"On December 8, 2008, Sabic Innovative Plastics laid off 40 of its 300 local employees. On December 11, 2008, KB Toys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in four years with the intention of liquidating the entire company. The 225 full-time employees at KB's Pittsfield headquarters will all be laid off by May 2009, company officials have said."
Source: "Crane lets go of 22" (By Tony Dobrowolski, Staff Writer with The Berkshire Eagle, New England Newspapers, www.thetranscript.com, Wednesday, January 14, 2009).
"City leaders fail businesses, residents"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters, Tuesday, January 6, 2009
As Nuclea Biomarkers prepares for its move to Worcester, I felt obligated to write a letter to the editor to address concerns that I feel beleaguer the city of Pittsfield. I was going to address these concerns in a private letter to our elected officials, but figured enough is done behind closed doors without the knowledge of the citizens of Pittsfield.
Pittsfield is in a recession, along with the rest of the country, but it is hitting Pittsfield harder than most. Over the past three months the city has lost approximately 300 high-paying jobs with certainly more to follow. This includes Sabic, KB and Nuclea. The economic viability of the region is in dire straights and we have not heard how the City Council, community development and the mayor will address this issue.
We have also lost companies that have helped our tax base to other towns and the spin has always been "It's OK, the company is still in the Berkshires," (referring to the move of Sinicon Plastics). It is a good thing they are still in the Berkshires but they are not in Pittsfield.
The GE Economic Development fund was set up as part of the consent decree to help fuel new business growth in the city. This money has been used for cultural projects, which I have nothing against, but this money was designated to help existing business growth and to attract new businesses. This money should not have been used to make up shortfalls of the Colonial Theatre and the new North Street Cinema project. The City Council and the administration have seemed to adopt a Republican stance catering to the top 10 percent of the city's citizens and businesses and have left the rest behind.
Viable companies have been leaving Pittsfield because the administration has not been flexible to their needs and requirements. In the example of Nuclea moving to Worcester, this is truly a political failure for our elected officials. There were 14 high-paying jobs that were lost to this move, most citizens of Pittsfield. There are no jobs in Pittsfield that can replace these high-paying jobs.
Now for the good news. The citizens of Pittsfield have the power to make a difference. These elected officials are your elected officials. The citizens of Pittsfield need to stand up and make themselves heard. With Linda Tyer resigning her seat on the City Council, the citizens of Pittsfield now have the opportunity to elect a city councilor who is not in the back pocket of the mayor.
Here are a few suggestions that citizens should ask of their elected officials. How is the GE economic development money disbursed? Request an audit be performed of the fund with a state level review of its bylaws and requirements. Why have certain deals been approved by the administration after the citizens have clearly disapproved? What are the mayor and City Council doing to protect citizens from violent crime which has increased substantially in the city?
The City Council should be asked to restructure the Community Development Office and replace the director with someone who has experience in the field. Most importantly, ask what the mayor and the City Council's plan is to address unemployment and how to retain viable companies.
In November, citizens of Pittsfield will have the opportunity to select a new mayor and a new City Council. Opt for change, as the city of Pittsfield needs change to survive. The current administration should be sent a message that the citizens of Pittsfield will not tolerate backroom deals and allow rumors and innuendoes from a few destructive people to sway decisions. Rumors and innuendoes don't really hurt the people that you are aiming at, but create collateral damage to innocent bystanders.
I hope people respond to this letter and make their views known — whether it is negative or positive you will be engaged in the process and that is what matters the most. Let's together bring this wonderful city back to its greatness it deserves.
PATRICK J. MURACA
The writer is president and CEO, Nuclea Biotechnologies.
"Bump looks to address job losses in Berkshires"
2/19/2007, By: Karen Honikel, Capital News 9, Albany, NY
Governor Deval Patrick's new Executive Director of Workforce Development isn't wasting any time getting down to business.
Former State Representative Suzanne Bump is working to introduce herself to the local business communities and let them know she will make sure the Berkshires are not forgotten on Beacon Hill. She says a major concern right now is addressing the loss of jobs in the Berkshires.
Currently the Berkshires have the highest rate of job loss in Massachusetts. Bump says this can be changed with the right policies in place. She says she will be meeting with the Governor once a week to work on bringing skilled workers and higher paying jobs into the area.
Bump says a key part to local job growth and development will be finding a way to keep the younger workers in the Berkshires.
Pittsfield's political inbred, dark prince: Andrea F. Nuciforo, Jr.!
Berkshire County Sheriff Carmen C Massimiano II (below).
The Billionaire Crane Family Golddigger: DENIS E GUYER! (below).
Re: Remember Clarence Fanto's propoganda?
Hi, Clarence Fanto:
Do you remember your propaganda piece right before the last Pittsfield municipal election? You wrote an opinion piece entitled: "Ruberto is Pittsfield's champion".
You praised Mayor Jimmy Ruberto for the following reasons:
1. You praised Ruberto for "North Street" ...
(www.jonathanmelleonpolitics.blogspot.com/2007/11/pittsfields-revitalization-via-perverse.html) ... or downtown economic development!
These are your words!
"...restaurant row with diverse choices, including Burger, the just-opened adjunct to Spice, two restored playhouses offering live entertainment for nearly all tastes, hip, funky stores, and tired old apartment buildings rejuvenated as market-value condos."
2. You myopically praised Ruberto for a cheesy endorsement by Yankee Magazine.
Once again, these are your words!
"Ruberto...also is well-connected with the business community, state government, U.S. Rep. John W. Olver, and other key figures and agencies in a position to help Pittsfield move toward the mayor's mantralike goal — "best small city in the Northeast."
Now that you have seen all of the poor and failed outcomes of "Pittsfield's champion", do you still stand by your propaganda supporting Ruberto?
In TRUTH (I know, it hurts)!
"Cushy jobs for favored WHEN"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters, Monday, January 05, 2009
I am writing in response and in approval of Donna Walto's letter of Dec. 24 on the appointment of Linda Tyer to the post of city clerk and the resultant cost to the people of Pittsfield in the form of at least one special election to fill her vacant City Council seat.
While I'm glad she's gone from the council, where she proved her ineptitude over and over again with irresponsible votes in favor of this mayor's wild and costly schemes, it is my feeling that the mayor is again thinking of who did him favors, not what is best for the people of Pittsfield. I think that the appointment of this person to this post is a slap in the face to the people who have worked in the office of the clerk, some for quite a long time, and are very capable of doing the job on an interim or even permanent basis and were passed over for the position in favor of Tyer, who has absolutely no experience at the job.
I guess if you are under the WHEN flag, you get advanced to a higher position in city or state government eventually. For example, Pam Malumphy from a council seat to a job in state government. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, to chairman of the School Building Needs Commission, which I'm sure will lead to a cushy job somewhere, and now Tyer to the job of city clerk. How is a person who is secretary to the principal of Lenox High qualified to be Pittsfield city clerk?
In my opinion WHEN should charge it's initials to WHER, Women Helping to Empower Ruberto, because that's about all they have done. I hope that in the November election of city officials one or more people run in opposition to Tyer so that the people can speak, and hopefully get a qualified person in the position of City Clerk.
"KB Toys gift card update"
01/08/2009, 12:39 PM, By: Ryan Burgess, Capital News 9
In Berkshire County, KB Toys has stopped accepting gift cards at most of its stores. But our Ryan Burgess explains where you can still redeem your cards.
As of Jan. 1, KB stopped accepting gift cards at most of its 461 stores, including in Pittsfield and the outlet store in Lee. You can still use your cards in New York, but you'll have to act fast.
KB filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December. But as we reported last month, New York Attorney General Andrew Cuomo secured a deal with the company that allows gift cards to be redeemed at the New York stores. So for now, you can still use a KB Toys gift card in New York, Connecticut and Vermont, according to the company's website.
But if you do have a gift card, you have to use it by Monday, Jan. 12, 2009.
"KB Toys gift card update"
In Berkshire County, KB Toys has stopped accepting gift cards at most of its stores. But our Ryan Burgess explains where you can still redeem your cards.
"Government must get U.S. working"
The Berkshire Eagle - Letters, Wednesday, January 14, 2009
Yesterday (Jan. 10) I joined the ranks of unemployed Americans. After 18 1/2 years of working at KB Toys, I no longer have a job. Like millions of other unemployed Americans, I face the arduous task of finding new employment in a job-starved market.
The current state of our economy is not truly reflected in the government's term recession. The current state of our economy is better represented by the term depression. Without sufficient job opportunities, millions of Americans will continue to lose their ability to support their growing families. Unemployment will run out and states like Massachusetts will be faced with huge deficits because they are paying unemployment benefits and losing the financial pool from which the benefits are drawn.
The voting public has sadly remained silent for too long. Elected officials haven't heard our outcry concerning the outsourcing of American jobs through written letters, e-mails or personal phone calls. The time for voicing our objection has come. Americans must take up their pens, draft some letters, e-mails and pick up their phones and tell their representatives that they demand they do more to persuade American-owned corporations to bring jobs back to America. Don't let corporate greed continue to cripple our American economy.
Ask our elected officials to come up with some incentives to make investment in American jobs more financially attractive. Bonds bearing attractive interest rates could be drafted for those investors who bring back American jobs. Work diligently with labor unions to work out fair wage packages that include health care benefits for employees. Reward companies who offer health care benefits by offering them tax breaks. I'm sure there are numerous other ways that financial experts can sweeten the offer without crippling our economy.
The beauty of living in a democracy is that we do have a voice in how government shapes its policies. Unfortunately, our voices have been silent for too long. Please join me and write to your elected officials today.
Don't put off writing those letters, sending those e-mails or making those phone calls. Your efforts and willingness to take positive action will make a huge difference. It may be easy for elected officials to ignore a single letter, e-mail or phone call but it's not so easy to ignore millions of them especially if they wish to maintain their elected seats. Remember, they rely upon our votes and contributions for the privilege of maintaining their seats.
BEVERLY J. TOBIN
Re: Open letter to Rinaldo...
What is going to happen to our native hometown now that "Sabic" laid off 40 employees last month and "KB Toys" is due to lay off all of its 225 full-time employees in May?
ANSWER: It will have a very deleterious effect on Pittsfield which is already in a very bad situation.
What do you think about the misdirection Pittsfield's political leaders have been in since you ran for local political office in 2003 and again 2005?
REPLY: Clearly focusing almost exclusively on North Street (downtown development) and tourism was a mistake. Streets were very empty on North Street for Christmas. Apart from the overall strategy being weak since Pittsfield is not likely to see large tourism dollars and the jobs pay little, these types of businesses are at the front line of discretionary spending and the first to be hacked in a recession.
Many of your ideas were ignored, while "The Berkshire Eagle" gave you bad press, and now many of your reality-based predictions about Pittsfield's tanked economy have come true!
Jon, my ideas for brining high tech, industry, or other high paying jobs are nothing new and nothing unusual. They have worked elsewhere in the country and could work here also.
Do you believe Mayor Jimmy Ruberto deserves another term this year? What about the City Council? PEDA? etc.?
Jonathan Levine has finally started writing about PEDA's failures. I have tried to avoid "throw the bums out" angles instead of rebuilding Pittsfield. Things now may have slided so much we are at point past redemption.
Please respond; thank you.
I read your response and I am impressed with your political knowledge and foresight for our native hometown: Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
You are right that Sabic and the bankrupting-KB collectively laying off hundreds of local workers is going to make a bad situation worse for the city and community.
Interestingly, I have not heard of even one solution by the Mayor, Jimmy Ruberto, the City Council, State Representatives & Senator, Congressman Olver, et al. Are there any proposed solutions to this economic tragedy?
You are exactly right that all of the "cultural" investments in North Street was a terrible decision with deleterious economic consequences. Job loss in Pittsfield has only increased since Mayor Jimmy Ruberto took office 5-years ago. Tourist $'s are seasonal and diminish in a depressed economy. The city (local taxpayers) wasted millions of public dollars with net job loss to boot!
Your past proposals for high tech, industry and other high paying jobs would have been a much better investment of the taxpayers' economic development funds than falsely making North Street a cultural entity that it is not and never will be. It is ashame no one (except a few people like me) listened to you when you ran for local political office in 2003 and again in 2005.
I am impressed with Jonathan Levine, Publisher of the Pittsfield Gazette, too, for his good work and thoughts on Pittsfield Politics. I am glad to read that he is finally beginning to write about PEDA. I remember when it was proposed as BEDA, but not one other Berkshire County municipality would sign onto Pittsfield's failed plan. "Luciforo" & Larkin passed PEDA into law anyway with doomed to failure outcomes. When BEDA became PEDA back in 1997, that was the first sign of the beginning of the end. PEDA became law so GE's Jack Welch could make his fraudulent Consent Decree legal. That was the real point of PEDA: To make GE/Jack Welch happy by avoiding a Superfund site.
Finally, I agree with you, Rinaldo, Pittsfield's tanked economy is past the point of redemption. If only people had listened to your past ideas! If only The Berkshire Eagle did not praised WHEN and scapegoated you. If only the local, state and Congressional Pols actually cared about the people, their constituents' health and economic well being, and the community they are supposed to be respresenting in City Hall, Beacon Hill's State House, and on Capitol Hill. Many people have failed Pittsfield, but you have not. Please keep up your good work in politics, Rinaldo!
"Sabic's parent hit hard"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Friday, January 23, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Sabic Basic Industries Corp., the parent company of Sabic Innovative Plastics, on Tuesday reported a 95 percent drop in net profits in the fourth quarter of 2008 compared to the same time period of 2007.
The Middle East's largest listed company reported a net profit of 311 million in Saudi Arabian Riyals, the country's currency, in the fourth quarter of 2008, as compared to 6.87 billion SAR in 2007's fourth quarter, according to information on Sabic's Web site.
