Berkshire Business Outlook: Berkshire Blueprint gets a makeover

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PITTSFIELD — Eleven years is a long time. It was that long ago that a group of local officials released the first Berkshire Blueprint, a document touted as a shared economic vision and regional action plan.

A lot has changed since 2007 — the economic development organization that coordinated the compilation of the original Berkshire Blueprint no longer exists. But the concept of having a shared regional vision for economic development still remains.

1Berkshire, the county's designated economic development agency, is currently leading the effort to develop a second Berkshire Blueprint, and the completed document is expected to be released by September, according to president and CEO Jonathan Butler

"We're in a different economic place in 2018 than we were in 2006," when a majority of the work for the initial document was done, Butler said. "The economy has evolved in some ways. We understand a lot more about certain sectors and clusters and kind of the trajectories that they're on. A lot of work has been done in some of the key areas that were cited in the original blueprint, and it's kind of time to take a look at how well that work is being done."

Revisiting the project came out of discussions between members of 1Berkshire's board of directors that began late in 2016. "We concluded that we needed to take a hard look at whether updating this process made any sense," Butler said.

The work is being done in two phases. A "discovery" phase, involving an analysis of all the different regional economic development reports that have been released since the first Blueprint came out 11 years ago, has already been completed. In the second phase, the project's 30 plus member steering committee, headed by Berkshire entrepreneur Tyler Fairbank, will meet with the project's consultant, Michael Kane Consulting of Northampton. Eleven years ago, Kane worked with Mt. Auburn Associates of Somerville which helped compile the original report.

"They've done a lot of work in the Berkshires, so they're familiar with our economy," said Butler.

"We'll take a deeper dive into the different economic clusters in the Berkshires that currently exist, and we'll be working with our steering committee, to actually select four or five of those clusters that we're actually going to take a deeper dive into, like the first blueprint did with three different clusters."

In 2007, Fairbank headed the Berkshire Economic Development Corporation which compiled the first Berkshire Blueprint. The BEDC was one of the four regional agencies that formed 1Berkshire in 2010.

"What will come out of this is a really good — nothing is ever perfect — but a real good set of regional priorities to help the region get better and align 1Berkshires and other organizations," he said. "It will be the next regional agenda and road map that we've been able to come up with and continue on from 10 or 12 years ago."

The new report is intended to both build on the findings in the initial report and discover new strategies for dealing with the region's future economic development, according to Butler.

"It's a combination of both, I think," he said. "We have some different strategies that we'll be using in this report that will lead to an end product that I think will be a little different. But there were some frameworks used for (the first) report that we found to be helpful and easy to follow."

The goal is to compile a report that elected officials and businesses will find helpful.

"We want it to be easy to follow from the user-friendly vantage point," Butler said. "If a report's not user-friendly, it tends not to be used. So user friendly is one of our priorities. This report did a real good job of that. It was on every elected official's desk shelf and most CEOs' desks."

"We would very much like this to be a very useful applicable agenda that everybody can have access to," Fairbank said. "The better job we do of making it more accessible, the better job of having it functioning once we get it done."

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