PITTSFIELD — The U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration (EDA) awarded a $842,522 CARES Act Recovery Assistance grant to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) to develop and implement an economic recovery and resiliency plan and provide technical assistance to bolster the region’s ability to withstand future economic disruptions.
The two-year project will fund expansion of Berkshire County’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) to include regional resiliency planning, and will also help identify and support recovery projects; rebuild the region’s online data and economic-indicator tracking capabilities; provide technical assistance and capacity-building opportunities to local businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities; and support workforce and industry-building efforts to facilitate meaningful work toward economic recovery, growth, and resiliency in the long term.
“Positioning Berkshire County for the best possible recovery from impacts of the pandemic is a top priority for Berkshire Regional Planning Commission,” BRPC Executive Director Thomas Matuszko said. “This funding supports a wide range of efforts on behalf of our region, each critical to our future economic well-being.”
Work to overhaul an online data clearinghouse, www.berkshirebenchmarks.org, is already underway, with a focus on improving user experience and encouraging a broader range of agencies to access the site for a better understanding of existing conditions in the county and to support their own grant-writing efforts. Advisory teams from around the county are providing guidance on the most important indicators to measure progress in economic recovery as well as various quality-of-life factors.
BRPC staff will expand upon the county’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy to address long-term economic resiliency, working with members of the CEDS committee and additional stakeholders to develop new protocols for coordination during future disruptions. Staff will facilitate significant recovery-oriented projects from the CEDS priority project list, assisting municipal leaders and project managers in bringing projects to fruition, and will also seek to identity additional grant-eligible projects.
“We’re grateful to receive this investment in Berkshire County,” said Laura Brennan, Economic Development program manager at BRPC. “It allows us to take stock of how the region was impacted over the past year and play an important role in strategizing for the future.”
Local businesses, nonprofits, and municipalities will benefit from access to technical assistance through the EDA-funded initiative. These efforts will provide tools for businesses and organizations to better operate virtually if needed, as well as guidance on accessing state and federal assistance. Technical assistance for municipalities will support improvements to policies and operations for increased responsiveness to business community needs at the local level, including online permitting, revisions to zoning and other regulations, and improved communications with business owners.
The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission will work with 1Berkshire as the primary partner in coordinating technical assistance to local businesses. 1Berkshire will also take the lead role in industry-specific capacity-building efforts, primarily focusing on industry clusters identified in the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0. Additional partners will be identified for the delivery of specialized technical assistance to businesses and municipalities after needs are assessed through online surveys and other outreach.
“This is a fantastic opportunity,” said Jonathan Butler, president and CEO of 1Berkshire. “This level of federal investment into the nuts-and-bolts technical assistance our regional economy needs is critical, and we are excited to play our part to maximize the impact of this effort for businesses and organizations across the Berkshires.”