Sabic's gross profit dropped 74 percent to 3.51 billion SAR in the fourth quarter of 2008 from 13.35 billion SAR in 2007. Operating profit fell from 11.11 billion in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 1.61 billion SAR last year, a drop of 86 percent.
The company's net profit for 2008, however, dropped by only 19 percent, from 27 billion SAR at the end of 2007 to 22 million SAR last year.
Sabic Innovative Plastics, formed in 2007 when the firm purchased GE Plastics for $11.6 billion, maintains its world headquarters in Pittsfield. On Thursday, Sabic Plastics spokeswoman Jodi Kennedy referred all comments to the firm's headquarters in Saudi Arabia. Othman Al-Humaidi, Sabic's General Manager for Corporate Communications, did not respond to an e-mail message seeking comment.
The company attributed the sharp drop in its 2008 fourth quarter results to the decline in demand for petrochemical products and metals due to the economic recession, and the credit crunch that has made it difficult for consumers to obtains financing from banks and other financial institutions.
"This led to an acceleration in the pace of declining petrochemical prices," said Sabic Chairman Prince Saud bin Abdullah bin Thunayan Al-Saud in a statement. "The decline in demand for petrochemical products, particularly specialty plastics, arising from the crisis afflicting the global automotive industry and building and construction sectors, has had a strong impact on the performance of Sabic affiliates outside Saudi Arabia.
"This same decline has been felt by similar companies operating in the same industry," he said. "These affiliates are restructuring their businesses to improve performance through a reduction in costs, but in such a manner that does not affect their major activities."
In October, Sabic announced that it would cut production up to 20 percent at all of its engineering plastics production sites worldwide.
Last month, Sabic's Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Mohammed al Mady, speaking at a petrochemicals conference in Dubai, said the company cut chemical production at plants in Europe by an unspecified amount, and had delayed construction of a fertilizer plant and steel factory.
Sabic Basic Industries is one of the world's leading manufacturers of chemicals, fertilizers, plastics and metals, which it supplies to other companies. The firm began to implement a new worldwide business plan last March, then began to layoff employees when the economic recession hit.
The layoffs resulted in 40 of Sabic Innovative Plastic's 300 Pittsfield employees losing their jobs. Staff reductions in Sabic's global operations saw 1,000 of the company's 10,500 worldwide employees lose their jobs through layoffs or attrition last year.
"Top KB execs stand to profit"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, January 24, 2009
PITTSFIELD — Laid-off employees at KB Toys have not received severance packages, but seven top executives stand to share up to $286,000 for successfully completing the firm's liquidation.
Federal Bankruptcy Court Judge Kevin J. Carey has approved a motion filed by KB's attorneys establishing a "key executive incentive plan."
The plan will allow the company's seven senior executives to receive "bonus payments" upon the completion of five separate tasks involved with liquidating the company's assets, according to court documents.
When the 86-year-old Pittsfield-based national toy retailer filed for bankruptcy on Dec. 11, it did so with the intention of liquidating the firm. KB has more than 25,000 creditors to whom it owes more than $190 million.
KB has begun laying of its 225 full-time employees at the firm's headquarters at 100 West St.; all will be gone by May. Slightly less than 100 remained on the job this week.
Former employees have said they received no severance packages when they were laid off, although it is possible they may receive some compensation as the Chapter 11 process continues.
According to KB's Senior Vice President for Human Resources Gerald P. Murray, since KB filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, items such as severance packages are determined through the court process, and are out of the company's control.
The seven executives eligible for the payments are President and CEO Andy Bailen; Senior Vice President for Information Technology/Supply Chain Frank Andryauskas; Vice President/Controller Raymond I. Borst IV; Vice President/General Counsel Scott Hochfelder; Treasurer Charles J. Stengl; Senior Vice President and General Manager/Creative Innovative and Sourcing Vincent Iannacito; and Murray, according to court documents.
The tasks include the recovery, disbursement and collection of KB's inventory and other assets by certain dates; the selling of inventory outside the firm's retail network by Jan. 31; and the closing of the firm's wholesale distribution centers by that same date. A sixth task does not include a bonus payment.
The bonus plan provides incentives for the senior executives to complete the company's obligations in full. Those include making sure debtors' operations are managed, expenses are minimized and revenues are maximized through its going-out-of-business and assets sales.
"The fundamental purpose of any Chapter 11 case is to maximize the value of a debtor's estate," the court motion states.
The amount of the incentive payment available to the senior executives depends on the specific task and whether the "target" for each task has been achieved.
If they complete 100 percent of the five tasks, the seven executives will receive shares from a $286,000 pool, according to court documents. If they complete 75 percent of the tasks, the executives will split $187,275. The maximum amount of incentive bonus money available to each of the executives ranges from $25,000 for Murray to $70,000 for Borst.
The attorneys who filed the motion, Joel A. Waite of Wilmington, Del., and Mitchell Applebaum of Boston, did not return telephone calls from The Eagle seeking comment.
Bailen declined comment on Friday when reached on his cell phone.
According to court documents, the establishment of an executive incentive plan is allowed under two sections of the federal bankruptcy code. But one former KB employee, who declined to be identified, said the formation of such a plan was upsetting because when the layoffs were first announced the company's executives stressed that everyone was in the same situation.
"It leaves a bad taste in your mouth when they say you're in the same boat as we are, and we all have to go out and get jobs," the former employee said. "It's kind of like when the automakers went for that money from the bailout and they flew on their private jets to do it."
"I think it's kind of disappointing," said Suzan O'Neil-Hogue of Pittsfield, who lost her job the day after KB filed for bankruptcy protection, "because we're all average Joes trying to compete for jobs and we're not getting incentives as well."
Attorney Jack E. Houghton Jr. of Pittsfield, the Chapter 7 trustee for Berkshire County in bankruptcy litigation, said it is not unusual for companies to provide employees with incentives to help them through the liquidation process.
"Maybe you have a key individual whose services are absolutely necessary to roll the company through Chapter 11," Houghton said. "You can't just advertise for somebody like that."
"They're in bankruptcy now," Houghton said. "This isn't business as usual."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com, or (413) 496-6224.
"Bonuses for burying KB", The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Yes, someone has to attend to the messy details of sending KB Toys off into oblivion, but should they receive bonus money for it? That the seven executives in question are not performing these duties as part of whatever compensation they were already receiving is yet another insult to the KB employees tossed into the street when the Pittsfield-based company filed for bankruptcy just before Christmas.
A federal bankruptcy judge has approved a motion filed by KB attorneys establishing a "key executive incentive plan" enabling President and CEO Andrew Bailen and six other executives to split up to $286,000 based on how successfully they perform what amounts to funeral duties in the weeks ahead. The tasks — among them collecting and disbursing KB's inventory and closing the firm's wholesale distribution network — are important, but these presumably well-paid executives who have presided over KB's demise should not receive extra compensation for carrying them out.
The bonuses will be paid even though none of the 225 full-time employees who will be laid off by May have received severance packages. They may or may not as the Chapter 11 process unfolds, but the executives will be taken care of first either way. Neither of the two attorneys who filed successfully on behalf of the executives nor Mr. Bailen have any comment on the matter, just as no one from the 86-year-old company has said anything officially about the bankruptcy filing and its ramifications or explained to the city what specific plans it has, if any, for its West Street building.
In microcosm, the KB fiasco speaks to why corporate America is held in such low regard today. It has earned it.
"Pay for KB execs is all too typical"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Wednesday, January 28, 2009
It is extremely unnerving to read that the top executives at KB Toys have requested incentive pay for completing their bankruptcy process while laid-off workers will receive little or no severance pay.
Merrill Lynch's top managers demonstrated a similar arrogance recently by issuing large bonuses to their executives while at the same time applying for a tax-payer funded bailout. The practice of excessive pay for executives in general but specifically "to complete the company's obligations in full" is a troubling and all too common one. It is an approach that demonstrates little allegiance to the workers and communities that have made these corporations profitable for years.
Barack Obama has come into office stressing that an economically sound business strategy must include an awareness of the needs of stakeholders and of the community at large. Hopefully, his new leadership, as well as the glaring fact of the current financial crisis, will spur corporate leaders to re-evaluate their responsibilities and to create more civil, human, and productive workplaces in the future.
West Stockbridge, Massachusetts
Re: KB Executives followed their political leaders!
Re: "Pay for KB execs is all too typical" (By Peter Lazes, The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Wednesday, January 28, 2009--below--): Last month, U.S. Congress received a substantial pay raise; and, this month Beacon Hill's State Legislature received a large pay raise, too. The letter writer myopically criticizes the corporate executives for receiving incentive or bonus pay, while he overlooks that they are only following in the footsteps of their political leaders both in Boston, Massachusetts, and Washington, D.C.! Moreover, President Barack Obama's first priority is to give the corporate and ruling elites our great-grandchildren's tax dollars! The bottom line is that the poor and middle class families are regulated by the state for the benefit of the corporate and ruling elites. Better said: The rich get richer, while the poor get poorer! That is America in the 21st Century: No more middle class families, jobs outsourced to China, record homelessness, record uninsured, and the list goes on. If George Washington, Ben Franklin, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, et al, were alive today, they would declare independence from the Corporate and Ruling Elites!
KB Toys once paid nearly $200,000 per year for municipal parking spaces; more recently the firm paid some $100,000
"KB liquidation creates ripple effect"
The Pittsfield Gazette, Jonathan Levine, Editor/Publisher
The ongoing liquidation of KB Toys — and elimination of an estimated 250 positions at the firm’s West Street headquarters — will have a dramatic domino effect throughout the community.
“It’s huge,” said at-large councilor Peter Marchetti, a banker. “These job losses mean mortgage issues, less people buying things and a trickle down effect on almost everything else.”
While the sudden elimination of the primarily white-collar jobs creates obvious personal crises, community observers say that the impact will hit other businesses, ranging from fewer cups of coffee sold by nearby eateries to the projected loss of another $100,000 of annual municipal parking revenue.
“It’s obviously going to have a ripple effect all around,” said John Farr, owner of Farr’s Deli West, the eatery nearest KB’s offices.
Like other restaurant owners, Farr saw a decline in KB business even before December’s bombshell announcement.
“I feel very badly for these people,” he said. “They’re good people and good patrons... hopefully, the building will not be vacant for long and they’ll find jobs.”
Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc., concurs that center-city eateries will particularly miss the strong KB presence.
“Regarding downtown, I don’t think the dust has settled yet,” she said. “We will not know the full impact until weeks or months after they’re gone. I don’t think it’s going to really impact retail but that is over 200 people who might go for coffee and a muffin and to lunch.”
Some KB employees — particularly those with specialized skills — may find good replacement jobs in the region, but the overall prognosis is bleak.
“It’s going to be challenging to find comparable employment opportunities,” said Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board.
The good news for job seekers is that “for the past year or year and a half, we’ve had higher-than-average job vacancy rates here in the Berkshires.”
The bad news is that “making the same rate of pay is going to be difficult.” Furthermore, concerns about the economy may limit other firms’ willingness to hire.
“It’s an opportunity for companies that have been looking for these professional and technical types of skills,” said Boulger.
The KB job layoffs — which will likely occur in waves, following December’s initial terminations — come at a time when more and more Berkshire workers are losing jobs.
“The economy has been very challenging in Berkshire County,” said Boulger. “In the past month several companies have laid off combined more than 600 employees... There have been a lot of companies laying off two here, five here, fifteen here, eighteen here. It’s been a lot to absorb.”
The real estate impact will largely depend upon whether families stay in the area, said Stan Wojtkowski of the Berkshire Agency.
“A lot of those folks have a spouse with another job and ties to the community and may want to stay,” he said.
Wojtkowski does not think “it will be a big major impact beyond what we face now,” specifically foreclosures and the general economy.
“If people have properties that are desirable and are in good condition and priced correctly, they shouldn’t have problems selling this spring,” he said. However for families that purchased homes at the peak a couple years ago, current prices may be disappointing.
The KB shutdown will also impact many businesses that supplied or served the headquarters.
“We get affected on a pretty large level,” said Scott Kirchner, co-owner of Mad Macs, a computer firm specializing in Apple products. “We’ve always done a lot of business with KB Toys.”
Kirchner termed KB one “one of our largest accounts,” with Mad Macs providing “a variety of services from maintenance to specialty projects in their design and graphics department.”
At one point KB was one of a handful of accounts that represented half of Mad Macs’ revenues. As the firm has grown, it has picked up a more diverse clientele, mitigating the loss of KB Toys. Still, there are not great prospects to replace such a large account.
“It doesn’t put us out of business, but definitely we’re going to feel the sting of it,” said Kirchner. “And it’s very sad for these people and for the community.”
Municipal government will also take a revenue hit from the KB closure.
Based on past experience, tax collector Marilyn Sheehan expects that the city will ultimately receive all property taxes, but she says that as the bankruptcy process advances, the city will likely receive late payments.
The assessors office values KB’s West Street land and building as worth $5.4 million. The annual tax bill for the site is approximately $156,000.
The city will be researching the legal status of the building’s ownership — more than two dozen KB affiliates are part of the bankruptcy filing, but it’s not clear if the entity that owns the site is included — and Sheehan said legal counsel will be involved.
A more immediate fiscal hit is occurring in the public works department, which rents spaces in the McKay parking garage to KB.
“It’s progressively gone down,” said commissioner Bruce Collingwood.
Four years ago, KB rented 357 McKay spaces at a cost of $38 per month. the firm’s current pact covers 203 garage spaces as well as seven cheaper rooftop spaces. KB informed city officials that another 59 spaces would not be needed after December.
The monthly bill to KB for parking spaces currently is just shy of $8,000 — about half of its peak — and is expected to dwindle as the firm continues toward elimination.
“It’s definitely a revenue hit,” said Collingwood.
While certain cheaper surface lots have waiting lists, interest in pricier garage spaces is stagnant and the commissioner does not expect to fill most of the KB spaces unless another firm moves into the West Street building.
