BY DAN VALENTI and FRANCOIS ARNEAU
THIS CONCLUDES OUR 3-PT. SERIES ON ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
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
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:
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.”
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:
Look at the minutes of the nine meetings. There’s an attendance roll at the top. Here is a list of the members.
|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|
|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.
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:
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.