Brief from the 2023 1Berkshire Annual Meeting

A year in review of the Berkshire economy, tourism sector, and goals ahead for the regional tourism council for Berkshire County.

By Jonathan Butler, CEO & President and Kevin Pink, Deputy Director of Economic Development, 1Berkshire

As each year draws to a close, it’s a societal tradition to reflect on the months we have lived through, and prepare for aspirations and goals yet to come. The countdown to midnight on New Year’s Eve is preceded by slower counting down of the major events, hit songs, and more. While 2023 has made plenty of news abroad, the Berkshire economy has made plenty of press waves of its own. 1Berkshire recently held its Annual Meeting, an event at which the leadership shares larger economic trends, a prospectus of work throughout the year, and our plans for the year to come. We present in today’s column a snapshot of some key takeaways from the Annual Meeting presentation, providing information about the year to date and a look at the year to come.

The Stationery Factory – A Model for New Economic Development

The Annual Meeting at The Stationery Factory in Dalton. Its name, an homage to the building’s various phases of industry, belies the veritable garden of economic development thriving within its brick walls. While its 120+ year history has seen the building used for a number of production operations (most notably Crane & Co’s stationery division, from which its current name derives), it is currently home to businesses ranging from a record store to acupuncture, and from electronics recycling to high-end medical compression garment manufacturing. The building also boasts a brewery and distillery, as well as an outstanding concert venue. Home to businesses of many kinds representing all of the key economic clusters identified in the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0, the Stationery Factory stands as a model for reimagination of existing buildings and a microcosm of the exciting small businesses that call our region home.

Tourism Growth Continues 

Since 2021, tourism to the Berkshires has been on an upward trajectory in line with pre-pandemic growth. Data released late this year by the Massachusetts Office of Travel and Tourism (which always lags a year, as it is derived from local and state tax receipts) shows the total economic impact of visitor spending in the Berkshires at $960 million, up 7% over 2021. Visitor spending in the Berkshires accounted for $22.1 million in local tax receipts and supported over 4,000 jobs, also both significant increases over 2021.

To further bolster current momentum, 1Berkshire’s marketing team is working to continue to spread the word about our region to travelers far and wide. What better place to do that than in New York’s Grand Central Station, a place whose name is synonymous with high-volume activity? This winter, our marketing team will be working to create a digital display takeover of a section of Grand Central Station, promoting its Berkshire members to over 15 million potential visitors by bringing our region closer to them. This effort aims to increase visitors’ awareness of the region as a destination for both day and overnight trips. All told, 2024 is shaping up to be an exciting year for Berkshire visitors and those industries that benefit from tourism.

1Berkshire Economic Development Team Activity

2023 saw the end of CARES Act funding for the Berkshire Economic Recovery Project. First activated in January of 2021, this program (funded through Berkshire Regional Planning Commission by the US Economic Development Administration) combined business consultations and technical assistance efforts through 1Berkshire’s Economic Development team, supporting over 90 unique businesses and helping them access over $1 million in capital. In FY23, the Economic Development Team conducted 161 business consultations (44% of which involved entrepreneurs from populations historically underrepresented in regional entrepreneurship) and alongside a number of partners, hosted the second annual Small Business Resource Expo and the M/WBE Certification Summit. All in all, it was a fulfilling and productive year for the Economic Development team.

As we wind down 2023, we look ahead to 2024. Here are some important topics to keep an eye on in the year to come:

Berkshire Blueprint 2.5 Update

When the Berkshire Blueprint 2.0 launched in 2019 as a ten-year regional economic imperative, it established five key economic clusters for the Berkshires: Advanced Manufacturing, the Creative Economy, Food & Agriculture, Healthcare, and Hospitality & Tourism. Industry clusters consist of the producers, suppliers, education providers, service providers, and research organizations related to a specific industry; those five were chosen due to their significant presence in the regional economy, ability to scale, and incumbent workforces. 

The Blueprint offered a number of recommendations for those industry clusters, as well as for the entrepreneurship support and workforce development ecosystems and “cross-cutting issues” that affect multiple elements of the regional economy (such as broadband access, workforce, housing, energy costs, transportation, etc.). It goes without saying that the last five years have seen significant changes to the regional economic landscape. The mid-decade update, the Berkshire Blueprint 2.5, will consider changes within the key clusters as well as new developments and will look ahead to the next five years. Expect to hear more on this topic in the coming months.

Outdoor Recreation Website

One major change in the regional economy during the pandemic was the emergence of the already-important outdoor recreation industry as a fully-realized key industry cluster. From mountain resorts and retailers to equipment rentals and trail-keeping, the Outdoor Recreation cluster has become a critical element of the Berkshire economy. In light of this increasing value to the regional economy, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission and a number of partners will launch a website in January devoted to outdoor recreation in the Berkshires. allows users to explore over 550 access points to outdoor recreation. It is meant to serve as a companion site to 1Berkshire’s site, further enhancing the visitor experience. Stay tuned to see what this website offers for locals and visitors alike! 

An Important Year for Housing

While the broader housing market may be showing signs of stabilization, Berkshire County remains in a full-blown housing crisis. For the last several years, 1Berkshire has worked alongside Berkshire Housing Development Corporation and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to convene a number of meetings, from a practitioner working group to larger community discussions, related to better identifying and understanding the barriers to housing all of the region’s residents. This work resulted in 2022’s A Housing Vision for the Berkshires, which identifies a number of potential solutions to the region’s housing shortage. Advocacy for the region’s housing needs is a major component of the Housing Vision, and that advocacy continues through the actions of a broad coalition of partners at the state and local level. As part of a recent advocacy day at the State House, staff from 1Berkshire and partner organizations spoke with senators who co-chair key committees, such as the Joint Committee on Housing. Among other items, this conversation focused on 521CMR3 (popularly known as “the 30% rule”) which is inequitable in its execution across the Commonwealth, often making building redevelopment in regions like the Berkshires much more expensive than it needs to be. 

In October, the Healey-Driscoll Administration released its Affordable Homes Act, a proposed housing bond bill that offers a number of important funding and policy initiatives aimed at increasing housing production and supporting the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable residents through increasing housing opportunities. With a proposal on the table from the Administration and the legislature in a position to act on it, expect 2024 to bring some impactful developments in the housing arena.

From all of us at 1Berkshire, we hope that you have enjoyed this briefing on some key takeaways from 2023 and some important items to watch in 2024. Though both challenges and opportunities await us in the next year, that tireless spirit of Berkshire collaboration will enable our region to successfully navigate the year ahead. Given that we’re at this time of the year, it’s worth noting that as traditional New Year’s song Auld Lang Syne suggests, a little kindness goes a long way too. We wish you and yours a healthy, collaborative, and kind start to 2024!

2024-01-01T10:32:48-05:00January 1st, 2024|Categories: News|Tags: , , , , |

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