The financial hit will also extend to non-profit organizations that traditionally receive KB support.
At Downtown, Inc., KB Toys has been “one of our 12 major donors,” said Pearson.
The impact will go beyond the budget. Pearson said that KB has provided untold in-kind services over the years, from toys for the organization’s kids’ party to printing of materials.
“They’ve created banners; they’ve helped with printing; they’ve done whatever we needed,” she said.
KB has also provided volunteers. The organization’s current president is a KB employee.
Pearson notes that KB has also helped many civic organizations, financially and through other programs.
“It’s going to have impact on a lot of the community,” she said.
"No corporate greed at KB Toys"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, January 31, 2009
I would like to disabuse Berkshire Eagle readers of any misconceptions they may have derived from the paper's recent articles about KB Toys and its executives. It is misleading to characterize the KB tragedy as one of corporate greed. Sadly, there is more than enough hardship and heartache in the KB story to go around. KB executives are not exempt.
The seven individuals identified in Saturday's Eagle article collectively share just shy of 100 years of experience at KB. They include people who began their career as company stock boys and those whose homes, property taxes and children's education were financed by their jobs at KB. They are dedicated employees who, in addition to their ordinary responsibilities, worked in the stores during the holiday season, unloaded inventory from trucks, and fought round the clock to try to save the company that has meant so much for so long in Berkshire County. And, like all of the hard-working KB employees, these executives will lose their jobs and health insurance and will not receive severance packages.
The bankruptcy court previously approved two other plans that provided bonuses and retention pay to hundreds of non-executive employees at KB. These other plans provide for payments to employees in the home office, KB stores and KB distribution centers. Conversely, the executive plan referenced in the Eagle's articles, is not a bonus or retention plan. Rather, the plan is strictly performance-based-participants receive compensation if, and only if, they successfully achieve certain measurable targets directly tied to maximizing the value of the debtor's estate and minimizing the company's wind-down expenditures. To qualify for this payment, each individual was required to waive any severance claims. This plan was approved by the Creditors' Committee and the Court as necessary to maximize value for KB's creditors.
In these economic times, people are, understandably, angry and it is human nature to look for someone to blame. In this situation, however, it is unfair for that anger to be laid at the feet of KB Toys or its executives. KB Toys' employees throughout the United States are victims of the larger, global economic recession. In the end, the collapse of a local, 86-year old, company is a story of tragedy, not greed. Nobody won at KB Toys.
"City fails residents this winter"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Friday, February 06, 2009
I think it's quite interesting that the city now wants to impose a fine for any snow not removed from the sidewalk. All winter long I have seen many people, throughout the city walking in the street because the city-owned sidewalks have not been cleared by the city. This has posed hazards not only to drivers, but to the many senior citizens that are forced to walk in the street, or take the chance of falling on the built-up snow and ice. Now the city wants to start handing out fines to residents for the same thing the city has been guilty of all winter long. It's kind of funny that when it was announced that this was becoming an issue then all of a sudden you could see the city clearing the sidewalks.
Same thing with plowing. I am surprised that the city does not take very good care of the streets, yet it states that it is more than halfway through the allotted budget for winter maintenance. This subject was brought to my attention about six weeks ago when I attempted to gain access to my father's house, which is apparently on an "unaccepted street." My father is in his 70s and has health issues. I am concerned that if an ambulance ever has to get to his house, it will not be able to due to the very poor conditions.
When I spoke with someone at City Hall the only answer I received was that my father, who like many senior citizens is on a fixed income, would have to pay for a private plow to clear his street. I asked the woman why he should have to pay taxes and money for the clearing of his street and she said, well that's how it goes. I also left a message at the highway dept. (No return call).
All of the citizens know that the city of Pittsfield is only interested in the tourists that come here for a few months out of the year. This is backwards and someone has to fix it. You cannot ignore the year-round residents just to be able to take care of the tourists. The city really needs to get its act together and start taking care of its own.
David and Linda Gilardi of 18 Sixth St. are preparing to sue the city, saying it is responsible for damage done to their stone wall following a late January snowstorm.
"Couple preparing to sue Pittsfield"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, 6/22/2009
PITTSFIELD -- A Pittsfield couple is preparing to sue the city this week, claiming it is responsible for the damage done by a snowplow to their stone wall following a late January snowstorm.
David and Linda Gilardi of 18 Sixth St. say the legal action is a last resort after spending the past five months trying to convince city officials to approve spending more than $2,400 to fix the wall to the left of their driveway.
"At this point, I don't have any choice but to do a lawsuit," said Linda Gilardi in a telephone interview from her home near Burbank Park.
Gilardi described how a neighbor across the street witnessed a driver from CS Trucking -- a subcontractor hired by Pittsfield -- plow snow into the stone wall between 9:30 and 10 a.m. on Jan. 29. The couple learned of the incident later in the day and immediately filed a claim with the city that was forwarded to the MIIA, the insurance arm of the Massachusetts Municipal Association, which represents cities and towns in the Bay State.
The MIIA rejected the claim on Feb. 9, according to a letter provided to The Eagle, telling the Gilardis the city's Department of Public Works & Utilities determined a different snowplow driver clearing a neighbors driveway caused the damage.
Two months later, Linda Gilardi said she finally got city officials to admit the subcontractor was at fault, but the MIIA still denied her claim. In an e-mail to Gilardi, Public Works Commissioner Bruce I. Collingwood suggested she file a claim against CS Trucking and the city "will support your effort with this claim against the contractor."
Yet Gilardi said the state Division of Insurance told her that course of action is not allowed and must seek payment from Pittsfield.
Gilardi agreed, saying, "My relationship is with the city, not the subcontractor," and city officials should instruct the MIIA to approve her initial claim.
"We have no control," countered the city's attorney, Richard M. Dohoney. "It's their decision."
Dohoney noted the "vast majority" of property damage claims against Pittsfield are denied because "they usually are not the city's fault."
Gilardi said Ward 6 Councilor Daniel L. Bianchi has tried to intervene on her behalf, but to no avail. Although Gilardi praises Bianchi for his efforts, she's frustrated with what she calls "the typical attitude of government and insurance companies."
To reach Dick Lindsay: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6233.
Jeffrey Besse, co-owner of LTI Smart Glass Inc., a Lenox Dale-based firm that produces glass and polycarbonate laminates, holds a panel of smart glass, one of the company’s products. (Ben Garver / Berkshire Eagle Staff)
"Diverse economy: Business community sets sights on a revitalized Pittsfield"
By Trevor Jones, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, July 6, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Kelly Wright remembers the city's downtown when she was younger, picking out clothes at England Brothers, or spending Thursday nights driving up and down North Street to check out the crowds of people outside.
"I grew up in Pittsfield. I remember a thriving downtown," said Wright, 38.
But she also remembers when those businesses left, and when the people left with them. So when Wright got laid off from her Borders Bookstore manager's job last year and began looking for locations to open her own business, one place seemed like the ideal spot -- North Street.
Wright is celebrating her one-year anniversary this month as co-owner of Chapters Bookstore, and hopes to be part of a revitalized downtown that could bring those crowds back.
"I think of Northampton, I think of people who park and walk around all the streets, see the shops," Wright said. "Pittsfield could be like that, and I think it's on its way to being that."
Wright isn't alone in her thinking. She is one of several entrepreneurs, business leaders and city officials banking on a revitalized Pittsfield -- a cultural and urban center that grows hand-in-hand with creative and information-based smaller businesses.
"Our future depends on a diverse economy that draws upon our presence in the heart of the Berkshires," said Deanna L. Ruffer, director of the city's department of community development.
Ruffer said the city needs to attract businesses, or support the growth of local businesses, that will function in a variety of fields while attracting people who like the area's natural and cultural resources but want to live in an urban setting.
Some of those potential businesses could come from a growing shift toward intellectual property as a selling point, instead of products on a shelf.
"I think the shift is toward the creation of value based on creative capital," said Keith E. Girouard, senior business adviser for the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network's Berkshire Regional Office.
Girouard said these businesses will become a growing part of the small-business landscape, relying on technology and information to be flexible, creative and agile.
Ruffer points to LTI Smart Glass Inc., a Lenox Dale-based producer of glass and polycarbonate laminates, as one of the companies the city has sought to attract. LTI will expand into a 90,000-square-foot facility on Federico Drive and could receive as much as $350,000 in aid through the GE Economic Development Fund.
"The Berkshires are a great place to live and to work," said LTI co-owner Jeff Besse. "And Pittsfield is the center of the county with a lot of resources available within a short distance."
Being able to adapt to changing customer needs is paramount to LTI's success, Besse said.
"You have to be quick and nimble. You have to react extremely quickly to changing markets," he said.
Besse said the city's highway access, people resources and Internet infrastructure, along with efforts by city officials to attract their business, solidified their desire to expand to Pittsfield.
"When we looked at other states, there was significant funding available to go to South Carolina or wherever," Besse said. "However, we wanted to be here, so it was nice that [the city] could level the field for us a little bit."
A new approach
City officials' new approach, formally articulated with the March release of the city's first master plan since 1993, doesn't rely on a single major company to bring jobs back, but instead relies on a revitalized city to attract people to live and start businesses here.
That is a sharp contrast for a city that once had a single company, General Electric, employing nearly half the city's working-aged population, and a city that remains a home to large companies such as General Dynamics and Sabic Innovative Plastics.
"The more reliant the community is on one large employer, the more likely there will be challenges down the road if that company decides to leave," said David M. Rooney, president of the Berkshire Economic Development Corp.
And while the city remains open to larger companies returning, there isn't the same urgency that there was in the 1980s and ‘90s, when numerous city, state and federal leaders sought to find another manufacturer to take over the vacant GE factories.
"People have a new vision and a new identity for the town," Ruffer said. "Forget about what kind of company we want. Do we have the kind of land and the kind of buildings [companies] want?"
Pittsfield Mayor James M. Ruberto agrees the city needs to pursue more entrepreneurial and small businesses, from technological or specialized industries to service and support industries.
"I think all of that reflects the true reality of the day," Ruberto said. "It certainly is the launch point for Pittsfield's future and truly represents a departure from the last master plan 16 years ago that spoke to, ‘Let's find another large manufacturing company,' which is no longer a viable alternative."
That means looking at ways to change zoning or install infrastructure that can be flexible for a variety of industries, Ruffer said.
The city began pushing for more small businesses in 1989 with the introduction of Berkshire Enterprises, an agency that helps displaced workers create their own businesses, many of which exist today.
"It would be the largest new employer in the county if you combined all those businesses [started through Berkshire Enterprises]," Steve Fogel, program director of Berkshire Enterprises, said of the group's impact.
But things have changed in the ways that people start new businesses. Fogel remembers when most potential entrepreneurs had to be trained in basic computer skills, but now those skills are an integral part of how businesses get started and get their messages out.
Girouard agrees, saying new technologies can make a huge difference for small businesses.
"Technology is one of the things that small businesses can adopt and utilize," he said. "It's a lever that can be used toward bigger and better things."
And with growing specialized and niche markets, those companies can reach out to potential customers anywhere through various communication platforms and social networking sites.
"Everybody wants something specific to them," Fogel said. "If you can identify your customer and target [your product] to them, you can make money."
Looking to the west
Another major opportunity for small businesses lies on the other side of the New York border, where the Albany Capital District is home to a burgeoning semiconductor and nanotechnology market. And that market will continue to grow as GlobalFoundries Inc., a subsidiary of Advanced Micro Devices, or AMD, prepares to build a $4.2 billion microchip processing plant at the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta, N.Y.
Much like the dozens of plastic companies that sprang up from GE's presence, many see this as a chance for ancillary start-up companies to find a home in Berkshire County again.
"With a program of that scale and size and sophistication, what that represents is innovation," Girouard said, adding that still is too early to know which business opportunities could arise from AMD's presence.
And while Albany's Capital District and the Berkshires haven't always been overtly connected, it's a market that many think should be tapped into.
"People look at state lines and they stop, and it doesn't make any sense," Fogel said. "There's going to be creative opportunities -- I just don't know what they're going to be."
With the advent of modern communication technology, those companies could host global operations from Pittsfield.
That may not be the case for a service-based or housing-based industry, Besse said, but for an industrial company such as LTI, the Internet has given them that freedom.
"We really have no reason to be in Berkshire County from a customer standpoint; our customers are around North America and around the globe," Besse said. "We communicate with them via the Internet or teleconferencing. Where we are doesn't really matter in our business."
But if businesses can be run from anywhere, how do you ensure this is where they want to be?
Part of that process is under way, city officials say, with the addition of cultural attractions such as the renovated Colonial Theatre and the Barrington Stage Company. Some see the new six-theater Beacon Cinema as the next step in making the downtown a place where people want to spend the day.
Nine years in development, the cinema project is part of a $22.4 million renovation of the 91-year-old Kinnell-Kresge building on North Street. The theaters, with stadium seating, are scheduled to open Dec. 14, and the building will feature office and retail space as well.
‘Leverage your strengths'
"Nothing is a silver bullet," said Yvonne Pearson, executive director of Downtown Inc. "It has to be a combination of things, but we really believe [the cinema] is going to be a catalyst to bring in the niche businesses."
Pearson envisions more restaurants and unique shops opening as people have more reasons to visit the downtown area, which in turns creates greater foot traffic and the extended business hours that are synonymous with vibrant urban settings.
"When you look at a county like Berkshire County, which is so rich in arts, culture and creative talent, you want to leverage your strengths," said Rooney, who believes the cultural attributes and being the only true urban setting in the area can be a boon to the city's redevelopment.
A revitalized downtown is a key aspect to attracting or keeping businesses on the city's wish list, Ruberto said.
"The investments in the venues is an important quality-of-life ingredient that is absolutely demanded by a young, educated workforce, and that's what we intend to see for the future of Pittsfield," he said.
