Article

PT. 3 OF AN EXCLUSIVE PLANET SERIES: THE SMOKING GUN BEHIND PITTSFIELD’S ECONOMIC FAILURE

BY DAN VALENTI and FRANCOIS ARNEAU

THIS CONCLUDES OUR 3-PT. SERIES ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.

W. NC: Where they hit a homer on CEDS, Pittsfield whiffed. That's the economic difference.

The tremendous success rural North Carolina had in the last three years luring huge investment in data centers from Apple ($1 billion), Google, Microsoft, and others begs the question: How did they do it? Can Berkshire County learn from the NC experience? Does it (or not) translate to the Berkshires?

So how did western North Carolina win and win big? Was Pittsfield even in the game or was it asleep at the wheel? Can we try to deal with this question dispassionately, and resist the cries of those in the Special Interests who only want to maintain the Status Quo and discount such critiques as “negative”?

We discussed “economic development” and “downtown redevelopment” in the first two portions of this journey as a way of marking the trail. Any consideration of this sort beings with a common understanding of a few basic concepts.

There are no shortage of agencies working on economic development. Keeping track of the sheer number is more complicated than keeping track of Kim Kardashian’s love life. These organizations, at least in Berkshire County, work independent of each other and in protection of their political turf. Politics comes before planning in Pittsfield. Thsu, they tend to produce pieces that do not mesh to form a coherent picture.

CEDS Says it All

Failure on CEDS: The "smoking gun" behind Pittsfield's economic failure.

Instead of playing politics, winning areas such as western North Carolina develop what is called a CEDS — a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy — that the federal Economic Development Agency defines as a coherent strategic initiative that brings together the public and private sectors of a region to create an economic  road map. Its purpose is to diversify and strengthen regional economies.

The CEDS should analyze the regional economy and serve as a guide for establishing regional goals and objectives. It should develop and implement a regional plan of action, identify investment priorities, and pursue funding sources. A CEDS integrates a region’s human and physical capital planning in the service of economic development. A CEDS does not supplant the private sector’s primacy in market development to government controls. Rather, it uses on a limited and focused basis some governmental resources to help free trade do its job (using “trade” in a broad sense and not restricting it to swapping good with another country).

Integrated economic development planning provides the flexibility to adapt to global economic conditions. It fully exploits the region’s advantages to boost economic opportunity for its residents by attracting the private investment. This in turn creates meaningful jobs for the region’s residents.

Continuous Cooperation and Planning a MUST

A CEDS must do four things:

* It must be the result of continuing economic development planning developed with broad-based and diverse public and private sector participation.

* It must set forth the goals and objectives necessary to solve the economic development problems of the region.

*It must clearly define success.

* Finally, a CEDS must provides a useful benchmark by which a regional economy can evaluate opportunities with other regions in the national economy. You can follow the link and read more for yourself at http://www.eda.gov/PDF/CEDS_Flyer_Wht_Backround.pdf

Get Your Act Together; North Carolina did and hit the jackpot

The Feds mandate that before a region receives funding, it must develop a plan with broad public input. Moreover, it must adhere to the plan. If not, the region won’t receive support (funding, grants and other considerations). North Carolina put together a CEDS that the Feds judged as comprehensive, strategic, realistic, and accountable. Western NC’s CEDS — That is the “x” factor in trying to answer how come they could do it and not us. Its CEDS helped land Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Wipro, the four corporations mentioned  Part 1 of this journey. The four have invested close to $2 billion in the region since 2007.

If you follow the link below, you can see that North Carolina used it as a road map with clearly defined objectives, goals an implementation strategy and responsibilities an excellent document:

http://www.wpcog.org/files/publications/CEDS%202007%20for%20the%20Hickory%20Metro%20Region%20Complete%20Report.pdf

They updated regularly and doggedly followed the plan. For that, they were rewarded. What happened in Berkshire County? Have you taken your Dramamine?

You’d figure, if not assume, that Pittsfield and Berkshire County developed a CEDS, just as western North Carolina did, right? You would be wrong. We didn’t.

Let us repeat that: While western NC wrote what the Feds called a brilliant CEDS, Pittsfield and Berkshire County did next to nothing.

Here’s where the Powers that Be, the useless local Alphabet Soup of Economic Development Agencies, and Politics as Usual will right in protest. They will say, “We DID develop a CEDS.”

BRPC failed to bring home the bacon by failing to complete the 2004 CEDS plan.

When they say this, they are telling a technical truth while spewing a lie. From May 13 to Oct. 14, 2004, The Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) cobbled together a document, called it a CEDS, and submitted it to the federal Economic Development Agency, but the Feds did not and would not approve the document. Why? The Reader’s Digest version is that Uncle Sam judged that the Pittsfield-dominated Berkshire County plan wasn’t up to par with what could be considered consider a decent work product. Uncle Sam laughed us out of his office.

