On December 14 we voted on our 2018 Board of Directors and unanimously appointed John Bissell to be our Board Chair. John’s speech from that night not only earned him a standing ovation but left all of us inspired to do better for our community. Below is a copy of his speech and we hope after reading it you will feel the same.
Thank you for gathering together in this remarkable museum at this pivotal moment in our region’s history. I want to recognize my colleagues who are here from Greylock. It is a privilege to work with you all every day. Also, thank you to the 1Berkshire Board of Directors – I am humbled that you have chosen me to act as your Chair when we start the new year.
Tonight I’d like to talk about the unique role of 1Berkshire. The role all of us have as stewards of this precious region, and the vision that we might share for a growing economy that creates opportunities for all.
I see three essential leadership roles for 1Berkshire:
- To build a compelling regional identity and communicate this brand to residents, visitors and employers;
- To be the Berkshires’ central “navigator,” fostering economic development connections and referrals;
- And to establish and advocate collaboratively for priorities that will feed growth in the Berkshires.
These leadership tasks are not easy, but they are necessary. We have, at long last, in the structure and the talented team of 1Berkshire, the ability to pursue these objectives strategically and effectively. I expect to be held accountable for our progress as we move forward. I sincerely hope each of you will become a member of 1Berkshire and support this good work.
But let me be very clear my friends. I also hope you recognize that every single one of us – not just the staff and the Board of 1Berkshire – everyone has a role to play in pursuing a brighter future for Berkshire County. Whether you are a battle-hardened veteran of economic development or a 23-year-old engineer who just arrived on the scene, the work of developing a brand, fostering connections and advocating for growth – that work belongs to all of us.
Why do I say that? Well, we represent a very small population spread out over a lot of turf – we have 12% of the land in Massachusetts and only 2% of the population – so there is literally a lot of ground to cover. We all need to be in this work together.
And how we work together also matters, a lot. Every time we choose to work in unison, and in alignment, we grow our capacity as a region. When we work against each other, we diminish our capacity. We must forge respectful, trusting relationships across our businesses and our associations. I may compete very hard with another bank president, but if I choose to publicly undermine him as a person, I have lowered my own capacity for leadership and forced him to waste his time and energy defending himself and his reputation. My friends, as we pursue this work together, there will be a great many things we disagree on. We may find areas where even after much effort we just cannot compromise with each other. But please, we must make a New Year’s Resolution to refrain from attacking the integrity of our fellow business and nonprofit leaders. If we are serious about pursuing growth for our region, we must set aside the temptation to engage in the politics of personal destruction.
Another reason I ask all of you to act as stewards of this region is that we truly need to engage hundreds of diverse perspectives to transform this region from the inside out.
There is no doubt we can learn important lessons from other communities, and we need and deserve both state and federal support, and to drive our work. Senator Hinds and the rest of our delegation, we appreciate all of your efforts to garner that support from outside resources.
But in my experience, no great brand, no great organization, was ever built from the outside in. Rather, great brands are built from the inside out. A leader has to start with a clear image of what her company stands for, and communicate that vision first to her employees, and then to customers and other stakeholders. Over time, great employees are attracted to this vision and choose to be part of it, while others fall away. After thousands of decisions and interactions, thousands of promises made and kept, a great brand is built.
The thousands of decisions made every day in Berkshire County – whether to buy local or send resources outside; whether to promote a positive vision or a negative one; whether to adapt our workplace culture for a new generation or stick with business as usual – all of these decisions either grow or shrink our economy. The collective decisions and interactions of all the people in this room and in your organizations make a powerful difference.
I suggest that we would do well to think of ourselves as leaders and as participants in building a great Berkshire County brand from the inside out. That work has to start with a compelling vision of growth, that we believe in, that we can rally around, and then promote, across this region and across the world.
So what might be that vision of growth? Well, of course, it cannot be mine alone. We have to build that vision together. But let me offer some elements of the vision that I am trying to live up to. As I recall from my economics textbook, there are only three ways to grow an economy: you can increase productivity, increase the population, or increase human capital. I propose that Berkshire County is poised to do all three and to do them well.
Let’s take the first one, that of growing productivity. While our US economy is struggling to gain productivity, every management books and magazine I see is talking about increasing productivity by improving wellness and mindfulness. Good wellness habits, physical and emotional, make us more productive, less prone to burnout, more able to cope with the relentless pace of change. This is now a mainstream idea in business circles, and as you know, Berkshire County has world-class resources dedicated to fostering these wellness practices. How can we bring that expertise into our workplace, into our homes, into our brand? Let’s have a vision that sees our employees as whole complete persons, and our own selves as more than brain taxis.
There is another facet of productivity we can address too, by increasing local economic integration. “Buying local” is not just a slogan. It’s a strategy. Let’s accelerate the velocity of money moving through the economy, as another way to boost productivity. The idea of mutually supportive, integrated networks of producers and consumers, should be part of our vision.
We can be leaders in unlocking productivity when we take better care of ourselves and our employees, and when we choose to buy local as often as possible.
