the city within six months. Two advanced manufacturing facilities, and another small business that would create and build a new product, round out the list of new business possibilities.

She confidently declared a number of other projects she will pursue moving forward.

"We will build an innovation center," referring to the stalled Berkshire Innovation Center.

Construction of the center, originally scheduled to begin at the end of 2015, was delayed after officials learned it would cost at least $3 million more than the $9.7 million the state pledged to build the structure. State officials are currently weighing whether to provide additional funds to cover the shortfall.

Earning a "Complete Streets" designation, which would mean funding for bike lanes and other pedestrian friendly improvements, and the Tyler Street Transformation Development Initiative, a state program expected to help the city develop a revitalization plan for the neighborhood, will move forward.

"We'll do all of this for the people who live here now and for future generations that will call Pittsfield home," she said.

She also touted jobs saved and improving unemployment numbers.

Keeping Covanta Pittsfield open saved 25 jobs and the city $462,000 a year to haul its trash elsewhere, she said. The city used $562,000 in Pittsfield Economic Development funds to keep the facility, which processes waste for much of Berkshire County, open at least four more years. The influx of cash meant the solid waste-to-energy and recycling facility could make the necessary upgrades to meet state and federal environmental standards and remain profitable.

"It is a lot easier to save existing jobs than to create new jobs," she said.

She said previous city support for outside startups like EV Worldwide and Workshop Live resulted in "zero" return on investment. Conversely, local business investment has meant "significant returns" for it and the city.

But she was clear that both approaches would still have her attention.

She noted unemployment in Pittsfield, which was 6.6 percent when she took office last January, was down to 3.3 percent by November.

However, she said jobs don't need to lead the way in helping to build a stronger city, noting that many millennials are first attracted to quality of life.

"Let's pivot from our past narrative that we need to create jobs first and then recruit the next generation," she said. "Let's do the kind of work that makes our city vibrant, dynamic and [an] interesting place to live so that the next generation chooses us."

She said the city pursued a number of grants to help it combat "complex fiscal challenges." Those grants meant $2.3 million for the city.

One new project will fund life-size writing studio replicas of literary giants, such as Herman Melville and Nathaniel Hawthorne, with connections to the city.

A self-described "fierce champion" of Pittsfield Public Schools, Tyer challenged the state's label of the system as Level 3. The state Department of Secondary and Elementary Education ranks schools from one to five, with Level 1 being the best.

A district can only be ranked by the lowest performing school within it. The majority of city schools — seven of 12 — are ranked Level 1 or 2 while five are considered Level 3 schools. That skews its standings, she said.

"There is a misconception that our schools are not academically accomplished but that's far from the case," she said.

Reach staff writer Carrie Saldo at 413-496-6221 or @carriesaldo.


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