Pittsfield — Construction will finally begin this summer on the $13.8 million Berkshire Innovation Center (BIC), a research and development facility in William Stanley Business Park that will help local technology manufacturers develop new products and train highly skilled employees in the Berkshires.
“We are extremely excited about the possibilities associated with this,” said Gov. Charlie Baker, who joined several federal, state and local officials Friday at Pittsfield City Hall to announce that BIC would open a 20,000 square foot facility in 2019 on the former General Electric campus.
“Berkshire County has a long and cherished and significant history as a big player in manufacturing,” Baker told a packed City Council chamber. “The opportunity to leap forward into the next generation of what advanced manufacturing and life sciences is going to be all about, and to be able to build on a history and a knowledge base that already exists here … is a very real and significant one.”
BIC’s R&D facility will provide local small and medium-sized technology manufacturers with access to research and state-of-the-art equipment to test and engineer new products and compete in new markets.
“I love the fact that (this project) is blossoming on the soil of the GE site,” said State Sen. Adam Hinds. “Because absent that next GE, studies show that it’s the investments in those small and medium-sized companies — and making sure they have everything they need in advanced technology and training – it’s the right strategy; it’s the right industry; it’s the right location.”
BIC will also help local manufacturers recruit and train a new generation of Berkshire County residents through student internships and partnerships with high schools, colleges and other educational institutions. It will also provide programs where students receive training on cutting edge equipment at the facility.
“This is an investment in Pittsfield’s future,” noted Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito. “It’s an investment in the next generation of your sons and daughters, who will find more opportunity and a reason to stay here in Pittsfield to begin their careers because there will be good paying jobs available to them.”
It was long journey to Friday’s celebratory event for BIC, which was plagued with delays in construction for years due to a lack of sufficient funds.
“What you are seeing is the product of a collaboration at the local, state and federal level,” noted Jay Ash, Secretary of Housing and Economic Development, who praised exceptional teamwork and perseverance by both present and former state and local officials over the years to secure funding.
Hinds also commended the contributions of many officials, dating back to his predecessor Ben Downing, who helped secure the first $6.5 million from the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center, a state partner in 2008, when the plan was to construct a life science incubator to support local startup technology businesses.
That concept changed, however, when a feasibility study advised an innovation center to support existing small and medium-sized applied manufacturing businesses in the County with advanced R&D capabilities and workforce development.
When the Berkshire Innovation Center plan proved to be more expensive than the original concept, officials successfully lobbied the Mass Life Sciences Center to increase its pledge to $9.7 million in 2014 for construction and equipment costs. The Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) and the city’s economic development council each followed with $250,000 grants for operating expenses.
BIC was set to break ground in 2015, but officials were forced to shelve the project when construction bids came in several million dollars higher than expected.
Although PEDA then committed a second $300,000 grant and BIC officials scaled back the facility’s plans and budget, BIC languished for years while officials struggled to secure funding commitments to close a remaining $3 million funding gap.
In September 2017, the Pittsfield City Council was credited with jump-starting the stalled project when it allocated $1 million from the General Electric Economic Development Fund for BIC’s construction. The Mass Life Sciences Center followed in December 2017 with a commitment of $2.3 million for construction and operating costs.
The final funding pieces fell into place recently when Mass Development, another state partner, committed $450,000 and PEDA pledged an additional $300,000 for operating expenses.
At Friday’s event Secretary Ash saved his highest praise for Stephen Boyd, BIC’s chairman and CEO of Lee-based Boyd Technologies, for his outstanding leadership throughout the project’s considerable challenges and uncertainties.
“The thing I admire about the Stephen Boyds of the world is that they have day jobs, and yet they give of themselves to make something happen,” Ash said. “Stephen Boyd has come to every meeting, has made every phone call, has struggled with raising the money and finding support and frankly, has been the champion that has made this happen.”
Boyd, who received a standing ovation from the audience, thanked Ash as well as other public officials and the BIC board for their numerous contributions and advice along with their support of several programs and events BIC currently sponsors in the County.
“Some 450 attendees at BIC programs at Berkshire Community College have already come and learned about advanced manufacturing or new technologies,” he said.
Boyd also reminded the crowd that BIC’s receipt of funding is a milestone, but it isn’t the finish line. “This is not a victory lap; it’s a battle cry,” he said, noting that the real work of the innovation center was just beginning.
Gov. Baker agreed. “While this is a very exciting day, folks, let me tell you something: For me, the really exciting days are going to be the days when this thing actually starts translating into real jobs, real products, real opportunities, real businesses, and real momentum, growth and excitement for the people of Berkshire County and Pittsfield.”