The second element, growing our population, has been a great challenge across the post-industrial Northeast. I am delighted to see an increase in young people choosing to move back or to relocate here. We are grateful for the energy of General Dynamics in hiring more than 500 people in the past 3 years, and Berkshire Health Systems for hiring hundreds more. Let’s have a vision for our region – and workplace culture throughout the Berkshires – that is attractive to young people. Let’s have a culture that respects seniors, celebrates inclusion and embraces immigrants and who want to work here and be part of our community. If that sounds trite, you should know that the city of Buffalo has transformed its economy based on that very idea. Between 2000 and 2014, while the U.S. born population in Buffalo declined by 5%, the immigrant population grew by 32%. Ever year, foreign-born residents contribute $3.1 billion to Buffalo’s GDP and help preserve 3,000 local manufacturing jobs that would otherwise have vanished. Folks, if Buffalo can do this, surely Berkshire County can do it too.
And the third area of growth for our economy comes from growing human capital, which means every person in our community can achieve their full potential. A strong public education system with universal access to early childhood classes and parenting programs is essential to our long-term competitiveness as a region. It is not something that is “nice to have” “if we can afford it.” There is a clear gap in employment and income for those who lack a solid education, and it’s one reason hundreds of jobs go unfilled, holding back our economy. If we are serious about growth, we will make quality public education a foundational element of our vision.
Further, if we are serious about growth, we will end the racism, sexism, and classism that exclude thousands of our neighbors from full economic participation. We will replace these social disorders with a vision that is inclusive of all, regardless of gender, race, or religion. Today, sadly, it is clear we are not living up to this vision, locally or nationally. Here are the hard facts: according to Forbes, the US median household wealth for black households is less than $10,000, while the median household wealth for white households is more than $100,000. Our national narrative tells us that this economic imbalance results from “personal choices.” But here are the hard facts: white high school dropouts own more wealth than black college graduates, and single parent white households own more wealth than two-parent black households. This inequality is unfair and unacceptable. It is holding back our economy, and in our community, we must address the underlying factors that drive this disparity.
And if we are serious about growth, we will treat women as equal partners in leadership. I don’t have to tell you the hard facts about women in the workplace. We are all witness to the great reckoning that is underway in this country and long overdue. We can’t change the workplace culture at NBC and Fox and in Hollywood, but we can take care of our own workplaces, and we must. I am grateful for the strong women leaders at Greylock who are showing us the way, and the talented women on the staff and Board of 1Berkshire. We need a thousand more just like you.
When we heal these divides, when we have equal access to quality public education, and merit-based cultures in our companies, when all of our neighbors are living up to their full God-given potential, then we will truly thrive in Berkshire County.
In closing, let me propose, that we can be national and even global leaders in fulfilling a vision of a growing economy that is holistic and sustainable, welcoming and inclusive, with opportunity for all. The world right now is groaning under the weight of inequality. Someone needs to step out and demonstrate that there is a better way to pursue growth. Why not us?
If that seems audacious, if it seems like Berkshire County is too remote, or too small, to make an impact globally, please listen for a moment to the ghosts in this very building. 200 years ago, settlers tapped the power that exists here at the confluence of two branches of the Hoosac River. In 1860, Arnold Printworks established a business that would grow to employ more than 3,000 people and become one of the leading producers of printed textiles in the world.
But of course, the world keeps moving on.
Arnold Printworks sold its facilities to Sprague. During World War II, Sprague scientists and engineers produced components for high-tech weapons systems, including the atomic bomb. After the war, Sprague’s products supported the Gemini moon missions and by 1966 Sprague employed more than 4,000 workers.
But the world keeps moving on. Competition from abroad led to declining sales and in 1985, the company closed its operations.
The rise and fall of these industrial giants made way for the vision of Thomas Krens and Joe Thompson, fueled by the determination of a Mayor who would not give up on his city, and the leaders who have followed him. Those of you who did not know the Berkshires in the 1980s can never appreciate how improbable it seemed to us hard-bitten Yankees, that anyone would develop a contemporary art museum, in North Adams. And now, look. Mass MoCA is indisputably the world-class museum that these pioneers always knew it could be. When I say that Berkshire County has world-class capabilities around creativity and renewal, what am I talking about? Just look around.
The world moves on, ever and always. But there is something timeless about these Berkshire hills. Why does this area stubbornly persist? It is never one product or one innovation, that lasts the test of time. When we finally get broadband right, the world will move on to something else, causing us to reinvent ourselves yet again. And I know that we will.
There is something deep in these mountains and rivers that refuses to die, and something deep in the character of our people that will never give up, and never back down, no matter the challenge. The world keeps moving relentlessly on, and so do we.
It is time for Berkshire County to take center stage to show the world how to grow a regional economy in a way that is fair and inclusive, holistic and sustainable.
That is the vision that should define us. That is how we will compete. That is how we will grow. And every one of us has a role to play in forging that vision and making it a reality.