And while most people wouldn't think a recession was the best time to be optimistic about new businesses, recessions historically are a time when greater numbers of entrepreneurs set out on their own.
The two biggest reasons, Girouard said, are because they either have been displaced from their job or they feel uneasy about the future of their current employers.
"People might be asking, ‘Do I want to be part of somebody else's enterprise or do I want to consider striking out on my own?' " he said.
For Kelly Wright, the co-owner of Chapters, it was all about starting a business despite its uncertain future.
"I think the best time to do it is when you're scared," she said.
Wright decided to open her store after the closing of the Borders outlet that she managed in Lee. After years of wanting her own business, the short time without a job gave her the impetus to make it happen.
And while she acknowledges that it hasn't been easy to open a store amid a recession, she hopes she and others can serve as an example.
"As scary as it was, it was worth it," Wright said. "You have to look out for your community, because if nobody does, it just gets worse and worse."
To reach Trevor Jones: email@example.com, (413) 528-3660
The Pittsfield Gazette, Editorial, PUBLISHER'S NOTEBOOK by Jonathan Levine, 30.APRIL.2009
Ample spin and sparse soul-searching accompanied the city council’s discussion Tuesday about WorkshopLive’s failure.
The firm — touted by Mayor James Ruberto as likely to create a couple hundred jobs in the city — currently reports seven employees (though it’s still listed on the city’s official web page as one of Pittsfield’s 14 “major employers”).
In late 2004, Ruberto and his jobs czar, Bill Hines Sr., pushed city grants for the start-up internet firm.
The city council approved an allocation of taxpayer dollars from the General Electric economic development fund. The firm could receive up to $750,000 based upon hitting benchmarks.
The first $50,000 was released after one WorkshopLive executive established a residence in the Berkshires. The firm received two additional $50,000 taxpayer payments for hitting initial employment thresholds.
On Tuesday, the council formally voted to terminate additional incentives for WorkshopLive, a largely meaningless move since no more funds could be released unless the company added dozens of employees — having needed to hit 60 full-time employees last year.
However Tuesday’s reconsideration provided an opportunity to review the debacle and the philosophical questions never answered about the city’s dubious foray into a role as a venture capital entity.
The initial WorkshopLive allocations followed a typical model for the current administration, marked by flag-waving, inadequate public information and scant business sense.
In October 24, 2004, when Dan Bianchi chafed at the several-sentence document councilors were initially asked to approve releasing funds, an extremely angry Ruberto yelped, “I can’t imagine offering more information.”
He eventually did provide more information, including a benchmark system that wowed councilors (imagine not giving away the public money in one lump sum!). The business plan still seemed iffy and the vaunted benchmarks failed to justify any public money.
This correspondent in November 2004 wrote: “The real philosophical conundrum is the overriding logic behind this type of allocation. Should the city in effect be acting as venture capitalist for a private business? What payback does the city get for its risk? If the firm is successful, why do other investors get repaid but not taxpayers? What makes this particular investment more worthy than any other?”
And two weeks later: “Even if the company flourishes, city government’s financial overtures to the firm will remain provocative. Mayor James Ruberto and the city council staked out (and never really justified) new philosophical ground.”
This week, community development director Deanna Ruffer lauded WorkshopLive for hitting early goals. But the core questions remain unanswered.
Even now, WorkshopLive retains assets that could grow in value, but taxpayers will never reap any benefit.
Other than officials trying to look like they were doing something, why did Pittsfield give this company any precious taxpayer money? What made WorkshopLive more valuable to Pittsfield than all the small businesses that during the same period have faced record-setting tax increases?
• On Tuesday, councilor Matt Kerwood cited the termination of the WorkshopLive incentives as an example of the city’s careful monitoring of taxpayer giveaways and the “trust” that the citizens can have in Pittsfield’s economic development initiatives.
Since WorkshopLive has already pocketed $150,000 of city money (as well as other governmental largesse) but boasts a whopping seven jobs, that’s absurd. It’s even more ridiculous since the firm couldn’t possibly claim any more of the money regardless of the council’s symbolic action.
By contrast, Ruberto and the entire council have remained deafeningly silent about the no-tax status the owners of the Spice building continue to enjoy. They laid off or fired the entire staffs of their eateries this past year but continue to enjoy among the most generous tax breaks in city history.
The annual report on tax breaks through the fiscal year that ended June 30 has never been made public — and no city councilor has publicly requested it. The vaunted annual reporting has been conveniently put off for 11 months without a whimper.
The city entered into an irresponsible contract with the Spice owners, giving them unprecedented perks, but made no effort to enforce that jobs-based pact upon dismissal of all the employees. Kerwood’s suggestion that city officials deserve any “trust” based on this record is mystifying.
"[Berkshire] Region jobless rate on the rise: The local unemployment rate sees its biggest hike since last December, when KBToys filed for bankruptcy protection."
By Angel Roy, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, Wednesday, July 22, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- The Berkshire County unemployment rate experienced its biggest increase since December last month when it jumped half a percentage point to 8.1 percent.
It was the first jump in county unemployment since February, when the rate increased from 8.3 to 8.6 percent. The unemployment rate remained at 8.6 percent in March, then declined significantly in April and slightly in May.
In December, layoffs precipitated by KB Toys decision to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just before Christmas caused the local unemployment rate to jump from 5.5 to 6.6 percent.
While the area's unemployment rate has gone up, it is still lower than the state (8.6 percent) and national (9.5 percent) rates, both of which rose slightly in June.
The number of unemployed in Berkshire County increased in June from 5,484 to 5,992, according to the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. The figures are not seasonally adjusted.
The increase occurred because a number of area companies, including Berkshire Health Systems, initiated layoffs last month, said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. Berkshire Health Systems cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions in June.
"Those numbers are reflected in this data," Boulger said.
"Although the rate is up for the month of June, there are actually more people working and more jobs in June than in May so that is good, positive news," Boulger said.
Boulger said that she had been surprised that the rate in the county did not rise during April and May.
"I am hearing from a lot of companies that there is not a lot of confidence in the economy right now," Boulger said, adding that the lack of confidence has resulted in open positions going unfilled.
The BerkshireWorks Career Center on North Street has seen a 20 percent increase in job seekers from May to June due to the rise in the local unemployment rate.
"I am not going to say that people are not finding jobs because they are," said Michael Herrick, the career center's director. "There are just not many jobs available because more people are looking."
Since May, the number of those employed in Berkshire County has grown from 66,378 workers to 68,167. The Berkshire County labor force has also increased from 71,862 workers to 74,159.
Employment in education and health care was the only one of seven employment sectors in Berkshire County that decreased in June. Employment in that job sector dropped by 1/10th of a percentage point, which Boulger said may have been a result of last month's layoffs.
With the summer season now in full swing, Boulger said she hopes people will come to the Berkshires because the economy led them to take vacations closer to home. An increase in summer visitors will help keep local venues thriving she said.
"In Berkshire County the summer is when a lot of companies have jobs available to employ a greater number of people in leisure, hospitality and recreation," Boulger said. "Those types of industries do well in the Berkshires during the summer."
She's not sure if Berkshire County's unemployment rate could reach double digits
"I do not have a crystal ball," Boulger said. "We are trying to do anything possible to make sure that employers have the workers they need and that jobseekers have the skills they need to enter employment.
"I hope by using that combination we will not see double digit unemployment rates," she said.
Herrick doesn't expect to see a decrease at the BerkshireWorks Career Center soon.
"There are still more and more people being laid off," Herrick said. "More people than are being re-employed."
Unemployment in the Pittsfield metropolitan statistical area increased from 7.8 percent to 8.3 percent in June, and jumped from 8.8 to 9.5 percent in North Adams. The Great Barrington labor market area experienced a slight increase from 6.0 to 6.3 percent.
July 25, 2009
Re: Ruberto's realities!
Pittsfield is worse off than ever before. Its local economy is in the tank! Thousands have, are and will die of cancer as a result of the toxic waste PCBs polluting the land & water around the city. Teen pregnancies double the statewide average. Job loss and welfare caseloads are both skyrocketing ever higher. KB Toys liquidated into bankruptcy, GE Plastics sold its business unit to Sabic, which recently laid off 40 employees. Berkshire Health Systems - home of Berkshire Medical Center - laid off 65 employees. North Street businesses like "Spice" failed and there are many vacant storefronts. The Pittsfield Public Schools are ranked in the bottom 10% in the comonwealth for low performance standards on test scores, large numbers of high school drop-outs and high truancy rates. Pittsfield is ran by insider, Good Old Boy Pols like Mayor Jimmy Ruberto, Registrar of Deeds & possibly future would be US Congressman Andrea F Nuciforo II (aka Luciforo), Peter J "Lobbyist" Larkin's hand picked successor State Representative Chris Speranzo, Berkshire Sheriff Carmen Massimiano II, and others in a close knit group that only represent their own self-interests instead of the greater needs of the community. What I mean is Pittsfield's ruling elite's focus is: "You are either in our you are out!" If you don't fall in line with our political agenda, you don't have a voice in city and state government. That leaves a great majority of residents without a voice in their community that poisons their bodies with toxic waste, gives them poorly performing substandard public schools, and business and residents leaving town in huge numbers! All the praise for Mayor Jimmy Ruberto is pure propaganda by the insiders who are benefiting from his tenure in political office. The rest of us are silenced and relegated to Blog postings.
Native of Pittsfield, Massachusetts
"KB Toys logo may live on"
By Scott Stafford, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Saturday, August 8, 2009
KB Toys may have a future as a brand name for a new toy company.
The KB Toys name, logo and Web addresses were sold at a bankruptcy auction for $2.1 million Thursday to a retail operation that now has several options in possibly relaunching the brand name.
Pittsfield-based KB Toys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in December, and laid off its 225 full-time employees in the following weeks. All 561 KB retail outlets across the country were closed by the end of February, and a liquidation sale was held at company headquarters in March.
The KB Toys name, however, could be seen again as a toy retail chain, a toy section in grocery stores or department stores, an Internet commerce site, or a combination of these, according to John Morris, a bidder at the auction, held in New York City.
Morris, president of Morris Management, said Friday that a retail company named CE Stores was the winning bidder for KB's intellectual property. There were 10 registered bidders, eight of whom participated.
The money raised in the bankruptcy-court-supervised auction will go toward paying off some of the $190 million owed to more than 25,000 of KB's creditors.
Morris noted that a company would buy an already established brand to save time and money in creating a new brand.
KB Toys is second only to Toys R Us in consumer recognition among toy stores, and building an equivalent brand relationship with potential customers under a new brand could take years and millions of dollars.
"They paid a good price for it, and there are all kinds of things they can do with the KB brand because it is so well known," Morris said.
Former KB Toys president Andrew Bailen declined to comment Friday on the sale or any possible future for the brand.
Meanwhile, KB Toys' former headquarters, at 100 West St. in Pittsfield, remains vacant and dark, with no known plans for its immediate future.
The former KB store in Prime Outlets in Lee now houses an Under Armour store. The former KB Toys at the Allendale plaza in Pittsfield remains vacant. The old KB space at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough housed a Steve & Barry's clothing store for a short time, and now is a Fun Works children's activity center.
"65 jobs to be slashed at Berkshire Health Systems: The layoffs at BHS mark the second time in three months that it will cut its workforce, which affects union and non-union workers."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Tuesday, September 1, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, will cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions next month as it continues to contend with the economy and deepening, significant cuts in federal and state health care reimbursements.
Monday's announcement was the second time in three months that Berkshire Health Systems, one of the county's largest employers, said it would cut its workforce: It also shed the equivalent of 65 full-time positions in June. That cut, which took effect July 3, included 46 employees at Berkshire Medical Center and 19 management positions.
The latest workforce reduction will include union and non-union positions within Berkshire Health Systems and Berkshire Medical Center, but a more thorough breakdown of the affected employees was not given in the company's statement released Monday afternoon. The nonprofit company declined to comment beyond what was included in its statement, said spokesman Michael Leary.
The unionized employees will be officially notified under the terms of their collective bargaining agreements. All of the affected employees will receive notifications this month, and the reductions will take place in early October.
After that, Berkshire Health Systems will have the equivalent of more than 2,600 full-time equivalent workers. Combined, the two rounds of staff cuts represent less than 5 percent of the company's workforce.
The affected employees will receive severance pay, benefit continuation, career counseling, resume preparation, interviewing skills and job networking.
The latest cuts "will in no way" affect BMC's commitment or ability to deliver the highest quality of care and patient safety, according to the statement. Citing a comprehensive range of services and dedicated providers, BMC "remains well-positioned to weather the deteriorating economic climate of health care," the statement said.
At the time of the employee reduction earlier this summer, Berkshire Health Systems had hoped that financial challenges facing all hospitals across the country would begin to stabilize.
"That stabilization has not materialized," according to the statement.
Despite numerous successful programs that have helped BHS and BMC reduce costs in many areas, the hospital is experiencing a continuing decline in revenue and, as is the case with most hospitals, severe financial uncertainty in the future, according to the statement.
Medicare and Medicaid account for more than 70 percent of the patient volume for BMC and BHS, and those reimbursement ratios do not cover the cost of care, according to BHS. Dramatic shortfalls in state revenue in 2008-2009 required Gov. Deval L. Patrick to make emergency cuts in state payments for health care services, including the elimination of $3 million in payments to BMC. In 2010, the reduction in federal and state reimbursements to BMC and BHS physician practices could exceed $15 million, according to BHS.
Besides the significant government shortfalls, BHS said many patients that face challenging economic circumstances have postponed or decided against elective non-emergency care, which has lowered the patient volume at BMC.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com - (413) 496-6224
"Where are jobs that pay well?"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, 9/5/2009 -/- Sunday, September 6, 2009
While reading the article on the front section of today's Berkshire Eagle, "Mayoral election heats up," I couldn't help but wonder what Mayor Ruberto meant by "more jobs have come to the city"? With all due respect, Mr. Mayor, on behalf of all my friends and their colleagues laid off from KB, Berkshire Health Systems, Canyon Ranch etc. where are all these jobs? I'm not talking about the $10 an hour jobs that can't even support a single person, never mind a family. I'm talking about jobs that are equivalent or close to the jobs they have lost.