That failed, seven-year-old failed “plan” is the region’s current CEDS offering for the region. In late October 2010, BRPC said this plan “was never finalized or approved.” It doesn’t say why. That’s a huge unanswered question: why wasn’t the 2004 CEDS effort finished? Western North Carolina cleaned our clocks, and we couldn’t even finish the job. This is a miserable failure, that no media outlet — to now chose to present.

You wonder why we aren’t landing Apple and Microsoft? That’s a major reason. Follow the links to the BRPC site you will see at times only 7 of the 20 members of the local CEDS team even bothered to show up for the meetings. All that talk by the politicians about “economic development” and they either couldn’t or wouldn’t show up for the meetings. That’s lip service to voters, plain and simple. Here is that link:

http://www.berkshireplanning.org/economic/2004_berkshire_ceds.html

Look at the minutes of the nine meetings. There’s an attendance roll at the top. Here is a list of the members.

Name Organization
Al Bashevkin Northern Berkshire Community Coalition
Blair Benjamin MASS MoCA
David Bissaillon Berkshire Chamber of Commerce
Heather Boulger Berkshire County Regional Employment Board
Donna Cesan Town of Adams
Churchill Cotton Westside Neighborhood
Tim Geller Tri-Corner Community Development Corporation
Mark Germanowski City of Pittsfield
Sam Haupt Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Chair
Mike Hoffman Banknorth
Denise Johns Berkshire Applied Technology Council
Matt Kerwood Pittsfield City Council
Al Marden City of North Adams
Bill Mulholland Berkshire Community College
Sharon Palma Southern Berkshire Chamber of Commerce
Yvonne Pearson Downtown, Inc.
Ed Perlak Berkshire Health Systems
Brenda Quinones Berkshire Latin American Council
Richard Rilla Berkshire Plastics Network-Ironman Machine
Richard Scullin Berkshire Regional Competitiveness Council
Vicki Singer Berkshire Enterprises
Eleanore Velez Berkshire Latin American Council
Richard Vinette Lee Community Development Corporation
Ken Walto Town of Dalton

Yvonne Pearson a No Show

Here’s one we need to highlight for all of you: Yvonne Pearson, representing Downtown Inc., attended none of the nine meetings. None, zilch, zip, zero, nada. We ask, can Downtown Inc. be serious about Economic Development? Pearson would SAY she is, but her actions speak otherwise. She comes off as another porker feeding at the public trough, getting paid lots of taxpayer money for doing nothing.

Q: What have we gotten from the alphabet soup of local economic development agencies?

A: Nothing. In fact, we have lost, since the leaders of these agencies tend to make six-figure salaries.

CEDS, Again

The CEDS process has begun again. On Tuesday, Oct. 26, 2010, BRPC’s CEDS Committee met. Of the 20 committee members, 15 attended, five didn’t. That’s 75%. That’s a “C’ — good enough to pass but not good enough to win honors. Here’s who attended: Kristine Hazzard, Kevin O’Donnell, Eleanore Velez, Tim Geller, Roger Bolton, Keith Girouard, Lauri Klefos, Deanna Ruffer, Robert Wilson, Ann Dobrowolski, Brenda Burdick, Laury Epstein, Christine Ludwiszewski, Helena Fruscio, and Mark Berman. Allison Johnson, representing “Public” attended as did BRPC staffers.

No shows were Chamber CEO Mike Supranowicz, Heahter Boulger, Mike Nuvallie, Michael Hoffman, and David Rooney.

Another Dud of a Start for the local CEDS

Who are these members? What are their qualifications? Who appointed them? The minutes say they were appointed The planet could find no information in the meeting minutes. We fail to see how this advances the cause of transparency. We also note that the committee expects to meet only six times instead of the previous nine, or a reduction of one-third. Again, we fail to see how that will help them develop a winning plan. Since the 2004 plan was never finished, it means that Pittsfield currently has a CEDS that’s 10 years old (2001). Again, that’s a major reason why the region has failed so miserably in economic development. The minutes from late October 2010 refer to a “short project time frame.” Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: “We’re running late, so everything has to be done on a hurry-hurry two-minute offense.” The deadline for completion of the CEDS is April 30, 2011, a few weeks after le Grand Bilker Michael Armitage gets sentenced in federal court.

Here is a link for the 2011 CEDS process. Follow it. They must finish it by the end of April. Tell Nat Karns and the BRPC that it won’t accept no-shows like Yvonne Pearson in 2004. Call them. E-mail them. Let them know you want action this time, with (a) a completed CEDS and (b) one the Feds won’t laugh out of Washington. Here’s the BRPC’s CEDS link:

www.berkshireplanning.org/economic/2011_berkshire_ceds.html

The Planet will be discussing CEDS in detail as the process has just started again. Attendance at the first meeting was 15/20, or miserable. Off to another flying start. Telling isn’t it.

