The ground-breaking crew at the new Lee Bank (photo by Tricia McCormack)

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Lee Bank breaks ground; Berkshire Non Profit new marketing director; growing our local digital economy with the Tech Impact Collaborative; Berkshire Money Management pledges support to Berkshire United Way; applications for experiential learning program closing soon

The new Lee Bank branch in Pittsfield will replace the existing branch office on North Street with a free-standing facility, drive-up services, community meeting space and ample parking.

Lee Bank underscores Pittsfield investment with branch groundbreaking, foundation gift

Lee – Lee Bank has begun construction on its new branch on South Street in Pittsfield, and, simultaneously, the Lee Bank Foundation is making a gift of $16,000 to Pittsfield Public Schools. “This branch is a long-term community investment and a vote of confidence for Pittsfield, alongside many other businesses and community organizations that are investing in the city”, said Chuck Leach, president of Lee Bank. Meanwhile, Lee Bank Foundation has announced a $16,000 grant to the Pittsfield Public Schools — $1,000 for each school serving children and adults in Pittsfield. “By supporting the city’s public schools, we’re making a ground-up commitment to the education system in Pittsfield”, said Alison Brigham, treasurer of the Lee Bank Foundation. “Our Foundation is intended to do just this: to direct money where it will make an impact”.

The check that made the project possible (photo by Tricia McCormack)

The new Lee Bank branch in Pittsfield will replace the existing branch office on North Street with a free-standing facility, drive-up services, community meeting space and ample parking. The current branch will remain open for business until construction is complete. Although the project is impacted by construction cost increases, as a community organization Lee Bank is free of shareholder expectations that might have otherwise curbed, delayed or downscaled the project. “We are very fortunate that we can take the long view”, said Leach. “This is less about profitability and more about our commitments to the Pittsfield community and our customers. And if a bank branch can serve as a community resource, we would like to provide that”. Allegrone Construction has been awarded the design and construction contract for the project, and construction is expected to be completed by next summer.

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Multicultural nonprofit hires capital development / marketing director 

Pittsfield –– Since 1997, Manos Unidas, the Pittsfield based multicultural cooperative organization, has been working on strengthening community services and creating structures for empowerment in food access, educational access, housing access and economic empowerment access. Leslie Gabriel, who recently joined the Manos Unidas team as the Capital Development / Marketing Director, has a several decade background in creating several successful businesses, creating social events and causing awareness for important issues. 

Leslie Gabriel

Mr Gabriel is also a producer of video and audio content. He currently produces the H2O radio show “And So It Flows” – a radio show that highlights the value of water and water consciousness in our lives. The show currently airs on Berkshire Community Radio – WBCR-LP 97.7 FM in Great Barrington. “Essentially, I am a social entrepreneur and social enterprise is my passion,” Mr Gabriel proclaimed.

Manos Unidas plans to expand initiatives in the following areas:

  • Affordable Housing Cooperatives for low and moderate income residents.

  • Worker Owned Cooperatives and Social Enterprises for local community members to share skills and products, work in teams and create economic ownership and economic abundance.

  • Educational Cooperatives for community members who develop educational programming for other community members.

  • Food Cooperatives / Cooperative Community Gardens for community members to have hands on access to growing, sharing and having access to healthy, nutritious food.

We look to connect good, community hearted benefactors and donors with the work of Manos Unidas. We are building out some truly excellent models that we have initiated. Our initiatives result in a stronger sense of community and mutual aid for our region.” said Leslie Gabriel. Berkshire County and Massachusetts have always been on the forefront of commitment to social movements and social enterprises. Our work at Manos fits neatly into this community commitment”, Mr Gabriel added.  Other local social enterprises have seen the value and have joined forces to cooperate in the process of expansion – including Roots & Dreams and Mustard Seeds, as well as RE-FORMation Academy.

The way forward is no longer found in non working models of the past”, said Anaelisa Jacobson, the founder of Manos Unidas. According to Ms. Jacobson, “the Manos Unidas plan is to help Berkshire County bootstrap its way forward” through what she calls “‘The 4 Powers’ – The power of community roots; the power of community initiative; the power of community relationships and the power of community cooperation … we all must be the solutions that we were waiting for” declared Nicole Fecteau of Roots, Dreams and Mustard Seeds.

It’s time for us to do the work that we all kinda know really needs to get done”, declared Kristina Cardot of RE-FORMation Academy. “We know the old systems gave us what we got now. We now see that it’s time to build new ones that work for the community and may even act as an inspiration and a catalyst for other communities that are bootstrapping” Ms. Cardot added.

On Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/manosunidascooperative/

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Tech Impact Collaborative campaign to grow inclusive digital economy

The Tech Impact Collaborative, an ongoing collaboration of 1Berkshire, the Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at BCC, is excited to share the successful completion of their initial two phases of work to grow a more inclusive digital and tech-enabled economy in the Berkshires. This collaborative of three organizations, initially formed in 2020, has held over a dozen classes, workshops, webinars and panels through the OLLI platform, engaging more than 1,000 individuals across the Berkshires and beyond. In September 2021, following the success of their various workshops and offerings, this dynamic collaborative, through staff capacity of 1Berkshire and the BIC, and volunteer capacity from OLLI, began working with the Center on Rural Innovation (CORI) through a facilitated assessment of the Digital Economy of the Berkshires. This assessment was immediately followed by a three-month-long series of deep dive strategy development workshops and focus groups with CORI, leading to the eventual establishment of a series of seven core strategies to grow the region’s digital economy over the next five years.