Please don't insult all these people who are desperately trying to find decent employment to support themselves and their families.
DONNA M. VIDOLI
"City failed to follow law at ballpark"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, Thursday, September 10, 2009
In response to the Sept. 7 editorial, "Waterlogged Park," The Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT) asked that the work at Wahconah Park follow the law in process and on the ground. The city of Pittsfield applied to the Pittsfield Conservation Commission to amend the wetlands permit that Jim Bouton and Chip Elitzer received in 2004.
The Pittsfield Conservation Commission approved the amendment. An amendment, per the Massachusetts Wetlands Protection Act, is for small changes, and BEAT did not believe the city's amendment was a small change. Nor did we believe that the amendment adequately protected the wetlands and the Housatonic River. We appealed to the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The city withdrew its amendment.
Then, rather than putting part of the original 2004 Bouton/ Elitzer approved plan out to bid, the city paid for a new plan and put that out to bid.
The plans that the city put out to bid for the work at Wahconah Park, in our opinion, differed significantly from the plans approved by the Pittsfield Conservation Commission. When this was brought to the Conservation Commission's attention, the commission refused to look at the two sets of plans, even though I had copies of both at the hearing.
The Pittsfield conservation agent said the differences were not significant. The conservation agent is a paid city employee as well as a voting member of the commission, although he now recuses himself from voting on Pittsfield projects. The commission declined to look for itself until the project was done.
All we ask is that the city follow the law -- in process and on the ground. We do not believe that the city did that.
To reduce the flooding at Wahconah Park, BEAT has suggested to the city, the DEP, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, that some of the contaminated material at the "King Street landfill" be removed, rather than capped in place. (The King Street landfill is a filled-in wetland across the river from the ball park.) We have asked for two years now, that the city and the DEP hold public meetings about the King Street landfill. Although the DEP has agreed verbally, no meetings have been held.
I guess we are asking not only that the city follow the law, but that there is an open public process as well. Perhaps that would prevent "misunderstanding by the public."
The writer is executive director, Berkshire Environmental Action Team (BEAT).
"Mayor failed city workers, retirees"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, September 19, 2009
It is inconceivable to me that any city employee or retiree would vote for Jim Ruberto for mayor. Especially since we have experienced the true efforts of our "money-saving" new health insurance which the mayor and his lackeys have so touted.
I am sure no one is happy with the $10 monthly increase in our portion of the premiums, and also the co-pays for doctors and prescriptions that have greatly increased. For example, one of my prescriptions that used to require a $20 co-pay now requires $50. Mayor Barrett in North Adams did not go along with GIC. Maybe he knows something that we don't.
We were also promised that retirees would be grandfathered and only pay 10 percent of the premium, instead of 15 percent, which includes 5 percent since July 1. This was to be accomplished by a bill in the state Legislature. So far, the bill has not passed. It will probably go the way of the bill which has been in introduced annually since 1997 and never approved making government employees equal to all other employees by giving them the same Social Security benefits whether it's retirement benefits or widow's benefits. Widows who worked for the government and whose spouses collected Social Security now receive no benefits. We are one of only nine states with this unjust law.
This decision to change insurance may have saved some money on the tax rate, but it seems like dirty pool to improve the life of one class of people by making a lower income class miserable. Many city retirees cannot afford a home when they retire. I cannot get too excited about former out-of-towners who live Pittsfield because of expensive restaurants and the Colonial Theatre. These expensive venues only produce low-paying service jobs.
I am convinced that Pittsfield's best choice for mayor is Dan Bianchi. He is an honest, well-informed, experienced, hard-working, beautiful person.
"Pittsfield needs a responsive mayor"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, Saturday, September 19, 2009
I received a piece of mail today that made me chuckle. A large postcard from Mayor James Ruberto asking for my vote inspired that reaction. The card was full of accolades about how much has been done for the city of Pittsfield during his tenure. We know all about the Colonial Theatre, the movie theater that will be opening soon, and other positive things that have happened. Those are the things we can see. What we can't see is the crumbling infrastructure, something that created a very stinky situation at my residence. I don't think there's any need to go into detail.
The experts who worked in the street over the two coldest days of the 2007 winter said that they believed the city should be at least partially responsible for the expense of the damage as the water main was crumbling. After going through the dog and pony show at City Hall, I learned the hard way that this city isn't about to admit to any failure or live up to its responsibilities to its residents.
So I decided to take the matter to the mayor. He is the person in charge after all, and you'd think he would want to know of situations such as this. I called his office several times, but the calls were not returned. I wrote a letter detailing the situation, and that letter was not even acknowledged. A show of common courtesy would have been acceptable.
I've lived in Pittsfield all my life, own a home and pay my taxes. I voted for James Ruberto twice, but he won't be getting my vote again. The candidate who shows that he or she cares about the residents of this city will get my vote. Oh, and that postcard? It will be in the recycling bin with the rest of the junk mail.
HELEN L. AUSTIN
"Berkshire County jobless rate rises"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Following two months of small declines over the summer, Berkshire County's unemployment rate rose by just over half a percentage point in September.
The jump from 7.8 percent in August to 8.4 percent last month is the biggest increase in the local jobless rate since June, when unemployment rose three-tenths of a percentage point to 8.1 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development.
Local unemployment this year is at its highest level since March, when it was 8.6 percent. But the county rate did remain under the state average for the fifth straight month. State unemployment rose from 8.9 percent to 9.3 percent in September.
Tuesday's figures are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
In September, the county's labor force dropped by 3,049 workers to 71,746, while the number of employed experienced an almost identical decline, falling by 3,190 employees to 65,751.
The number of unemployed, however, increased last month by 141 workers to 5,995, which is the exact same number as July.
Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board, said there is always a slight increase in the county's unemployment rate in September.
Boulger said last month's increase is due more to national and statewide economic factors than they are to any local issues.
"We're talking a 0.6 [percentage-point] jump," she said. "There's always a little bit of a jump [following the summer months] but not that much. I think that Berkshire County is feeling some of the impacts from around the state and the nation."
"I don't think there will be too many dips when the numbers are seasonally adjusted," Boulger said.
Berkshire Health Systems, the county's largest employer, announced in September that it would cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions, the nonprofit company's second significant work force reduction in three months.
Those job cuts weren't expected to take effect until the beginning of this month. But Boulger said they may have been a factor in Pittsfield's unemployment rate jumping half a percentage point to 9.2 percent last month, the city's highest level of the year.
"The numbers might be a reflection of that," Boulger said. "People laid off from other companies who had temporary positions may have lost those jobs as well."
On the plus side, Boulger said the employment rate in the county's travel and tourism industry has increased by two-tenths of a percentage point from September 2008, while the level of employment in the education and health care, financial services, information technology and transportation/personal care sectors has remained stable over the last 12 months. The county's unemployment rate was 5 percent in September 2008.
In the county's three labor markets, unemployment in the Pittsfield area, which includes 14 mostly Central Berkshire municipalities, increased seven-tenths of a percentage point to 8.7 percent in September. The jobless rate in the North Adams labor market increased from 9.1 to 9.5 percent, while unemployment in Great Barrington rose from 6 percent to 6.4 percent.
"They seem to be pretty consistent with the other labor markets [around the state] as well," Boulger said, referring to those increases.
Unemployment in the city of North Adams increased by six-tenths of a percentage point to 9.7 percent last month.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
"Ruberto has failed city in many areas"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters to the Editor, October 28, 2009
In the majority of the mayoral debates I have seen, Mayor Ruberto has avoided the question asked to be debated and always has reverted back to an earlier issue. At the BCC debate on Oct. 26, the mayor avoided answering the questions asked and would once again go negative on Dan Bianchi.
Mayor Ruberto, it appears, does not listen to just any Pittsfield city citizens or officials, but his chosen elite, which does not benefit the overall future for this city and its families. The mayor mentioned thousands of dollars of grants received and job growth. The grant money, what did this go towards? What are the numbers of job positions increased against many businesses closing and laying off employees? Is it positive or negative?
Ruberto states that our overall residential taxes, though increased in Pittsfield, are down against the overall states taxes. But, Pittsfield's unemployment rate is much higher! Mayor Ruberto has supported the idea of one high school. With many families sending their children to other towns for schooling, the city may just end up with his idea, unless we support our schools and most of all our children of this city.
Arts and culture are very important in rural areas and cities. But, industry, businesses, and employment are also major keys to keep revenues coming in, a solid tax base, and a city moving forward to expand with companies worldwide. To attract a solid economic structure for the future of our children's education, a blueprint is needed for businesses to make this city their home, create jobs, and expand.
Where do you live mayor, in a bullet proof house? Our crime has increased over the years. My neighborhood has no crime watch.
Where are all the job increases in Pittsfield he assured to have for our youth and citizens? I have seen companies close so does this offset and job increases in other companies that may have expanded?
Pittsfield, let's move forward under Dan Bianchi.
"Nuclea raises $3.4M in equity funding"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, Monday, November 16, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Nuclea Biotechnologies LLC has raised $3.4 million in private equity funding that it will use to fund its diagnostic and clinical laboratories at Clark University in Worcester.
"We needed the money to keep growing the clinical lab," said Nuclea CEO Patrick J. Muraca, a Pittsfield native and Clark alumnus. "It's a new vehicle for us, and we want to keep moving the company forward."
The company, which came to Pittsfield in 2006, changed its name from Nuclea Biomarkers to Nuclea Biotechnologies when it moved most of its operations from Pittsfield to Worcester last year. Nuclea still maintains its computer network in Pittsfield. It received a full laboratory license from the state in June to maintain and operate the diagnostic lab.
Nuclea's primary focus is in the area of molecular oncology and pathology, but it has the capability of applying that technology to other diseases. The company is also involved with cancer research and Muraca said the private equity funds will also allow the company to expand its relationships with the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and the Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore.
Private equity is made up of funds from private companies that are not publicly traded. A company such as Nuclea Biotechnologies will take on this private capital in exchange for an investment in the business.
"It's trading equity in the company for a specific monetary value," Muraca said.
The $3.4 million in private equity that Nuclea raised represents 18 percent of the company's value, he said. Muraca said raising private equity is a better way to grow a company than obtaining venture capital because private equity firms allow owners to retain control of their business.
"Private equity firms won't take control of your company. They're in it for the long haul," he said. "They don't have exit strategies."
In June, Nuclea Biotechnologies filed a notice with the Securities and Exchange Commission stating that it had raised $1 million of a planned $3 million round without identifying the investors, according to Mass High Tech, a technology trade publication. Three additional investor groups have come forward since then, including the Private Equity Investors Fund of New York.
Muraca declined to identify the other investors, citing confidentiality agreements. Vieter, who serves on the boards of two drug companies, is now listed as a director of Nuclea Biotechnologies, according to the Web site Mass Device.
Nuclea held a job fair in Pittsfield in July to hire more staff for its diagnostic lab. Muraca said five of the 50 applicants were hired, and that two are employed in Pittsfield and three in Worcester.
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: email@example.com - (413) 496-6224
"More still seek work: Unemployment numbers rise slightly in the area as people struggle to find jobs."
By David Pepose, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 23, 2009
PITTSFIELD -- Pounding the pavement looking for work is never easy -- but imagine hitting the streets with a busted knee.
That's the reality for Bobby Jones of Pittsfield. After slipping on ice and re-injuring a knee fracture earlier this year, the 42-year-old former waitperson has spent the past nine months living at the Barton's Crossing homeless shelter in Pittsfield.
Tuesday, Jones pushed through arthritis and joint swelling to walk from Tyler Street all the way to Merrill Road, filling out 15 applications for work. It took bumping into a friend in the middle of his frigid journey to convince Jones to finally try meeting with a counselor at the local branch of the Department of Transitional Assistance.
"It's really hard to find a job -- believe me, I'm not lazy," Jones said. "As a man, it's so important for me to work -- who wants to collect money for free? I'd rather just work ... all my life, I've worked."
As Berkshire County's unemployment rate increased slightly in November -- moving from 7.7 to 7.9 percent over the last month -- Jones could easily be seen as a statistic. But his story, his frustrations, and his anxiety are not unique, and are shared by 5,657 unemployed workers throughout Berkshire County.
"I'm not surprised that [unemployment rates] went up slightly," said Heather P. Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "There's going to be fluctuation in the employment rate as people come off the unemployment insurance rolls, and the seasonality of the holiday shopping season brings some employment opportunities as well."
According to the Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, unemployment in-creased by four-tenths of a percentage point in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and by half a percentage point in North Adams.
Researcher Rena Kottcamp of the Division of Unemployment Assistance explained that while the county's leisure and hospitality industry lost 200 jobs, the county's total labor force grew by 386 people, tied into slight gains within the trade, transportation, and utilities industry, as well as education and health care.
"There really is a growth in opportunities right now," Boulger said, noting some slight growth in the education and health care industries. "With the green jobs sector, the creative economy sector, and retail, there's always openings because people are retiring."
That said, Boulger warned against putting the job search on hold during the holidays.
"This time of the year is a good opportunity to be networking and to get résumés cleaned up and out there," Boulger said. "There are a lot of companies who start their fiscal year in January, and who are looking to ramp up their work force."
Yet many looking for those opportunities have felt more discouraged than ever.
Nick Daniels, 21, of Pittsfield, spent Tuesday trying to help his girlfriend, Heather Martin, 18, find work. With Martin having no method of transportation to leave the county, she has found her options even more limited.
"We've been looking two or three months ... there's no help, we fill out applications, nothing ever happens," said Daniels, who currently works as a server at a restaurant, after "calling every mechanic's shop in Berkshire County" in vain for work. "There's just nothing -- nothing out there."
