Officials and members of the Northern Berkshire business and Franklin County business communities gathered in North Adams Friday to kick off a federally-funded initiative supporting small businesses and entrepreneurs.
The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded a fiscal year 2012 Disaster Relief Opportunity grant to the Franklin County Community Development Corporation. The Franklin County CCDC, and its partners the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, will use the funding to help provide assistance services to small businesses across the Northern Berkshire and Franklin County region.
The funding will allow the Franklin County Community Development Corporation hire two Business Development Specialists, one in Berkshire County and one in Franklin County, to help startup and existing businesses access services including technical support, counseling, training, and financing, and work with partner organizations, fellow businesses, and navigate regulations.
Amy Shapiro is Business Assistance Director at the Franklin County CDC.
"Through our partners, through our stakeholders - which are the accountants, the lawyers, the insurance agents, the realtors who are all working with small businesses - we're really looking partner with them and to work closely so everybody knows who's available to do what work, what their specialty is so that small business owners know where to go for support," said Shapiro.
The Disaster Relief Opportunity grant will aid businesses in an area that was hit hard by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. But John Waite, Executive Director at the Franklin County CDC, said the grant is also about preparing small businesses for unpredictable events the future.
"We really want to build resiliency among our small businesses," said Waite.
State Representative Paul Mark, whose district stretches across the county divide from Pittsfield in Berkshire County to Greenfield in Franklin County, said he hopes the partnership and cooperation between all the collaborating organizations in the initiative, including colleges, chambers of commerce, town governments, will bring the two regions closer together.
"There's not an invisible wall between once you hit Savoy and once you Charlemont - it doesn't exist. It's all Western Massachusetts. We need to work together, we need to be strong together," said Mark.
North Adams Mayor Richard Alcombright is also excited to see regional cooperation between private and public organizations alike strengthening local economies.
"You can have the best cook in the world, you can have the mechanic in the world, you can have the best anything - small business owner in the world. And without the skills necessary to run that business, without people to put in front of them who can help them with the business modeling, the business plan and then provide continued the help and support and then provide then be able to provide capital when necessary - this is just such a great program and a win not just for this community but for the Northern Berkshires," said Alcombright.
The program will initially be funded by the federal grant for 18 months, but many hope to see the partnerships and relationships formed in the process last into the future.