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Blackmer Releases Economic Development Plan
10:45PM / Monday, October 02, 2017
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NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Lisa Blackmer, candidate for the Democratic nomination for the 1st Berkshire District, outlines below her goals for economic development in Northern Berkshire:
 
In 2001, I traveled to Belgium and Luxembourg as part of a Rotary International Group Study Exchange program, a program focused on cultural and vocational interactions. I had recently worked for North Adams' Downtown Development Inc. so my vocation was described as economic development or développement économique in French. When I arrived, they had me visiting nursing homes and hospitals.
 
They thought I was a social worker.  
 
Isn't that really what economic development is all about? People -- it's about providing opportunities and resources so that everyone can live work and prosper. It's good paying jobs with good benefits. It's safe roads, bridges, and public transportation to get to those jobs. It's good schools for our kids and continuing educational opportunities for adults. It's affordable and accessible healthcare for everyone.
 
Experience
As the the assistant downtown manager at DDI, I engaged with divergent groups, such as property owners, contractors, business owners, the public, and city officials to accomplish the economic and physical revitalization of North Adams. I worked with these stakeholders to create and expand community events.  I made it easier for downtown businesses to use Community Development Block Grant on facade improvements.   
 
Fifteen years ago, I worked at the Berkshire Chamber of Commerce ( now 1Berkshire) as the member services coordinator. There, I recruited and worked to retain member businesses. I spent time listening to business owners and their concerns and shared with them ways to help make the chamber a stronger advocate for them.
 
Working as a banking branch manager, I helped customers find the best financing choices for their home improvements or purchases. I worked with small businesses, our banking officers, and the Small Business Administration to help businesses grow.
 
As the town administrator of Sandisfield, I oversaw the day-to-day management of the town. I managed the special permit process and brought three businesses to the town. I was intimately involved in the town's strategic and master planning. Cooperating with surrounding towns, I prepared our MassWorks STRAP grant resulting in an award of more than $900,000. I worked with MassDOT and Berkshire Regional Planning Commission on a road reclamation project. I have developed good working relationships with regional, state, and federal leaders.
 
Broadband
High-speed internet access for residents in 2017 is the modern equivalent of rural electrification in the early 20th century. Access to information is a human right. It is unacceptable that many of our residents cannot access the services and information that are changing the way the world operates. Employers will not locate in places that do not have the capacity to share high volumes of data. Our children need
broadband to succeed and prepare for their futures. We must create policy that gets these final-mile links to the rest of the world finished. Waiting for private companies to do the work has taken too long already. The internet is not a luxury, it has become a necessity.
 
Workforce Development
As a former human resources manager, I know the issues businesses face in hiring and retaining employees. There are hundreds of jobs available in Berkshire County, yet our district continues to suffer from unemployment rates higher than the national average. I will push for more effective workforce development programs to help our residents and our businesses be more competitive in the 21st century economy. Schools like McCann Tech and MCLA can help us get there and not only help today's employers but create and attract the employers of tomorrow.
 
We need to fund training, internships, and apprenticeships for youth and others to give them needed opportunities to enhance their skills and qualifications. Williams College and MCLA and its Feigenbaum Center for Science and Innovation can be a catalyst for innovation. Organizations like Lever provide an opportunity to take advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit.
 
Transportation
Berkshire County has unique challenges in addressing the transportation needs of our residents. Our lower population density and distance between towns often make it very difficult for residents to get to work and school. The Berkshire delegation must continue to work together to increase BRTA service when people actually need it and find creative ways to get people who want to work to their jobs.
 
What good is a good job if you can't get to it? Jobs in hospitality, public safety and health care are 24/7. Our transportation system is not. We need public transportation that meets the needs of employers, employees and students. BRTA needs the resources and flexibility to meet our needs. You shouldn't have to get on a bus at 6 a.m. to get to Berkshire Community College at 8 a.m. for a job or a class.
 
I will also join the effort to bring better passenger train service to Berkshire County to make Boston and New York easy and affordable trips for those of us who travel for both work and fun. Rail to Boston and New York would be helpful in attracting visitors to work or play. My work in the hospitality industry showed me the impact of bringing visitors to our area.
 
I have supported and will continue my support for high-speed rail to Boston. As someone who drives to Boston several times a month as a vice president of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, I see the need for this service. It is a waste of time and gas to sit in traffic and doing so pollutes far too much. Telecommuting, augmented by periodic trips eastbound would make Northern Berkshire a viable relocation to raise a family.
 
Everyone has a story about a pothole or problem in their road. For the last six years I have advocated for more funding for Chapter 90, the money distributed to cities and town for roads. Some of my successes have included the "Pothole Money," extra money allocated after the difficult winters of 2014 and 2015.
 
We need to increase the funding for MassWorks grants and STRAP (Small Town Road Assistance Program) grants and make it easier for our cities and towns to get and use that money. I wrote a successful million-dollar grant to rebuild a bridge in Sandisfield, which provided a critical link for emergency services. The grants are competitive and many communities wait several years for funding, which delays projects critical to the growth of our cities and towns.
 
Conclusion
Economic development is not just broadband, transportation, and workforce development, but a combination of everything I've talked about throughout the campaign. It will require the cooperation of everyone, from our non profit institution, to our manufacturing, from our educators to our health care providers, to build on the growth we are already seeing. I have the experience that will allow me to bring our common vision of a thriving region to fruition.
 
More information on Blackmer's campaign can be found at lisablackmer.com.
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