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Overall Economic Development Program for Berkshire County, Massachusetts

During the Summer of 1992 an informal group of Berkshire County economic development representatives gathered, at the initiative of the City of Pittsfield. to discuss renewing a working relationship between themselves and the Economic Development Administration (EDA), as EDA is viewed as an agency that might complement an array of economic development efforts throughout the county. This group sought the advice of William Fitzhenry, Economic Development Representative, during August. Based on his advice and with the assistance of the University of Massachusetts. Donahue Institute. this informal group sought out technical assistance from the Center of Economic Development, an EDA sponsored university center, located within the Regional Planning Department at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Acting on the advice of Mr. Fitzhenry and CED, a decision was reached to implement an Overall Economic Development Program (OEDP) planning effort with expectations that the final document would be submitted to EDA early in 1993. In an attempt to recognize the perception within Berkshire County that there are three distinct economic areas - North, Central and South County - agreement was reached that OEDP committees would be formed in each area, and that OEDP documents would be developed which reflected the perspectives of each area. It was unclear at that time whether or not three OEDP's would be filed or that the three would be compressed into one OEDP, yet it was clear that all parties to the process intended to secure the broadest access to EDA for Berkshire County. Three OEDP committees were formed: North County lead by the City of North Adams, Office of Community Development; Central County lead by the City of Pittsfield, Office of Community & Economic Development; and, South County lead by the Main Street Action Association. Representatives from each of these organizations became the coordinating group for the overall ~ OEDP process. Committee meetings were held throughout the fall with ongoing assistance from CED and the Donahue Institute. EDA policies and guidelines were carefully observed throughout the process. Each OEDP committee held a series of brainstorming discussions. Drafts of OEDP documents were repeatedly circulated by mail and fax for Committee review. Late in the fall, as a result of several discussions with EDA, it was determined that the best course of action for Berkshire County would be to develop one OEDP from the three separate processes. This decision provided an opportunity to create a document with a countywide perspective on economic development while honoring the unique qualities, issues and goals of each area. Each area worked towards a draft completion of their own OEDP. Throughout December and January the coordinating group began merging the draft documents. Final drafts were carefully reviewed by the coordinating group, with a lengthy meeting held on January 7, 1993, to resolve any outstanding concerns. CED and the Donahue Institute participated in this discussion. The final version was provided to OEDP committees for review. While the final OEDP submission will represent a compression of the three documents, each area will retain the initial OEDP draft for local, ongoing guidance. The final OEDP submission represents the negotiation and prioritization of goals and objectives in order to fairly represent the unique qualities of each area. The success of this effort can be attributed to the willingness of the coordinating group from each area to establish a common agenda without the burden of creating a new administration and bureaucracy. It is the full expectation of the coordinating group that after completion of the OEDP they will remain a working group in order to initiate and guide various implementation efforts. The Berkshire County Regional Planning Commission (BCRPC) is the recognized regional planning agency for Berkshire County and will be involved with the regional planning aspects of the Overall Economic Development Program. BCRPC will carry out its regional development planning responsibilities with the cooperation of the coordinating group.