Our opportunity to create a better economy springs from our people. We have the land, natural beauty, and financing needed to create a better economy. The Northern Berkshire community is an area rich in culture and natural beauty. If we have a trained workforce, business will grow.
We must create an area that fosters growth and where people feel compelled to be here. An area that is desirable to people looking to expand their business or an area that has the right elements to create new industry for a new economy.
First, we have a lot of positive things happening in Northern Berkshire county. We must emphasize and grow based on our strengths.
Much has been written about our growing creative economy in the Berkshires. This sector can mean different things to different people, but given the Clark Art Institute, Mass MoCA, Williams College Museum of Art, the North Adams Maker’s Mill, Common Folk Artist Collective, our art and music scene; people have moved to this area because of these anchors and we must use this to create even more opportunities for business. Business growth relies on clusters of like businesses to ensure that there is an ample workforce trained in their industry as well as other like people who know their business to generate innovation in that sector.
In my opinion, Lever Inc. is one of our greatest strengths in Northern Berkshire. Lever Inc. located in North Adams supports local economic development by creating and growing enterprises that leverage local assets, including the talents of young people from our region’s colleges. This organization supports, mentors and encourages local entrepreneurs to grow their business right here.
We have the benefit of having tremendous educational institutions in MCLA, BCC and Williams College. An asset we should work with to train our next generation of leaders and our new workforce. We can’t get stuck trying to replicate the workforce of the 1950’s in the 21st century. We need to create new leadership and ideas of tomorrow at these fine institutions that reflect new technologies and a global economy. We need to ensure that BCC and MCLA have the resources needed to do this.
We need to complete projects that we have started including the proposed train museum, the Hoosic River Revival Project and the Greylock Glen to link in ideas into a coherent economic strategy.
Second, we need to change the employment conversation in the Berkshires to attract workers needed in the new economy. Too often we look at our area’s historical industrial sectors and try to replace those jobs with like jobs because that is what we have always done. We need to look at what the needs are today around the state, and even around the world and then design programs to reflect those needs to make ourselves attractive and competitive.
While investing in our educational institutions, we need to also expand skill levels and career pipelines to keep young people in the area. We need to invest in skills needed for new jobs in a new economy. In the Boston area, Cambridge has a permanent help wanted sign out for workers, including entry level workers as basic lab technicians in the bio tech field. The state invested $55 million in a beautiful new science building at MCLA. We need to work with them to create a curriculum that reflects that asset and trains people for today’s jobs. The fastest growing industry sector in the state for the past three years is clean energy. Massachusetts leads the state in jobs per capita created and in fostering this emerging industry. We need to train workers to reflect the new needs in our economy.
Today, where population and businesses rely on mobility and technology to move information and people around, an employer/employee can live anywhere. If we give business a trained workforce in these economies, they will want to grow here.
Of course, there are other conditions needed in order to ensure economic growth. Some of these are covered in other policy areas: Transportation, fast and accessible broadband and adequate housing is key.
Self Sufficiency for families is important for their livelihood and success. I will file a bill for a self-sufficiency study. This would look at our area and find out what it takes for a family to become self-sufficient. This is absolutely necessary as we go forward creating programs to skill the workforce. A $15.00 minimum wage has become the focus for many groups but we need to figure out what it takes to create the skills for a living wage. What does it take for a family to make enough money to live on? What does it take for a family to be able to survive not only for the next year but for a lifetime? If we are spending a great deal on programs that don’t do this, then we are not using resources as best we can and not doing what is intended. My bill would tell us what we need to ensure that after spending money on training and education, people can make enough to live in our area and thrive.
The Governor has cut funding every year for our area Career Centers. We need to fight to reverse this trend. Our Career Centers are the front door for our workforce in need as well as our business community looking for skilled, trained employees. I want to be their champion in the Legislature.
I believe that it is also important that our workforce development community coordinate efforts so that we are not duplicating efforts and wasting precious training dollars, but that we are working together on programs that reflect our needs.