Thanks to the financial support of Greylock Federal Credit Union, National Grid, and Berkshire Bank, the Tech Impact Collaborative is now excited to share the results of its work to date as it begins the process of building an expanded network and programming Board of Directors. This Board will utilize the assessment and strategy as a scaffolding through which to develop and launch programs, efforts, and initiatives that tactically and strategically develop this emergent and high-growth industry set in the Berkshires, with a heavy focus on equity and support for populations historically underrepresented within this industry.

Both the assessment report and the seven core strategic components of this ongoing work are now publicly available on 1Berkshire’s website at https://1berkshire.com/tech-impact-collaborative/. The Tech Impact Collaborative is excited to continue to facilitate the work alongside an array of new partner agencies and organizations, and will continue to provide updates through this site.

Benjamin Lamb, 1Berkshire Director of Economic Development notes, “Working hand in hand with the Center on Rural Innovation has linked us to immense talent capacity and meaningful validation through an outside lens. To hear we are a prime candidate for scalable digital economy growth is not only reassuring, but also inspiring as we now seek to activate the opportunities in front of us.”

As the first two phases of this work came to a point of significant completion, the Tech Impact Collaborative also became new members of the Rural Innovation Network, a group of 26 rural regions and communities from across the country all tackling the issue of rural tech innovation and digital economy growth. Ben Sosne, Director of the Berkshire Innovation Center notes, “The caliber of work by CORI, and the access to a talented peer network from across the country, is truly laying a fantastic foundation for us to build off of. With our partners across the region, we can see how valuable and meaningful this work is, and how beneficial it will be as we launch into applying for funding to bring potential opportunities to reality.”

By making both the assessment and seven core strategies publicly available on the 1Berkshire website, the Tech Impact Collaborative hopes that a diverse breadth of individuals, organizations, and partners from across the region can leverage this quality resource to both join in on the collaborative’s work, and also take ownership and action through a collective impact approach.

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Berkshire Money Management backs Berkshire United Way 

Dalton – Berkshire Money Management is making good on its commitment to the local community during Berkshire United Way’s #HereForGood Volunteer Month. As part of this year’s initiative, the boutique wealth management company with offices in Dalton and Great Barrington, MA has contributed $10,000 in sponsorship support, staff volunteer hours, and use of the Model Farm to host BUW’s annual Live United Community Celebration on Wednesday, May 18.

Giving back to the local community is a core part of our company culture”, says Berkshire Money Management co-founder and active United Way volunteer Stacey Carver. “Berkshire United Way sees, understands, and is working in so many ways to address the needs of the individuals in our county who struggle to feed themselves and their families. Volunteering for BUW is one of the most humbling and joyous things I’ve done in my life, and we as a team are proud to partner with this vital organization to improve quality of life in the Berkshires.

In addition to their $10,000 sponsorship gift, Berkshire Money Management will host the United Way’s Live United Community Celebration at their Dalton office location – better known as the Model Farm – at 161 Main Street on Wednesday, May 18, from 4 to 6 pm. The event will include presentations of the Robert K. Agar Jr. Volunteerism Award to Jewish Family Services of Western Massachusetts, and the Daniel C. Dillon Helping Hands, Caring Hearts Award to Shirley Edgerton. Tickets to the event are available for purchase at berkshireunitedway.org.

Berkshire Money Management prioritizes community engagement as part of their business model. Each year, the company gives back more than $100,000, supporting organizations and events in the region that promote social justice, food security, public health and healthcare professionals, local businesses, animal welfare, and the arts. Over the years, BMM has partnered with a wide range of Berkshire non-profits including the Berkshire Humane Society, the Great Barrington Farmer’s Market, Berkshire Community Action Council, Thanksgiving Angels, Firefighter’s Combat Challenge, Berkshire Busk!, Elizabeth Freeman Center, NAACP Berkshire County Branch, and many others.

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Berkshire Innovation Center B[E]TA Program: Application period closing soon

Pittsfield – The Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC) is running their experiential learning program – B[E]TA – this summer for high school students entering their Junior or Senior year or those recently graduated.  The B[E]TA program is designed to connect students with local businesses, explore idea development and business strategies, and engage in technologies offered at the BIC.

Specifically, participants will learn:
  • The entrepreneurship journey
  • Business agility
  • Key aspects of 3D printing
  • Professional uses of virtual and augmented reality
The six-week summer program will run Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m., starting Tuesday, July 5th running through Friday, August 12th.  It will be held in-person at the Berkshire Innovation Center, 45 Woodlawn Ave., in Pittsfield and will also include tours of local businesses.  Participants will receive a $1,500 stipend.
The deadline to apply to the B[E]TA program is Monday, May 16, 2022. Acceptance decisions will be made on or before June 1, 2022. Application can be found: https://berkshireinnovationcenter.com/programming/beta.
Funding for our B[E]TA program is made possible by the generous support of Berkshire Bank, Berkshire Taconic Foundation, and The Donald C. McGraw Foundation.
In addition, there are two optional programs running at the BIC this summer that students can participate in. These programs are hosted and run by the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
  • Principals of Entrepreneurship: Students will develop entrepreneurship skills through the integration and application of Design Thinking, Systems Thinking, and Lean Canvas.  This four (4) week program will run July 18 – August 11 on Monday and Thursdays from 1:00 – 3:00 pm.
  • College Planning Workshop: Students will participate in a series of workshops that support the transition to college. This four (4) week program will run July 5 – 27 on Tuesday and Wednesdays from 1:00 – 2:30 pm.