Getting Down to Business
Berkshire Chamber Is Focused on Partnerships
The present-day Berkshire Chamber of Commerce is the result of a merger, in 2000, of the then-so-called Chamber of Commerce of the Berkshires and the Northern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce. The result is what current president and CEO Michael Supranowicz called “the absolute force for business advocacy in this county.”
Elaborating, he told BusinessWest, “we realized that it was getting harder to keep these separated organizations doing the same thing in their own spheres of influence. But it was pretty easy for both boards to see the opportunities possible in creating one large chamber, one that could address all the business issues of the greater good in Berkshire County.”
According to the BCC mission, the chamber “will lead and advance economic development and support the civic and social welfare of Berkshire County through the advocacy and support of our members and the Berkshire community.” And through some upcoming partnerships that are just weeks away from becoming a reality, the road to meeting that mission will be easier to navigate.
One such initiative, called 1Berkshire, is just a few weeks away for its official launch. The newly branded “one-stop shop,” as Supranowicz called it, will be comprised of the BCC, the Berkshire Visitor’s Bureau, the Berkshire Economic Development Corp., and the Berkshire Creative Economy Council.
“Out here in Berkshire County, we look at ourselves as an island,” he explained. “We stand alone. There isn’t great highway access, there are still many communities absent a good access point for Internet, and we’re losing a congressman. It sometimes feels like we have to fight for everything we have here in this county, but we’ve been lucky enough to keep our interests well-contained with our organizations.
“However, because of the singularity of our physical location,” he added, “we’ve had to rely on our own ingenuity to get things done. We gave it the name 1Berkshire because we want to be unique.”
The program is just one of many strategic initiatives through which the chamber carries out its multifaceted mission. Ashley Sulock, director of Communications and Marketing for the BCC, pointed BusinessWest toward another — the chamber’s comprehensive Web site, one that functions on a variety of levels. The site contains tools for current and prospective businesses, as well as site selectors, all with the intent of growing existing businesses and recruiting new ones.
“With all of the online components,” she explained, “this chamber is really a foundation upon which you can build your business.”
For this issue and its Getting Down to Business series, BusinessWest looks at the many ways in which the BCC backs up those words.
While the current incarnation of the BCC is only approaching adolescence, the chambers that precede it date back to the 19th century. A primary reason for the merger was, in Supranowicz’s words, “The union of the two largest and most advocacy-driven chambers in Berkshire County.”
The business sector of the county is unique, both he and Sulock noted, with one big reason being its challenging location.
“Approximately 80% to 85% of our membership represent a small business profile,” Sulock said. “Berkshire County has in the neighborhood of 4,700 businesses in total, and about 4,200 of those employ 19 or fewer people.
“We have a constituency that requires very specific programming,” she added, “and we try to support that with everything from educational workshops to professional-development opportunities to advertising opportunities for the small-business community to showcase their products and services. That’s one of our primary functions, to connect these members to the community at large.”
Supranowicz said his chamber’s advocacy has multiple strategies. Legislation and a political presence comprise one technique.
“If there’s a cumbersome business regulation that we can do away with, to allow the business community to be more productive, or to have something cost less for the purposes of their bottom line, then we’ll address that,” he explained. “We speak on behalf of the business community about split tax rates,we work hard on energy costs, and we’ve been a qualified intervener at some Department of Energy hearings regarding the construction of solar arrays; we’re working with other chambers across the state with regard to alleviating the pressures of health insurance.”
But a key tool in the BCC’s toolbox is its Web site, which both administrators noted. In addition to the customary business directory found on most similar sites, the BCC’s comprehensive site contains much more. There’s a cost-of-living index calculator and several tools for site selectors — those contracted individuals who seek regional information for business clients looking for new markets.
“On the Web site, we compare ourselves to about 360 other communities throughout the nation,” Supranowicz said. “And where that leads to economic development is when our larger companies are looking to recruit. They have a base of comparable costs of living when they’re looking to bring those potential employees here. They know how much they would need to pay them in order for that person to afford the same type of living that they could have somewhere else, or wherever else they’re located.”
The Berkshire Business Real Estate Locator is another of those tools, and Supranowicz explained how it worked. “What we did is utilize the International Economic Development Council’s basic set of comparable statistics,” he explained, “to create a section on the Web site dedicated to promoting the commercial land and buildings in Berkshire County. And tied into that, we have the minimum set of demographic information that site selectors look to, when they’re comparing one region over another.”
These online tools are also helpful for the current business community, he said, and are an asset in the chamber’s legislative advocacy. “They provide economic modeling help,” he said. “We can plug an event in, and we can determine what the direct and indirect benefits are for that event. For instance, we had an auto dealer who was looking to build a second location in Pittsfield, and was applying for a TIF package. The chamber was able to tell the city council that, if he built that building, and if he put X amount of people to work, it would mean X amount more jobs in Pittsfield could be spun off of that.”
One for All
1Berkshire had its origins not long after the BCC’s own merger. In 2006, the chamber initiated the Berkshire Strategy Project, focused on the prioritized issues facing the region, and a concern with how to make the county’s economy stronger.
Concurrently, the other three partnerships all had similarly tracked projects and missions. In 2009, a “meeting of the minds” formed a steering committee, and the individual efforts were rebranded as 1Berkshire. “Ultimately, this will satisfy most of the economic-development needs in Berkshire County,” Supranowicz said.
The organization will be located in Pittsfield’s former Central Fire Station on Allen Street, which was donated by Berkshire Bank. The project will launch in a few weeks, he noted, adding that, with the new structure and new organization, opportunities for business service, and educational resources, 1Berkshire will be a model for economic collaboration across a spectrum of agencies.
“Whether a visitor comes in,” he explained, “or maybe they’re a business prospect, or a current business owner looking for some help, there’s one number to call or one building to come to, and everyone will receive the assistance of all these organizations that help to create prosperity in Berkshire County.
“We’re looked at by other parts of the state when they want an example of collaboration and how to do it right,” he added.
As a lifelong resident of Berkshire County, Sulock said she was thrilled to be part of both the BCC and its expanding partnership. “Even though our focus is on business and our membership,” she said, “there is a major benefit to the social welfare of the county, and the civic development of the community at large.
“By uniting under one roof with these other organizations,” she added, “that speaks to our contemporary perspective on how to do business, and how we want to shape the business community in the Berkshires.”