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Daily News

PITTSFIELD — Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) announced $3.5 million in supplemental funding from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to recapitalize its existing Brownfield Revolving Loan Fund (RLF).

The EPA previously provided $7.6 million in RLF funds to the program. BRPC was selected to receive additional funds because it has a high-performing RLF program with significantly depleted funds due to frequent activity. The RLF program has successfully made loans or subgrants, leading to 12 cleanup projects that are either completed or in progress.

“The Brownfields Revolving Loan Fund is a critical economic-development tool in our region,” BRPC Executive Director Tom Matuszko said. “In many cases, we’re filling gaps in a project’s financing that makes it possible to expand or redevelop locations that then provide housing or employment opportunities where they are most needed.”

The fund lends to private, public, and nonprofit entities for cleanup activities at sites contaminated by petroleum or other hazardous substances, pollutants, or contaminants. Municipalities and nonprofits may also be eligible for subgrants from the fund, usually after participating in a phased brownfield assessment program also operated by BRPC.

“Our assessment program lifts the veil of uncertainty from sites, offering answers regarding levels of contamination and, in some fortunate cases, proving that no contamination exists, encouraging private investment and reuse of a site,” said Melissa Provencher, Environmental and Energy Program manager at BRPC.

Additional Berkshire County grants were awarded to projects in North Adams and include $1.9 million to clean up the former Tannery Dump located on Ashton Avenue and $1.863 million for cleanup at the Greylock Flume property.

The tannery dumping site contains a 1.5-acre, 10-foot-high mound of leather scraps that abuts the Hoosic River and is contaminated with heavy metals. Extreme storms have exposed the layers of leather on the riverbank. The flume property is located on State Road, a 7.8-acre former textile mill location that housed 10 above-ground storage tanks and 30 former dip tank drums. It is contaminated with sulfuric acids, phosphoric acid, sodium hydroxide, nitric acid, metals, PCBs, and inorganic contaminants. BRPC staff provided assistance in preparing applications for both site-specific awards and will serve as grant manager for the Tannery site project.

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The Berkshire Economic Recovery Project, a program of 1Berkshire and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, with funding from the United States Economic Development Administration, announced the launch of its women- and minority-owned business enterprise (W/MBE) module.

The training module, available in both English and Spanish, provides a high-level overview of what it means to be a certified women- and/or minority-owned business enterprise, and how such a certification can help support the small businesses in the Berkshires. In addition to the short overview training modules, interested businesses will also find a direct link to schedule a free intake consultation with the Economic Development team at 1Berkshire.

These consultations will allow 1Berkshire to make direct referrals to technical assistance support to help guide interested women- and minority-owned businesses through the certification process.

“We know we have many incredible small businesses in the Berkshires owned and operated by women, immigrants, minorities, and LGBTQ community members, however we find very few businesses are certified as such,” said Benjamin Lamb, 1Berkshire’s director of Economic Development. “This effort aims to move the needle on helping our underserved business owners access the opportunities that W/MBE certification unlocks, including government contracting opportunities, specific loan and grant programs, tax incentives, and more.”

Businesses and business owners are invited to visit the W/MBE module page at https://bit.ly/3yff8zP for more information and to view the recordings.

Daily News

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.”

Daily News

PITTSFIELD — The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC), in partnership with the office of state Sen. Adam Hinds, announced the availability of grant funds through the Berkshire County COVID-19 Adaptation Fund. Grants through this program will help businesses and organizations with up to 25 employees address expenses incurred during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Applicants may use funds to cover a range of eligible expenses, including the purchase of PPE and other COVID adaptation supplies, as well as general business expenses such as rent, utilities, payroll, or insurance. BRPC will begin accepting applications online on Tuesday, Dec. 1.

This program will be available to both for-profit and nonprofit small businesses in Berkshire County, with maximum grant awards ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 depending on the number of employees. Preference will be given to applications from BIPOC (black, indigenous, and people of color) owned businesses.

“We understand that this current public-health and economic crisis has had an outsized impact on communities of color,” BRPC Executive Director Thomas Matuszko said. “We urge minority-owned businesses to apply for these funds and will look to issue awards as quickly as possible.”

BRPC is currently also helping to administer two regional Community Development Block Grant programs specific to for-profit businesses with five or fewer employees and low- to moderate-income owners.

The fund will also consider applications of up to $15,000 from established nonprofit organizations to support programs aimed at supporting individuals and groups of individuals impacted economically by COVID-19. Organizations seeking to apply for programmatic support should contact the BRPC directly by e-mailing Senior Planner Laura Brennan at [email protected].

Program details, including additional information about eligible expenses, are available on the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission website at www.berkshireplanning.org.