LENOX, Mass. — It is easy to point to the headlines proclaiming the loss of 300 jobs impacting the Berkshire economy as examples of the county's decline.
But if the county wants to grow its economy, it needs to "change the narrative" and recognize and build on its strengths.
That's the message Berkshire Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Butler delivered to nearly 100 people gathered at the annual meeting at Cranwell on Wednesday night.
In October, Saudi Arabia Basic Industries Corp. announced it would depart Pittsfield, taking 300 jobs and leaving two empty facilities.
"This news that broke in October is certainly discouraging and it takes us right back to the need to change the narrative. It has been tempting for many in the region to point to this as another example of our decline but we certainly don't see it that way," Butler said. "If we are collaborative and diligent, the story won't be about SABIC leaving Pittsfield; it will be about the Berkshires and how we rose up to meet the challenge."
Chamber members Linda Gaspardi Febles and Lori Gazillo then fired off a series of good news for the economy in the last year. That includes visitor spending reaching $387 million — an increase of 25 percent since 2009 — contributing to $30 million in local tax receipts.
That's Interprint investing $4 million in energy efficiency projects. It is the Clark Art Institute setting record high attendance numbers. It is Unistress hitting peak employment numbers and setting plans for growth in 2016. It is Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art's planned expansion and Pittsfield's Berkshire Innovation Center. It is Ramblewild opening up and it is the Mahaiwe Theater and The Mount paying off debt.
It is also the solidification of 1Berkshire to share resources from the chamber, Berkshire Creative, and the Berkshire Visitors Bureau and launching a new marketing campaign: "Life is Calling."
"There are some awesome things that happen in the Berkshires," Butler said, adding that those are just examples of ongoing activity.
So how can the economy improve? Butler says it is by "changing the narrative" first.
"It is time to start painting a brighter picture of the region. One that doesn't dwell upon the sum of all things we are not but instead focus on the incredible energy of what we are and what we have the potential to become," Butler said. "This doesn't mean we should avoid our challenges or live in denial of the real problems that require solutions. It simply means we are best equipped to take on our challenges from a position of strength where we appreciate all that we are and the momentum we've created in recent decades."
Such a narrative change is to not focus on the negative impacts of SABIC's departure but look at the number of businesses that reached out to the Chamber of Commerce the very day the news broke looking to become landing places for displaced employees. And those employees will strengthen the businesses that are here. Butler says the city, state, and other organizations are teamed up to find jobs for displaced families and find reuse of both sites left vacant by SABIC.
"We have several hundred jobs taken outside of the region and families in the transition. Our job now is to create the best outcome for those impacted," Butler said.
One member of the community who has focused on making the Berkshires better is Peter Marchetti, whom the chamber honored with the annual Esther Quinn Award for Community Service.
"Peter has been active in nine various organizational structures to help our community on all levels," Mick Callahan, chairman of the award committee, said.
Not only is Marchetti just weeks away from returning for another term on the Pittsfield City Council but he was also a member of the city's Charter Review Commission, is the founder and treasurer of the Morningside Initiative, a member of Downtown Pittsfield Inc., and helped reinvigorate the Pittsfield Parade Committee, which puts on the Fourth of July Parade every year.
"That is a major undertaking. Not only do tens of thousands of people come to our city to experience it at the wonderful venue. But at the same time, there is a saying about herding cats, with that many volunteers, weather, traffic, downtown construction and a few other things Peter has maneuvered his way around and continues to bring a great thing to downtown Pittsfield," Callahan said.
Marchetti becomes the 17th winner of the award. It was established in 1999 for dedication for community service.
"The first thing that went through my mind — because I've gone to many annual meetings — was 'wow, I don't belong among that list of names,'" Marchetti said.
Marchetti says he didn't get a chance to meet Quinn but he knew her husband, Dick Quinn, who had participated in even more parades than he has — so there is a connection. Marchetti also credited his employer, Pittsfield Co-op, where he's worked for 28 years for supporting and encouraging his community work.
"My employer and my boss, Jay Anderson, knows it is our job to make Pittsfield a better place to live," Marchetti said.
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