Victoria Vaughn, 54, of Pittsfield, said that her troubles were twofold, as both she and her 19-year-old son had been looking for work for months without success.
"My son, he's been looking, and he's just totally discouraged," Vaughn said. "I am trying to see if he wants to enlist in the military, to give him some training and education."
Vaughn, who has worked as a medical assistant, in retail, and as a machine operator for a family-owned plastics company, said that the sheer number of candidates was overwhelming to the point where she was hospitalized for diverticulitis, an inflammatory disease of the large intestine.
"Job hunting and acquiring [a job] has always been competitive," she said. "Now it's way beyond that -- I don't know what to do. Even if you have the best clothes, or the best presentation ... it's impossible. Just absolutely impossible."
For Bobby Jones, he said that the real issues of the recession have been obscured by the charts and figures. "I've just been thinking -- this really is the story here. Isn't every person not just a number, not just worth attention and love, but consideration?" Jones said, just before his interview with DTA. "I mean, morally, this is just degrading. I can't even believe I'm here. ... I'm just trying to keep my head above water."
"Jobless at Christmas"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorials, December 24, 2009
Being unemployed is obviously a financial hardship, but it can be psychologically devastating as well, gnawing away at a person's self-worth even if their employment status is no fault of their own. All of the hardships of joblessness are magnified during the holiday season, and this is what 5,657 Berkshire residents confront on this day before Christmas.
The Berkshire County unemployment rate crept from 7.7 percent to 7.9 percent in November as the local economy, mirroring that of the state and national economies, remained sluggish. There are signs that hiring may begin to increase as businesses gain confidence that the worst of the recession is over, but America didn't get into this dilemma overnight and getting out will not be easy.
The Wall Street collapse of a year ago brought on by greedy and irresponsible business tactics and a federal government that utterly failed in its oversight responsibilities set off shock waves that are still reverberating across America. President Obama's bailout and stimulus package, for all of its structural faults, prevented a slide into another Great Depression, and bailed out businesses have been repaying taxpayers. Without regulatory reform, however -- and the same corporations that triggered this collapse are fighting it along with their allies in a staggeringly irresponsible Republican Party -- another collapse is as inevitable as another winter.
Unemployment always lags when a nation struggles out of a recession, and this one is no exception. Congress will fight over a second stimulus package in the new year, but there are limits to what can be accomplished in a country that has sent much of its manufacturing bases overseas in pursuit of cheap wages and benefits. An America that doesn't build enough anymore must move aggressively into the promising green jobs market ahead of its international competitors.
Locally, the Department of Transitional Assistance is among the agencies available to help the unemployed. The Berkshires' two public colleges have been fine-tuning programs to prepare students young and old for the job market and public and private efforts are underway to draw new businesses and help current businesses expand. Building a job market is a difficult process, and one that in the Berkshires never really ends.
"Accidents inevitable at airport"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letters, January 7, 2010
In 1930, at age 16, the youngest licensed pilot in the United States, the late TWA Captain Robert Buck, broke the transcontinental speed record in his PA-6 Pitcairn Mailwing biplane. Thus began a distinguished career that ended in 1974 when he retired. When he passed away in 2007, Bob left us with a number of books, one of which I reviewed for The Eagle in 1994, "The Pilot's Burden. Flight Safety and the Roots of Pilot Error." (Iowa State University Press, Ames, Iowa.)
On page 4, Bob listed various ways so-called "accidents" have been and can still be created, " the people who create a mishmash of taxi strips difficult to follow or runways located so aircraft must cross them while taxiing, which in turn strains the babble of communication to the point where misinterpreted instructions can put an airplane on an active runway in position for collision " Bob could almost have had Pittsfield's airport in mind.
Understandably, our Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) has long been aware of the dangers Bob referred to and, in fact, published some exacting guidelines: "Avoid [runway] layouts that will result in aircraft taxiing or back taxiing on [active] runways." And, "Anytime an aircraft uses an [active] runway for purposes other than landing or takeoff, the chances of a [on-runway collision] increase."
Nevertheless, Pittsfield's airport manager managed to find a clueless FAA apparatchik who was willing ignore the FAA's guidelines and approve the elimination a parallel taxiway that would have reduced the threat of an on-runway collision to nearly nil. As a matter of fact, the probability of an on-runway disaster far exceeds the probability of a runway overrun. The latter of which is what the airport project is supposed to have been all about.
It appears, at this writing, we have the bit in our teeth and, come Hell or high water (and even the liability lawsuits that will surely follow a disaster), the airport project plunges on. Knowing that "accidents" can be created, Bob Buck would not have been surprised; nor am I.
Is there a way to avoid the high probability of an on-runway collision? Of course. But our airport manager has studiously ignored it.
The bottom line? If Pittsfield cannot afford a safe airport, Pittsfield should not have an airport.
ROBERT W. ALLARDYCE
"Pittsfield failed storm challenge"
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, February 25, 2010
While driving home Tuesday in the snowstorm, I had to make a lot of detours around traffic jams and made my way home to Lenox via Holmes Road. I was taking the road conditions all in stride -- until I passed the entering Lenox sign. The three inches of ice disappeared on the road and I was able to see the blacktop. Instantly! The rest of the ride home was a piece of cake.
Thank you Lenox and shame on Pittsfield.
CAROLYN WADE BARRY
"Jobless rate now at 10.4%: Unemployment in Berkshire County is at its highest level since the early 1990s."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 11, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Not since General Electric was downsizing its Pittsfield operation in the early 1990s has Berkshire County's unemployment rate been this high.
The county's jobless rate soared to 10.4 percent in January -- the first time it has hit double figures in 17 years. The highest local jobless rate in the last 20 years was 12.8 percent in February 1992.
Berkshire County's annual unemployment rate reached 10.9 percent in 1991 when General Electric completed the five-year shutdown of its transformer plant, and 10.7 percent in 1992 when the corporate giant sold its aerospace division to Martin Marietta.
This most recent increase comes after Berkshire unemployment jumped a full percentage point in December to 8.8 percent, and it marks the peak level of joblessness since the recession began to affect the county's jobless rate in late 2008.
The county's rate is the same as the state's in January. The national unemployment rate is 9.7 percent.
‘It's not good news'
January's numbers, released Thursday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
The figures tend to drop when the state releases the seasonally adjusted numbers, but those decreases are normally less than a percentage point, according to Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board.
"It's not good news," Boulger said, referring to the January increase.
A challenging market
The number of unemployed in the Berkshires increased by 1,300 workers to 7,514 in January. Boulger said there are six unemployed people in the Berkshires for each job opening.
Fluctuations in the local employment rate typically occur between December and January as seasonal employment ends, and the first quarter of the financial year begins, Boulger said. As an example, the state's unadjusted unemployment rate jumped from 6.4 percent to 9.1 percent between December 2008 and January 2009.
But Boulger characterized this year's local increase as "par for the course in this economy."
"I really just think it's part of the economic cycle that we're in," she said.
"I'm hoping that it will improve and go below the 10 percent rate" in February, Boulger said. "It depends on the confidence level of the consumer and the confidence level of the companies."
The county's labor force rose by 366 workers to 72,555 in January. The increase in the labor force means that people are either returning to this area from elsewhere, or may be re-entering the work force after raising a family, Boulger said.
She said 1,140 more people began collecting unemployment benefits in Berkshire County between December and January, which brought the total number to 1,600 in the 12-month period that ended two months ago.
"We don't look at the rate as much as we look at the number of unemployed people," she said. "For me, it's real-life bodies."
Across the state, January's unemployment rates were higher both over the month and during 2009 in all 22 labor market areas, which include Pittsfield, North Adams and Great Barrington.
In the Pittsfield area, the unemployment rate jumped from 8.9 to 10.3 percent in January, while the rate in North Adams increased from 10.3 to 11.7 percent. But the greatest increase came in Great Barrington where unemployment jumped almost two percentage points, from 7.2 to 9 percent.
"Berkshire County jobless rate dips slightly"
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 31, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped slightly in February, but remained in double-digit territory for the second straight month.
Local unemployment dipped to 10.1 percent last month, a drop of three-tenths of a percentage point from January's rate of 10.4 percent, according to figures released Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development. January's jobless rate was the county's highest in 17 years.
This is the first time that Berkshire unemployment has remained in double figures over consecutive months since January, February and March of 1993.
"We're glad that it's going down," said Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. "But it's still nowhere near where we want it to be."
The county's unemployment rate is also slightly higher than February's state jobless rate of 10 percent. It's the first time Berkshire unemployment has been higher than the state's since March 2009. February's national unemployment rate is 10.4 percent.
The local numbers that the state released on Tuesday are not seasonally adjusted, which means they take into account short-term employment such as seasonal construction and retail jobs, or positions in the travel and tourism industry.
Boulger said February's unemployment rate was still subject to some of the seasonal fluctuations that normally create a spike in the percentage of jobless every January. But she said there are still six job-seekers in Berkshire County for every available position, which is "pretty consistent across the state as well."
"I personally was expecting a large increase in January," Boulger said. "I'm glad to see it came down slightly in February."
She continued, "Next month if it drops we're in a good trend. February is a good sign, but we'll just have to keep on monitoring this."
The number of unemployed in Berkshire County dropped by 161 workers in February to 7,351.
"It could be that they're not collecting unemployment insurance, or that they've found employment, or that they've given up completely trying to find a job," she said.
However, the local labor force increased by 290 workers to 72,773 employees, while the number of employed rose by 589 workers to 65,422.
"It's always a good sign when the labor force increases because it means more people are coming back to the area, or people who have had families are coming back to the workforce, like college students or stay-at-home moms," Boulger said. "The number of employed is a good trend for the first quarter of the financial year because some companies begin their fiscal year in January."
Statewide, unemployment decreased in 20 of the 22 labor market areas, including Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington. The rate dropped by a tenth of a percentage point in Pittsfield and Great Barrington, and by more than half a percentage point in North Adams -- from 11.8 percent to 11.1 percent.
"I think it's pretty consistent with the rest of the numbers," said Boulger, comparing the drop in unemployment in the county's three labor market areas to the decreases in the rest of the state. "Great Barrington and North Adams get hit pretty hard when a company closes, but that hasn't been the case yet."
"Berkshire County shows jobs growth: The unemployment rate in the Berkshires dips below 10% for the first time since December."
By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, April 21, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- After two months in double-digit territory, Berkshire County's unemployment rate dropped to 9.6 percent in March, a half-percentage point lower than the month before.
Still, the county's jobless rate remains higher than all of 2009, which peaked at 8.8 percent in December, and above the state's rate for the second straight month. State unemployment dropped from 10 to 9.3 percent in March.
The figures, issued Tuesday by the state Executive Office of Labor and Workforce Development, are not seasonally adjusted. That means they take into account short-term employment, such as seasonal construction or retail jobs, and positions in the travel and tourism industry.
Heather P. Boulger, the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board, said she hopes the local rate will continue to drop. But she also pointed out that March's rate is still a full percentage point higher than the 8.6 percent registered in March 2009.
"I hope that it continues to go down," she said. "In January and February, the rate usually bumps up a little bit."
Berkshire unemployment hit a 17-year high at 10.4 percent in January, then dropped slightly to 10 percent in February.
Boulger attributed March's decrease to a drop in the number of county residents who are collecting unemployment insurance, which fell by 345 workers to 6,998. It's the second straight month that number has declined, following three consecutive months of growth.
The number of employed in the Berkshires increased by 298 workers in March to 65,998. The county's labor force, the number of people who are eligible to work, dropped by 47 workers to 72,604.
"I think the career fair that we hosted a couple of weeks ago might have started to gear a couple of companies up and given them the confidence to hire people," Boulger said. "I think there is a greater confidence in the economy than existed six or seven weeks ago. It seems like employers are beginning to fill those positions that they held off on in October or November."
As an example, Boulger pointed to an increase in the number of employed people in the Pittsfield labor market, which jumped by 337 workers to 35,086 in March. Typically, one sees an increase of 50 to 70 a month, she said.
"Either a company is hiring or Pittsfield residents really hit the pavement in a strong job search and found employment," Boulger said. " It's a good sign that the Pittsfield job market is getting stronger."
As a result, unemployment in the Pittsfield market, which consists of Central Berkshire County, dropped from 10.2 to 9.8 percent in March.
Monthly job gains in Berkshire County were recorded in the retail and wholesale trade categories of the transportation and utilities sector; in financial activities; and in leisure and hospitality, mostly in the accommodations, food and recreation categories, she said.
At the BerkshireWorks Career Center, executive director Michael Herrick said job postings increased about 10 percent in March. Visits to BerkshireWorks' career centers in North Adams and Pittsfield have also dropped to about 160 per day, he said.
"We were seeing about 1,000 people a week," Herrick said. "Now we're seeing 800 to 850 a week. It began to drop in March."
Unemployment statewide dropped in all 22 of the state's labor markets, including Pittsfield, North Adams, and Great Barrington. However, unemployment in the North Adams area remained in double digits, as it dropped from 11.2 percent in February to 10.4 percent in March.
"I think there may have been some companies that downsized or closed and that might have had an impact," Boulger said, referring to the North Adams numbers. "But there were still 79 more people employed in March than in February."
To reach Tony Dobrowolski: firstname.lastname@example.org, or (413) 496-6224.
"Triple play for jobs"
By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 5, 2010
PITTSFIELD -- The owner of Nuclea Biotechnologies LLC says he's making good on a promise to double the firm's Pittsfield operations and vows to triple it by year's end.
President and CEO Patrick Muraca on Wednesday officially opened the Nuclea Genomics Center on Elm Street, across from Harry's Supermarket.
The biotech company raised $2.5 million in private equity funding and converted the former Hillcrest Dental Center office into a 3,500-square-foot laboratory for gene-based analysis in cancer research. Nuclea Biotechnologies identifies genes and proteins associated with diseases, such as cancer, to aid in diagnosis and treatments.
