Meet our Director of Economic Development, Ben Lamb. With 13 years of living in the Berkshires under his belt, Ben comes to us with a unique background, eclectic experience portfolio, and a passion for amplifying the economic impact 1Berkshire has on the region.
Coming to the Berkshires originally for college, Ben’s entrance to the area was as a freshman at MCLA. “What I loved about MCLA was that when I got there within a month I was already referring to North Adams as ‘home’, much to the dismay of my family back in New York,” Ben notes. Originally from upstate New York, Ben’s only connection to the Berkshires, until going to college here, was through a stack of photos he found at his late grandmother’s home, “there were all these images of North Adams Normal School from the turn of the century, and we had no idea our family had such an old connection here. I guess I was a lamb rejoining his herd.”
True to his personality, Ben dove into his community at MCLA, and before he knew it he was in more leadership roles than he can remember. “I definitely fell into the glorious trap of saying yes to any opportunity that came my way” he reflects. “Something about MCLA and the Berkshires, in general, I’ve found true and have loved is that if you have a want or need to be engaged, just say the word and the opportunities seem to appear out of every corner of the community.”
After four years at MCLA, Ben thought his time in the Berkshires was over. He headed off into the world, working in ecotourism in Belize, historical restoration and wildland firefighting in Virginia, salmon population research in Alaska, and polymer resin adhesive work in New York. “It was strange. I spent all this time going from place to place, having really cool, life-changing experiences, but none of them felt like home.” It was during his time back in New York that a single email led him back to North Adams in short order. “A friend of mine was working as a hybrid guidance and admissions counselor and needed to leave the role, so she suggested I check it out. It was the decision that has ultimately resulted in me being here now.”
Ben quickly found himself living back in North Adams, assisting underrepresented high school students in their efforts to go to college. “It was incredibly rewarding work, knowing that these students, who would normally not have a chance to get into college, were going to do great things thanks to a little extra push” he says, “even to this day, I’ve seen numerous students I worked with graduate from top colleges, start their own businesses and generally rock out in their own career paths.” While that role was a short-term position, it’s impact left a permanent mark on Ben’s trajectory. “Before I knew it I had met Emily (now his wife), and was commuting to grad school in Albany on track to go into higher ed student affairs.” Once he graduated with his Masters in Education from The College of Saint Rose, Ben stepped immediately into his role as Assistant Director for Student Organizations and Involvement at Williams College, where he worked for 7 years.
It was during his time at Williams that Ben began branching out in his capacity as a volunteer and got increasingly involved in the North Berkshire community. Soon he found himself running for office in North Adams, winning a position on the City Council. “Running for Council was that ‘big leap’ moment for me,” Ben says, “It was a point at which I knew I had more to offer the city in a very different capacity, and so, I put myself out there.”
In 2014, Ben and a small group of passionate North Adams folks formed the NAMAzing Initiative to help share their love of North Adams and help others to love it just as much. “It was really a passion project, which has grown into this true social and economic development initiative in the city.” That project transitioned into the NAMAzing Eagle Street Initiative in 2016 which is culminating this summer with the installation of elements funded through MassDevelopment and crowdfunding done through Patronicity as part of the Commonwealth Places program. Simultaneous to all of his involvement in the city, Ben and his wife Emily opened Oh Crepe!, a small cafe on Main Street in North Adams. When Ben and Emily found out they would be welcoming their first born child to the world 18 months later, they sold Oh Crepe! which found its new name as Empire Cafe.
It was through the unique fusion of his work in education, small business ownership, leadership development programming and economic development work that Ben found his way here to 1Berkshire. “When you see the ways in which this organization is looking to drive the future of growth and prosperity in the region, how can you NOT want to be a part of the magic?” he notes.“With the energy here, the potential for greatness, and the evolving spirit we are seeing throughout the Berkshires, this is a prime time for really innovating and bringing the pieces together. We have something really spectacular here as a region. Building ways for us to grow and thrive is a mission I can wake up smiling to every day.”
Ben lives in North Adams with his wife Emily Schiavoni, who works as the Community Outreach Coordinator for the North Adams Public Schools, their son Otto and their “firstborn” golden retriever Penny. He loves gardening (or micro-farming), DIY projects of any and all types, cooking, and well fashioned “stay-cations.” He currently serves on the North Adams Partnership, Northern Berkshire Community Coalition, MCLA Alumni Board, and the North Adams City Council.