Lt. Gov. Polito touts economic growth; Gov. Baker releases $19 million for broadband
Great Barrington — Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito swung through Berkshire County last Thursday (June 18) on a “Building Stronger Communities” listening tour aimed at finding out what the Berkshires economy needs to tick a little faster, with a focus on the needs of small businesses.
Polito’s Great Barrington stop was Iredale Mineral Cosmetics, LLC for a tour of the company’s new headquarters at the former Bryant School with seven small business owners and State Rep. William “Smitty” Pignatelli (D-Lenox). The tour was followed by a roundtable discussion and lunch before Polito was whisked off to stops in Pittsfield and North Adams.
Great Barrington attendees were Katherine Lockridge, co-owner of Classical Tents and Party Goods; Eugene Dellea, President of Fairview Hospital; Scott Kirchner, President-Director of Operations at MadMacs, Apple Specialist and authorized Apple repair and service; Dr. Jay Wise, DDS; Staff from The Chamberlain Group, which designs and builds mimetic organs for surgical and interventional training; and Wayne Slosek, of TriTown Paving.
While the roundtable discussion was closed to the press, Polito emerged from the meeting with the sense that the cost of housing in Berkshire County was an ever-present thorn in the side of business. She said that housing costs, particularly for “entry and mid-level jobs,” are a challenge here.
“We need to stabilize the workforce and the next generation of workers to grow their careers here in Berkshire County,” she added.
President and CEO of Fairview Hospital Gene Dellea agreed, noting that “the majority of Fairview’s employees live elsewhere.” He said that one employee travels over 100 miles every day.
Indeed, at a March Housing Symposium hosted by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation’s HousingUS, Berkshire Regional Planning Commission’s Mark Maloy said that in South Berkshire County, “the average employee makes $34,877, which means the average house is 8.3 times their income,” and “totally unattainable.”
Polito hails from Worcester, and began her public service career as a member of the Shrewsbury Board of Selectmen, moving on to the State Lottery Commission before she was elected State Representative. Her page on the MassGov website says that she “understands the strain on local budgets, and worked relentlessly to secure increases in local aid, Chapter 70 school aid, Special Education aid, and Special Education transportation aid, as well as for local grant funding.”
Her page also says that she has “worked hard to promote jobs and economic development.” When asked whether the state will still help fund “the last mile” of fiber optic cable in Western Massachusetts, she noted that $50 million had been committed earlier this year to “expand [broadband] into smaller rural communities.” She said that the Baker administration “will make sure the funds are available to communities so they can leverage dollars for broadband.”
Rep. Pignatelli said Monday (June 22) that Gov. Charlie Baker released $19 million of that $50 million he committed to infrastructure for the last mile of broadband into Central and Western Massachusetts.
Polito also said that the cost of energy was another hot spot for small local businesses.
And Dellea added that the “regulatory environment” in the construction and building permit realm was another brier patch small businesses must climb through.
According to Pignatelli, Polito noted that the Baker administration “has jurisdiction over between 2,000 to 2,400 regulations,” which Polito said she would see “whether she can fix them, or whether she needs legislative approval.”
Then there is that shaky economy to contend with. MadMacs President and Director of Operations, Scott Kirchner, said he has been eyeing Great Barrington for some time now, but has not yet found the “right location,” though it is “just a matter of time” for expansion. The Pittsfield and Williamstown-based company is searching at a “leisurely” pace, Kirchner said, given all the variables, including road construction in Great Barrington and Pittsfield. He added that the economy was a challenge. “It’s not steady,” he said.
Of Polito’s visit, Kirchner said that the lieutenant governor “made it very easy for us,” to have an “informed conversation about the needs here in our county.”
Pignatelli said that Polito took “feverish notes” at the roundtable meeting. “She was very attentive,” he added. “She wants to get a better understanding of the similarities and the differences [of the Berkshires] to other parts of the state.”
“We made it very loud and clear that we are unique geographically and demographically,” he said.
“Anytime we get extra attention from Boston is great,” Kirchner said, “and to go back to Boston with good ideas for everybody.”