Economic development groups in western Massachusetts are taking steps to insure the final assembly of the state’s rail cars happens in their region.
In October, Governor Deval Patrick announced the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority will replace more than 150 rail cars as part of the state’s $800 million transportation bill passed in July. The process of upgrading cars on the Orange and Red Lines does come with a stipulation — the final assembly of the cars needs to take place in the commonwealth. With this in mind, groups like 1Berkshire, the county’s leading economic development agency, are trying to make sure that work takes place in the western part of the state. One of the proposed areas is the William Stanley Business Park in Pittsfield. Cory Thurston is the executive director of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the quasi-public agency that manages the former General Electric site.
“The nice thing about our property is that there is rail access because GE used to import as well as export its final production pieces, the transformers themselves, on rail,” Thurston said. “Certainly the main line of CSX runs through the middle of the property as it goes east to west across the state.”
Earlier this week, PEDA’s board agreed to offer the chosen manufacturer $1 million that would help fund construction costs of a roughly 150,000-square foot building.
“What we have on one of our sites is a large slab that remains in place,” he explained. “So what we think is a real possible location and it might work because all we have to do to is go vertical. That traditionally is going to save about 40 to 45 percent of the cost of typical new construction if you don’t have to dig and build a foundation.”
The state isn’t expected to choose a manufacturer until January 2015. Thurston says the anticipated 10-year, $800 million contract could bring at least 200 jobs to the area. PEDA and 1Berkshire have identified two other sites in Lee and one in Dalton, and continue to look for more. David Curtis, of 1Berkshire, says the labor demand could vary depending on what type of work the chosen manufacturer deems necessary.
“For some, it’s manufacturing parts here,” Curtis said. “For others, it’s contracting the manufacturing of those parts elsewhere, bringing them to Massachusetts and assembling the vehicles in Massachusetts.”
Part of the strategy is making sure the county can show it has a competent workforce to support such a project. Michael Filpi is the business manager for Laborers Local #473 in Pittsfield and is on PEDA’s board.
“There’s a lot of welding and there’s a lot of wiring,” Filpi explained. “If you’ve been on the T you can see what’s there. There’s lighting to be done. There are all different phases.”
Filpi says he’s not sure if the county currently has enough skilled workers to support such a project, but that it’s a good time to start taking steps to ensure it does. He says the metal fabrication program at McCann Technical School in North Adams is a starting point. Jim Brosnon is the school’s superintendent.
“If you’re going to mobilize a training program quickly to upgrade skills and to produce a new workforce you need to know the specifics of those welding techniques and the specifics of the electrical so that you can make sure the workforce is prepared to go,” Brosnon said. “So we need to mobilize that, but we need to know the specific skills required of the manufacturer.”
Thurston says he expects the city of Pittsfield to weigh in with some incentives as well.