Capping its first year, the North Adams Chamber of Commerce is taking its next step in helping to revitalize the city.
Since launching its initial membership drive in January, the chamber has grown to roughly 50 members under the direction of volunteer efforts. Nearing the one-year mark, the chamber has hired its first staff member in Catie McDonough, who will serve as program coordinator. A native of North Adams, McDonough returns after attending college in Boston and Nevada and then working in New Hampshire.
“When I left at 18 years old, the city I think was at its lowest point as far as business goes,” McDonough said. “In coming back, I was very impressed with what the chamber of commerce and all of the people who are working with the chamber have accomplished even way before they hired me. There are new businesses on Main Street. There’s a lot of collaboration going on and it’s definitely on the upswing.”
McDonough’s initial job will be to increase membership and expand upon connections within the region’s business community. President Glenn Maloney says McDonough and chamber members will look to capitalize on the city’s transformation from a mill town to a cultural hotspot.
Maloney says four years ago he joined with other community leaders to form Develop North Adams. The project-driven, volunteer group raised money for efforts such as placing benches along the city’s main avenues and renovating downtown green spaces. At the end of 2012, the group decided to reorganize as a chamber of commerce to become a localized resource for the city’s businesses, residents and those coming in from out of town.
“If you sit and stay a little bit, maybe stay long enough to go in and have a cup of coffee,” Maloney said. “If you have a cup of coffee, maybe you stay and shop in the antique shop. Maybe that turns into coming back on another visit and you’re spending more money somewhere else. Maybe one of those people comes and buys a home here.”
McDonough says she represents part of the city’s revitalization as young professionals begin to move back and help rebuild the area without erasing its past.
“Our mothers, fathers and grandparents, they all grew up working at Sprague Electric,” McDonough said. “It was a very blue-collar town. Obviously, the Berkshires has always been a destination for tourists just because of the natural beauty here, but I would say North Adams itself was always a very blue-collar town, not so much a tourist destination. Now it’s a whole reinventing of the city. Obviously MASS MoCA leads the way in becoming the top cultural spot in the county. We are taking the history of North Adams, building on it, saying this is what we used to be and we’re reusing all of the old buildings. It’s an exciting time to visit North Adams and move here.”
In January, the chamber will open a joint office with the city’s office of tourism and the Franklin County Community Development Corporation on Main Street. Mayor Richard Alcombright has focused on the revitalization of Western Gateway Heritage State Park, the sustainability of the Mohawk Theater and bringing scenic rail to the area to make the city an overall tourist destination.
“Making the city more bike-able, more livable, more walk-able,” said Alcombright.
The city plans to release its comprehensive all-encompassing Vision 2030 economic plan in the first quarter of 2014.