At the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, members of the community gathered to have an open dialogue with area economic development strategists to talk about the future of the Berkshire economy and current obstables that stand in its way.
Executive Director of the Norman Rockwell Mseum, Laurie Norton Moffatt explains that this meeting was the last of the “Four Freedoms” community discussion forums.
Keith Girouard, Regional Director of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network spoke at the forum. He addressed the changing needs of local economy once supported by manufacturing.
Girouard mentioned that the Berkshires’ pursuits into a creative economy gives the area an advantage, but the creation and sale of art alone is not enough to sustain an economy…
Director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Nat Karns spoke at the forum, and said that the Berkshires have weathered the economic slump better than other areas of the country because of a smaller, more isolated economy.
Karns did warn however, that the area’s technological and creative endeavors could be quickly eclipsed by needs not being met – for example most of the county still without broadband internet access, which many design and media companies cannot operate without. Extensive efforts to expand broadband in Western Massachusetts are being undertaken by the Massachusetts Broadband Institute, under the state’s Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The middle-mile stage of setting up a fiber-optic high speed internet network in the Berkshires will not be completed until 2013.
John Whalan, owner of a small media business in Great Barrington said that he has observed a lack of available workforce in the County to take on creative work for outside clients, such as video editing.
Other community members talked about a job training divide between an older generation of workers not trained in new technologies, and the lack of training available to young residents for the area’s high-tech jobs. One area business owner suggested that the Berkshire County population is aging out, and without young skilled workers to take root in the County, the area will suffer.