31 Responses to “PT. 3 OF AN EXCLUSIVE PLANET SERIES: THE SMOKING GUN BEHIND PITTSFIELD’S ECONOMIC FAILURE”

  1. Still wondering
    January 3, 2011 at 1:41 pm #

    I’m apalled that no mention of any of this appeared in our fish-wrap daily newspaper. Nothing!

    • danvalenti
      January 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

      STILL
      Yes. Our research into the NC situation revealed the CEDS scandal, and how Pittsfield couldn’t even finish the 2004 application. What we “developed” in 2004 was a political document, not an economic strategy. So far, the 2011 process seems no different, but we will keep our powder dry and see what they do by April 30, the “hurry-hurry-hurry” deadline. The Boring Broadsheet wouldn’t touch this story, because it rubs too many connected people the wrong way.

  2. Craig Swinson
    January 3, 2011 at 2:20 pm #

    It is no surprise to me. Having seen the back office doings of this and a few other organizations in Pittsfield, ineptness and corruption seem to be the watchwords of the day.
    I would like to see what they spend their budgets on, when I see lunches and little fact finding trips or city agencies buying propaganda spots in the local fish wrap, it makes me wonder WTF is going on.

    Dan how many of the listed people actuall have their livelihood on the line, how many are actual business owners and how many are city or NFP workers who are doing busy work and use these appointments as a justification for their positions?

  3. Puzzled
    January 3, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

    Just wondering what the CEDS process was for Berkshire County as ALL the Board member are\were on the public payroll (taxpayer money). No private sector individuals. In the NC CEDS there are11 private sector and 11 public sector. It seems the local business community knew it was going to be a joke. The chamber gets public money, political not professional.

    • danvalenti
      January 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm #

      PUZZLED
      Yes, thank you. That is a key distinction. NC had healthy contingent of private sector input. In our investigation, we heard on credible authority that Washington wouldn’t allow the 2004 plan because it was a political document, not an economic development plan.

  4. Joe Pinhead
    January 3, 2011 at 3:05 pm #

    The knit pickers can find something wrong but the series was enlightening and puts a few things into perspective.
    Thanks for your efforts I just might go to one of those meetings

  5. just saying
    January 3, 2011 at 3:56 pm #

    Dan, thanks for this series. You have exposed and explained more in three short articles than the Parrot has in the last ten years. Keep it up.

  6. OLD ONE
    January 3, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    One of GE’s first moves out of Pittsfield was to move small transformer or regulator to Hickory, NC. Elected officals and unions did nothing then and are doing nothing now!

    • danvalenti
      January 3, 2011 at 6:53 pm #

      OLE ONE
      I was an apprentice drafstman at GE in Bldg 28 from April 1968 to June 1969. I remember, as a grunt, being assigned to draw the changes requested by engineering to existing blueprints for transformers. I noticed even then a lot of jobs were originating from Hickory, NC, and also Merced, Calif. Twenty years later, transformers were dust in Pittsfield.

  7. Foxy Lady
    January 3, 2011 at 5:17 pm #

    Agree with just saying. i had no idea of the ceds things what it was or how important it is. We couldn’t even finish it the last time 2004. your series has made sense out of the craziness of why so many alphabet soup agencies on economic development and why nothing happens, cuz pittsfield leaders ahem want politics and not prisperity.

  8. pjmh
    January 3, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    Nicely done DV, very interesting read. I’m with Mr. Swinson… unfortunately, not surprised.

    • danvalenti
      January 3, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Thanks, pjmh. I want everyone to notice the highlighted bit on Yvonne Pearson. She sat on the CEDS committee in 2004. She attended NONE of the nine meetings, yet she drew her fat salary as Poobah for Downtown Inc. That’s taxpayer money, flushed down the bidet.

  9. Joe Pinhead
    January 3, 2011 at 7:06 pm #

    Was reading the minutes from the first meeting of the 2004 meeting seems they didnt want to repeat the mistakes made in the 01 meetings Fire Drills how long has it been since we had the work product we deserve? read the Explanation on what a CEDS is at that first meeting. Still reading and Digesting make a pinheads head swim

  10. J.R. Fein
    January 3, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

    Great piece on CEDS. Again, this site trumps the Berkshire Parrot (once known as the eagle).

  11. Tammy Daniels
    January 3, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

    It might also help if the BRPC and other entities did a better job of informing when local meetings will be happening. We try very hard to follow meeting schedules but they are usually tied into legal notices – which the newspapers make a bundle off – not emailed notices for public release.