The Nuclea Genomics Center will employ 14 to 16 people
-- nearly half of them new hires -- and they join the 14 employees at Nuclea's computer operations center on South Street.
"We've hired five new people and we're moving toward eight," said Muraca at a ribbon-cutting ceremony, where city and state officials gathered to welcome the company.
Mayor James M. Ruberto called the employment prospects new "high-paying jobs with well-skilled employees."
In addition, Nuclea is looking to lease another building in Pittsfield for a manufacturing facility that would make "monoclonal antibodies," which are cells that aid cancer research, Muraca said. That facility would boost the company's payroll another 15 to 20 employees.
Muraca said another $9 million in private investment will fund this manufacturing facility, bringing the total investment financing raised to $17.6 million since the Pittsfield-based company was founded in 2005.
"We had a very nice offer from Worcester, but we decide to go ahead and keep expanding in Pittsfield," Muraca said. "We're happy with the direction the city is going, especially the downtown, which is absolutely amazing."
Muraca's plans to keep expanding in Pittsfield is a far cry from two years ago, when he moved all of Nuclea's scientific operations to his alma mater, Clark University, in Worcester. The re-location of 16 jobs back then followed the company's failed attempt to expand to the William Stanley Business Park of the Berkshires.
But the city native said keeping Nuclea's computer operations in Pittsfield, where the company was founded in 2005, allowed him to keep future local expansion in mind.
Muraca's Pittsfield workers and state officials are glad he remained committed to the city.
"A lot of us have families who couldn't leave for Worcester," said Rachel Rosier of Pittsfield, Nulcea's vice president of operations and mother of three children. "We're fortunate [Muraca] kept part of the company here and it's growing."
Since 2001, the life sciences field has grown more than 42 percent statewide, according to Peter Abair, the economic development director for the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council.
"This is an important industry for Pittsfield to have a stake in," Abair said. "We look forward to other ribbon cuttings for businesses like Nuclea."
State officials also praised the company for participating in a state-sponsored internship program to help increase the local biotechnology workforce.
"We have been partnering with [Nuclea] to develop new life sciences talent in Western Massachusetts," said Susan Windham-Bannister, president and CEO of the Massachusetts Life Sciences Center. "Life Sciences is an industry we can grow state wide."
The state center is a quasi-public agency charged with implementing the state's 10-year, $1 billion dollar life sciences initiative.
May 28, 2015
Re: Pittsfield politics is a financial failure!
The Berkshire Eagle is a third rate rag without a conscience. The Eagle is part of the problem in Pittsfield politics. Dan Valenti is the only one being rational by blogging about Pittsfield's unsustainable finances. Pittsfield automatically raises taxes and fees, increasing spending by millions of dollars per year, and has hundreds of millions of dollars in debts. Pittsfield will go bankrupt if it doesn't stop taxing, spending, and borrowing money with a shrinking population and diminishing tax base. Over 60 percent of Pittsfield is on welfare or low income. That means that a minority of Pittsfield residents are actually paying taxes. This is a recipe for financial ruin and disaster. Pittsfield already went into state government receivership after the Gerry Doyle debacle, where millions of dollars are still unaccounted for through present day. Gerry Doyle also signed the fraudulent Consent Decree with then GE CEO Jack Welch, which still leaves Pittsfield polluted with toxic waste cancer causing chemicals called PCBs. Pittsfield politics is either delusional or in denial about its financial realities. Ruberto bet it all on a revitalized downtown that still poor, distressed, and a place most people avoid, especially after hours. Mayor Dan Bianchi is betting it all on a new Taconic High School. PEDA is a failure. Since PEDA began 17 years ago in 1998, there is no economic growth in Pittsfield. Taxes are too high for businesses in Pittsfield. Businesses have moved to other areas of the country and world because of high taxes and other costs. The Berkshire Eagle won't write about the sad and depressed realities Pittsfield faces. The Eagle loves Jimmy Ruberto. I collected a series of facts about Mayor Jimmy Ruberto's real economic record, and it is not pretty!
- Jonathan Melle
ALL FACTS – “Remembering Ruberto’s Record on Jobs”
* On December 8, 2008, Sabic Innovative Plastics laid off 40 of its 300 local employees. On December 11, 2008, KB Toys filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in four years with the intention of liquidating the entire company. The 225 full-time employees at KB’s Pittsfield headquarters will all be laid off by May 2009, company officials have said.
* “Berkshire County unemployment rate soars”, By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 28, 2009, Berkshire County’s unemployment rate reached its highest level in 13 years in December…Berkshire County is now outpacing the state.
* Berkshire County’s unemployment rate hit a 16-year high in 2009. Source: “Berkshire County Unemployment: Job outlook uncertain”, By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, January 3, 2010.
*”Jobless rate now at 10.4%: Unemployment in Berkshire County is at its highest level since the early 1990s.” By Tony Dobrowolski, Berkshire Eagle Staff, March 11, 2010.
* Berkshire Health Systems, facing a decline in patient visits, told employees on Wednesday it will cut the equivalent of 65 full-time positions.Source: “Berkshire Health Systems shedding jobs” (By Jack Dew, Berkshire Eagle Staff, June 18, 2009).
* Berkshire Health Systems, the parent company of Berkshire Medical Center, announced today that 124 full- and part-time employees — or 3.7 percent of the workforce — have received layoff notices. “Berkshire Health Systems announces layoffs.”, By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, August 5, 2010.
* Berkshire County’s population dropped by more than 5,600 to 129,288 residents between 2000 and 2009, according to the American Community Survey. Pittsfield accounted for almost 2,800 of those departures: There were 45,793 city residents in 2000 compared with 43,000 last year. Source: “Census shows decline in county population”, By Dick Lindsay, Berkshire Eagle Staff, December 16, 2010.
* NEWS ARTICLE:
“Bump looks to address job losses in Berkshires”
2/19/2007 , By: Karen Honikel, (Capital News 9 out of Albany, NY covering the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts)
Governor Deval Patrick’s new Executive Director of Workforce Development isn’t wasting any time getting down to business.
Former State Representative Suzanne Bump is working to introduce herself to the local business communities and let them know she will make sure the Berkshires are not forgotten on Beacon Hill. She says a major concern right now is addressing the loss of jobs in the Berkshires.
Currently the Berkshires have the highest rate of job loss in Massachusetts. Bump says this can be changed with the right policies in place. She says she will be meeting with the Governor once a week to work on bringing skilled workers and higher paying jobs into the area.
Bump says a key part to local job growth and development will be finding a way to keep the younger workers in the Berkshires.
David Allen: “Berkshires must build from within”
By David Allen, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, November 4, 2015
PITTSFIELD - Right on cue, with the announcement of Sabic closing its Pittsfield headquarters, the drum beat for local business and government leaders to woo outside businesses to Berkshire County (Clarence Fanto, "Leaders must lure new business," Eagle Oct. 11) has started again.
After listening to the same drums for decades it is time for a major reality check and, perhaps, also a time to march to a different beat.
As a local business owner for over 30 years, I have seen millions of dollars spent on countless studies and marketing campaigns to attract the mythical outside company to the Berkshires. Can anyone point to one example of a company with any significant number of jobs that has relocated here? Even if there are one or two, this is a dismal failure given the money and effort that has been expended over the last three decades. This campaign, however, has not failed because of a lack of local effort or skill. The issue is much larger.
The problems we face are not confined to Berkshire County. They are problems we share with much of New England. Traditional manufacturing is not expanding anywhere in this region. Instead it is moving to the South and Southwest due to lower energy costs, flat developable land, fast permitting, growing population, and a central location to the rest of the country.
New England, and more importantly Pittsfield, cannot compete with this. You cannot change geography. Even if we could convince a company to establish a 100-200 person facility there is no guarantee they would stay. Large corporations, with no real connection to the local community, move facilities this size at the drop of a dime. Sabic and Armor Holding are just two of the latest local examples.
So the first question is, what should our new drum beat sound like? It should sound something like this: LOCAL, LOCAL, LOCAL.
Historically, every significant employer in Berkshire County started here: GE, Sprague, Crane, Unistress, Eaton's etc. None of them moved here.
While basic manufacturing is difficult to sustain in New England, the type of business that can succeed are those that offer high end manufacturing plus value added services. Many of our local companies have excellent track records in this area. We should concentrate on helping these businesses grow.
HOW WE CAN HELP
Now for the second, and perhaps harder question: How can we help expand our local businesses and economy? Here are some suggestions, though undoubtedly other people can think of more.
* There is an abundance of large industrial space in Berkshire County that could be made available for smaller businesses. However, most of these spaces are tied up in very large facilities such as the numerous paper mills, parts of Crane, and now the Sabic buildings. Current building codes make it very expensive to reconfigure/subdivide these spaces into smaller units.
Pittsfield and the state need to review the building permit regulations governing renovation of these larger industrial buildings. We have a lack of spaces available in the 10,000–20,000 sq. ft. range making efficient and economic subdivision a must-have.
* Emphasis should be placed on helping companies that derive a significant amount of their sales from outside Berkshire County, preferably outside Massachusetts. Outside dollars grow the local economic pie rather than just cut it into smaller slices. This is economics 101. In fact, significant sales outside of Massachusetts is now a requirement of the state Office of Economic Development to qualify for its investment tax credits.
* State representatives should review the state economic development programs. Far too many of these programs require job creation/retention numbers of 50 to 100 people or higher. That is way out of proportion for almost all companies in Western Massachusetts, most of whom have less than 100 employees, and would require them to increase employment by 50-100 percent (or more) or retain more jobs than they have. This precludes our local companies from qualifying for many of these programs. We should consider using percent increases for qualification criteria.
While the point of this discussion is not to specifically promote the Berkshire Innovation Center, it is a great example of an effort to support local businesses and help them expand their value added activities. In a "first of a kind effort" the state, through the Mass Life Science initiative, is funding a 20,000 sq. ft. building and the purchase of state of the art, high end special equipment that many of the local plastic, paper, and other manufacturers cannot afford on their own. This will help area companies to compete and offer customers high-end services that they could not otherwise provide.
Equipment and services will include 3D printing, laser scanning, clean rooms, special laboratory space, and reverse engineering software. This effort also includes major collaborations between UMass, Williams, RPI, BCC, the Pittsfield School System, and local businesses for a significant push for high school and advance worker training.
We need to end our futile and expensive 30-year effort to attract outside businesses who have little to no incentive to relocate anywhere in New England. Moving forward, the emphasis has to be on helping and expanding the local businesses that are already here. This needs to be done without regard as to whether they are in Pittsfield or anywhere else in Berkshire County. We are in this together.
David Allen is president and CEO, Sinicon Plastics, a Berkshire Innovation Center board member, and a School Building Needs Committee member.
Biotechnology industry veteran Donald E. Pogorzelski, of Cambridge, has assumed control of Nuclea Biotechnologies. (Courtesy photo)
“Biotech veteran Donald E. Pogorzelski takes over as Nuclea CEO”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, December 3, 2015
Editor's note: The article was modified on Dec. 4, 2015, to clarify that Patrick Muraca is one of the company's larger shareholders.
PITTSFIELD — Patrick J. Muraca, the founding CEO of Nuclea Biotechnologies Inc., has left the company to head another biotech firm that will soon be offered to Nuclea's shareholders.
Nuclea's board of directors has appointed Muraca the president and CEO of NanoDX, a development stage company in Albany, N.Y.
The board has appointed biotechnology industry veteran Donald E. Pogorzelski to replace Muraca as Nuclea's new president and CEO. Pogorzelski, a former president of Genzyme Diagnostics, and Muraca have already assumed their new roles.
A Pittsfield native, Muraca co-founded Nuclea in 2005. Although he no longer runs Nuclea, Muraca is still one of the company's larger shareholder.
Muraca termed his move from Nuclea to NanoDX as a "mutual decision" between he and the board. A startup, NanoDX is a spinoff of Nuclea that is affiliated with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute in Albany.
Nuclea is moving from a focus on research and development to the commercialization stage, and Muraca said Pogorzelski is better suited to handle that aspect of the business.
Nuclea originally considered adding Pogorzelski as a board member before naming him president and CEO, Muraca said.
"It's been 10 years having the company go from research to commercialization," Muraca said. "My skill set is developing companies. Don, coming in, has an amazing resume. My wheelhouse is entrepreneurial development. His is commercialization.
"The board thought I did such a good job developing Nuclea that they want me to develop NanoDX," he said.
Attempts to reach some Nuclea board members for comment on Thursday were unsuccessful.
Pogorzelski, who lives in Cambridge, joined Genzyme Diagnostics in 1988 and served as company president from 1996 until the firm was sold to Sekisui Chemical in 2011.
He has also served as northeast regional marketing manager for Abbott Laboratories diagnostic division in Boston, and on the board of directors of Diffinity Genomics in Rochester, N.Y.
Now 65, Porgorzelski has most recently served as an angel investor for startup companies and as a member of different academic and corporate boards.
"My primary focus has been on angel investing and working on small companies," Pogorzelski said. "I'm not quite dead. I have energy and enthusiasm and I know this space.
"This is my sweet spot," Pogorzelski said referring to his expertise in commercialization. "I've spent about 35 years in this space and I know it. The company is at a point in time where commercialization meets and matches the skill set that I bring.
"This is a great opportunity to take and grow the company," he said.
One of Berkshire County's few biotech firms, Nuclea develops and commercializes unique Food and Drug Administration approved diagnostic tests for prostate and breast cancer, diabetes and other metabolic syndromes.
The company has facilities in Cambridge, Pittsfield and Worcester. Pogorzelski said it's too early to tell where Nuclea will concentrate its resources going forward.
"There are lots of fronts, but I don't have the data to make those decisions right now," he said.