    I’m ashamed to admit I did not catch the CED meetings last month although I knew back in the summer they were being planned. Sometimes when your plate’s full you need a reminder.

    Nor can I find any reference of the meetings in the press. We would have been there if they’d reminded us.

  12. Sheriff Dawg
    January 3, 2011 at 8:54 pm #

    Yvone Pearson = No meetings attended. Fire her ass.

  13. GMHeller
    January 3, 2011 at 10:24 pm #

    There’s no real mystery why states like North Carolina attract and hold big business.
    It’s called ‘Right-to-work’ laws, low state taxes, and a cost of doing business that is low relative to what it costs to do business in Massachusetts.
    The Mass. state bureaucracy itself adds considerably to the cost of doing business in this state that it just isn’t worth it to companies that have the ability to locate whereever they choose.

  14. rick
    January 4, 2011 at 8:10 am #

    a couple words come to mind, appointees,incompetence embarrassing etc and wow,excuse me a sec.i have to get my jaw off the keyboard….if anyone thinks the eagle is going to touch this your crazy. dan keep going,and please let us know when they turn the heat up on you. should be soon!!!!

    • GMHeller
      January 4, 2011 at 8:46 am #

      Don’t worry, ‘they’ cannot turn up heat, because the Internet and forums like this now prevent The Berkshire Eagle and its ilk, the Liberal Democrat machine in Pittsfield, from any longer controlling Berkshire County’s public dialogue.
      Sorry fellas, we know it was fun while it lasted but the Internet is here to stay.

      • danvalenti
        January 4, 2011 at 10:21 am #

        Yes, the internet allows a magnificent freedom, as you well know, GM.

    • danvalenti
      January 4, 2011 at 10:28 am #

      RICK
      The kind of heat your talking about has kept me warm and cozy my entire career. Any good journalist, especially the muckracking or investigative kind, has built in firewalls. Plus, the “heat” usually reveals key weaknesses in your opponents strategies.

  15. Simon Sez
    January 4, 2011 at 10:15 am #

    Agree with heller on the internet changing the entire dynamic. you could say the internets finally come to age in berkshire county w/this website. @dan Find it interesting though that you would still want to write for the beagle or still do.

    • danvalenti
      January 4, 2011 at 10:37 am #

      SIMON
      Rest easy, my good man. You and the rest of the world will be pleased to know that as of my final column in November, The Planet broke out of the Boring Broadsheet’s gravity. We fired them!

      • backage
        January 4, 2011 at 11:40 am #

        I find that interesting, and brave – that you would release yourself from an employer (or however you want to phrase it). So congratulations.

        I’m getting more interested all the time. If you would indulge, what is the company you (your family?) ran back a couple decades that employed 50-70 people?

        (note: I am making up those numbers and timeline because I don’t remember them, I just remember there was reference to it in an earlier post/article).

        P.S. Any articles to come on Mr. Nichols being the first to throw his mayoral hat in the ring? Or waiting for a longer list of candidates?

        • danvalenti
          January 4, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

          BACKAGE
          The Eagle has never employed me. They contracted me to write columns. My company was Media Services Group (started as Literations), a writing service and PR agency. PEak employment was 1980-1994, 70+ people over that time. The most employed at once was 9 full time and a half dozen freelancers. As for Mr. Nichols, you must have missed the two-part profile The Planet ran in December. Comb the archives and enjoy.

          • backage
            January 4, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

            I’ll look back. I’m just finding this site now and kinda jumping around.

            Thanks.

          • danvalenti
            January 4, 2011 at 2:19 pm #

            Welcome to The Planet!

  16. just saying
    January 4, 2011 at 4:35 pm #

    @ Heller;
    Glenn I read your posts on topixs several times each day, agree with 99% of what you post. Good to see you here. Dan has done a great job with his site. Let’s continue to support him. Isn’t it great to see a news site with a local fixation that is not controlled by the obama loving, America hating parrot?!

    • GMHeller
      January 5, 2011 at 12:40 pm #

      You agree with 99% of what I post?
      That’s a higher ratio of agreement than I have even with my own views.
      Thanks!

      • pjmh
        January 5, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

        Great G.M.H! I was counting the days… DV is on to something here with PV and the haters can’t help themselves, they have to throw stones.

        I’m for the “good!”

  17. Joe Pinhead
    January 5, 2011 at 6:08 am #

    I looked at the facebook pages of both Peter White and John Krol and I am confused Both talk a lot about economic development however neither has posted anything about a CEDS emergency. Both seen fit to post about the SNOW emergency. Like Yvonne Pearson these 2 are no shows on the economic development front, all broth no soup in that cup.