NanoDX is developing a microfluidic computer chip that can perform antibody-based protein immuonoassays on minute amounts of blood and other sera in approximately three minutes.
"This is a very quick test and uses very little bodily fluid," Muraca said.
Immunoassays are biochemical tests utilized to detect the presence or quantity of a substance, like a protein, based on its capacity to act as an antigen or antibody, according to medical terminology.
NanoDX is currently seeking Class 1 device status with the FDA for the nanochip. Because NanoDX is associated with Nuclea, it can use Nuclea's diagnostic testing platform, Muraca said.
The company currently has two employees, and is expecting to add two more from Nuclea in the next two weeks, and have as many as 15 within two years, Muraca said. It also has a 1,500-square-foot laboratory in Albany.
Muraca said "we're going to build this very quickly" and that NanoDx should be available for investment by Nuclea shareholders by the end of 2015.
In July, NanoDX was one of two nanotechnology companies affiliated with the SUNY Polytechnic Institute to join Start-Up New York, a state-run program that allows businesses in New York to operate tax free for a decade by expanding or relocating to select college and university campuses, according to the Albany Business Review.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. email@example.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
Patrick J. Muraca, co-founder of Nuclea Biotechnologies, has left the company to head a biotech startup firm in Albany, N.Y. (Eagle file)
“Nuclea Biotechnologies to cut jobs, close Pittsfield lab”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, January 11, 2016
PITTSFIELD - One month after naming a new CEO, Nuclea Biotechnologies is eliminating positions in both Pittsfield and Cambridge, and closing a Pittsfield laboratory.
Nuclea officially announced both moves on Monday, stating that the lab closure and layoffs are part of a "major internal reorganization" that is designed to allow the company to focus "more fully" on the commercialization of its products.
"As part of the re-organization plan, the company is de-emphasizing some of its research and development efforts, and closing its CLIA laboratory in Pittsfield," Nuclea said in a statement. Nuclea's CLIA lab is at 48 Elm St.
Nuclea did not say how many positions in either company facility were being eliminated. Company officials in both Cambridge and Pittsfield did not return telephone calls on Monday seeking comment.
CLIA is an abbreviation for Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments. The CLIA program was established by Congress in 1988 amid public concerns about the quality of laboratory testing. It provides oversight of all clinical laboratory procedures in the United States.
The company maintains CLIA labs in both Cambridge and Pittsfield, according to its website. Both labs offer a full range of fully validated and reimbursable CLIA tests for proteins associated with cancer and other chronic diseases.
As of Monday, the reorganization plan had not affected Nuclea's computer laboratory at the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority's administration building on Kellogg Street, PEDA's executive director Corey Thurston said.
In December, Nuclea's board of directors replaced company founder and CEO Patrick J. Muraca with biotechnology industry veteran Donald E. Porgozelski, a former president of Genzyme Diagnostics. Muraca was appointed president and CEO of NanoDx, a development stage company in Albany, N.Y.. that is a spin-off of Nuclea.
When Porgozelski replaced Muraca, Nuclea stated that it was moving from a focus on research and development to focus more on the commercialization stage.
On Monday, Nuclea stated that senior management is in the process of developing a new strategy aimed at rapidly expanding sales of its existing products, and introducing new products and services in 2016.
"The company's commercial focus will remain on diagnostic and prognostic products for the management of cancer and metabolic disease, especially diabetes," according to the statement.
Nuclea is assembling a new leadership team to implement the "aggressive strategy,' the statement said. As part of the reorganization, Nuclea is "streamlining it operations," a procedure that caused the layoffs in both Pittsfield and Cambridge.
Founded in 2005, Nuclea is one of Berkshire County's few biotechnology firms. The company develops and commercializes unique Food and Drug Administration-approved diagnostic tests for prostate and breast cancer, diabetes and other metabolic syndromes.
Nuclea acquired its Cambridge facility in 2013 when it purchased a pharmaceutical company.
On Monday, Nuclea stated that its new plan will position the company to grow rapidly and to continue providing essential diagnostics kits and services for the management of patients in oncology and diabetes.
firstname.lastname@example.org @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
C. Jeffrey Cook and Donald R. Dubendorf: “The pipeline and the Berkshire economy”
By C. Jeffrey Cook and Donald R. Dubendorf, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 2/27/2016
PITTSFIELD - We should all be concerned about the closing of SABIC and the ramifications of losing that kind of quality employer and cohort of terrific employees who have been invested in all aspects of our community's life. Unfortunately, the relocation of SABIC is emblematic of larger problems which have brought the Berkshires to a place where the chronic loss (every single year) of population — particularly among families of children-bearing age — now threatens our ability to maintain, among other things — a workforce adequate to serve the region's large and small businesses and — the critical mass needed to sustain quality public schools in many of our communities.
We are at a point where we must make good decisions about the critical elements to get our economy growing. That includes making the right decision about the proposed Kinder-Morgan pipeline.
To date, the public conversation of this project has been confrontational, shrill and highly politicized, leaving on the sidelines many of those who (a) consider the cost of energy a significant problem which must be addressed, and (b) feel intimidated about raising some obvious factors that do not seem to be part of the public discussion. Our community needs to engage in a calm dialogue about the issues at stake.
Just about everyone would like to see more development of sustainable sources of energy and, when feasible, the conversion from fossil fuels to those sources. The question is how soon can those sources provide for our growing energy needs.
Here are some factors that should be more fully considered in the public discussion:
* For well over 60 years, the Berkshires have had extensive experience with gas pipelines, without a significant mishap. Those pipelines run through and around residential neighborhoods and environmentally sensitive areas, including both sides of the Housatonic River and neighboring wetlands. Our population is generally unaware of these pipelines because they are underground.
* Berkshire Gas maintains approximately 750 miles of gas pipelines. Tennessee Gas has constructed and maintains approximately 111 miles of pressurized gas pipelines in Berkshire County. The additional pipeline proposed for Berkshire County is approximately 23 miles in length.
* More than 50 percent of the homes in Berkshire County are heated with natural gas, many owned by working class families. Energy costs in Berkshire County are among the highest in the country and will continue to be that way until additional distribution for natural gas becomes available. As a direct result of our high energy costs, we have seen the continuing relocation of manufacturing operations from the Berkshires to plants in the southeastern United States where energy costs 1/4 to 1/3 of the cost in the Berkshires.
* Both solar and wind are intermittent sources of energy and therefore cannot be relied on as the baseline source of energy for our commercial and industrial users. The undeniable irony is that, because of the current state of energy technology, the manufacturers of solar panels and wind turbines have to rely on the traditional baseline sources of energy, such as natural gas, oil and even coal.
* To most observers, the Kinder-Morgan pipeline is the only near term opportunity we will see to improve the availability of natural gas in Northern Berkshire County.
* Approximately 85 percent of the gas that is distributed by Berkshire Gas in Berkshire County comes from the Marcellus Shale Area in Pennsylvania — which some refer to as "fracked gas". Whether or not the Kinder-Morgan pipeline is approved will have no significant impact on our use of "fracked gas" in Berkshire County.
* Some of the opponents of the pipeline believe that restricting the availability of natural gas "will force" the users to convert to sustainable sources of energy, but that is not what happens. Faced with the reality that sustainable sources are not yet developed to the point of being baseline sources, too many of those users constrain their operations or relocate.
* Many of us are confused about the need for this pipeline. The commonwealth's highest legal officer, the attorney general, commissioned a study with a restricted focus on the reliability of the electric system that concludes the pipeline is not needed. That study, which critics claim looks at "only part of the problem," conflicts with findings of the Department of Public Utilities, and ISO New England which manages the electric power markets. To the critics, the AG's study is flawed because it does not consider the need for more natural gas by utilities such as Berkshire Gas that are unable to meet the increased demand from residents and businesses seeking to switch from oil.
* Our concern with the AG's study is the suggestion that the gap in supply for electric power generators could be filled with more use of oil and liquefied natural gas ("LNG"). Everyone should be aware LNG provides serious transportation and cost challenges and oil consumption is a larger source of greenhouse gases than natural gas.
* During the peak use winter months (approximately 60 days most winters) approximately 40 percent of the electricity generated for western Massachusetts is provided by reversion to coal-and oil-fired plants.
The cost of energy will continue to be a real problem for all those who have been working very hard for many years to reverse the economic and demographic problems which have made the Berkshires among the worst performing regional economies in Massachusetts. And we have to recognize that as much as we all support sustainable sources of energy, we are years away from being able to reduce our dependence on natural gas for most commercial and industrial users.
So the decisions on this pipeline and other energy projects are critical to our future prospects.
That is why we are asking those involved in the decisions to look hard at (a) the challenges we face in the Berkshires, and (b) our actual experience with the construction and maintenance of pipelines over many years.
The writers are leaders in the Berkshire community.
Letter: "Column disregards environmental concerns"
The Berkshire Eagle, 3/7/2016
To the editor:
I write in response to The Berkshire Eagle op-ed commentary on Feb. 29 by C. Jeffrey Cook and Donald R. Dubendorf. ("The pipeline and our economy.")
Unfortunately, their observation that Berkshire County has had gas pipelines for over 60 years does not take into consideration the pipe diameter proposed for the NED. I would like to know where in Berkshire County there is 30-36" diameter gas pipe, with pressure of 1,500 lb/sq inch, pumping 2.2 billion cubic feet of gas daily?
Additionally, there is no mention of emission concerns from a 41,000 hp compressor station. No mention of the price to the environment both at the location of fracking and at these compressor stations positioned every 35 miles along a pipeline route. No mention of the massive methane emissions altering climate or the contamination of ground water throughout the states where fracking is occurring and where pipelines are being installed.
At a time when it is increasingly apparent that available, clean drinking water will be one of the major environmental concerns of the 21st century, it makes no sense at all to continue investing in such fossil fuel infrastructures. Contaminated drinking water may as well be forever.
Do we envy the residents of Hoosick Falls or Petersburg or North Bennington who have found PFOA in their water? Ground water contamination from perchlorate occurs during blasting. When pipes leak; VOCs contaminate ground water. This can mean years of exposure to known carcinogens that go undetected until abnormal health issues demand testing.
Shouldn't we learn from our mistakes? No price can be put on safe drinking water. The fact that the proposed NED route runs next to the reservoir for Pittsfield's drinking water should be a red flag. And, the fact that Kinder Morgan is already challenging a safe drinking water act passed in Rensselaer County, N.Y. should indicate to us their awareness of the problem.
Two years ago, Germany set a new record generating 74 percent of its power needs from renewable energy. Why not America? To invest in the NED, or any fracked gas pipelines is to sign ourselves up for more decades of fossil fuel and the damage it causes.
As we speak, caps for solar energy development are purposely not being lifted. Projects that were in planning stages have been put on hold; all to make fossil fuel appear to be necessary. Speaking for so many of us who would be forced to pay for this pipeline; we demand that our money be invested in the clean, renewable sources that are absolutely available to us today. We stand firm because we have everything to lose.
J.L. Bradley, Windsor
Reader's comment "concerned1" wrote:
All of your scare tactic scenarios that you mention here are unfounded. There are 300,000 miles of these lines currently in the US, including already in Berkshire County. You can look it up on the U.S. Energy Information Administration website. There are 1400 compressors, and 500,000 wells using fracking technology. These technologies have been around for a long time, and are quite needed to help to simply sustain our energy needs. The amount of solar panels and wind turbines that would be needed to generate the same amount of energy is impractical. These technologies can be even more harmful to the environment if built to the numbers that would be needed to eliminate our need for natural gas. We need this in order to stop the bleeding of manufacturing jobs in this State.
Heather Boulger | "Inside the Job Market: It's time to spring clean your career"
The Berkshire Eagle, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 3/25/2016
PITTSFIELD - The weather is getting warmer. Flowers are ready to bloom. Baseball season is beginning. Spring is in the air!
The new season brings a time of renewal, fresh starts, reorganizing and refocusing. Whether you are currently conducting a career search or are stable in your occupation, the same philosophy applies.
In January, the Berkshire County unemployment rate was 5.9 percent a full percentage point higher than state unemployment for that month, but a full point lower than the local rate was for January 2015 (the state releases local unemployment rates for February on Tuesday).
Based on January's statistics, 65,178 people are listed in the Berkshire labor market with 61,178 employed and 3,863 collecting jobless benefits.
As of Thursday, there were 1,789 available positions in the Berkshires listed on JobQuest, ranging from entry-level jobs to high-level professional opportunities.
As the local workforce expert, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board can help connect you to the right organizations to assist with finding your ideal job, advancing within your career, upgrading your skills, or finding the right worker for your company.
Here are some easy steps to help put your best foot forward and find or revitalize your career:
• Brand yourself and polish your resume: Revisit your strengths and weaknesses to help maximize your opportunities.
Spring is a great time to update your resume or take some additional courses to stay sharp within your industry. Employers are always looking for individuals with relevant and timely training to meet their employment needs. Make sure to update all your certifications and skills on your resume as well.
If you are looking to spring-clean your resume, sharpen your interview skills, or obtain a national certification to make you more marketable, contact a career coach at the BerkshireWorks Career Center in Pittsfield.
• Dust off your social media skills: How long has it been since you last updated your social media page or LinkedIn profile? Does it still portray the professional message you want to present? A new profile photo or updated skills summary may be what is needed to draw attention to your experience. Most employers will utilize social media venues to research your background, so make sure any content you post online is appropriate and professional.
• Freshen up your wardrobe: Dressing to impress is critical. An employer can make a decision about a candidate in a little as seven seconds based on their attire. You don't have to spend a million bucks to look like a million dollars. Keeping a few essential business pieces in your wardrobe at all times will ensure that you're never left digging through your closet should a last-minute opportunity or meeting arise. Adding a new button-down or accessory to your wardrobe is economical and can help boost your confidence.
• Reconnect and network: Networking is not always easy, but it is an important component to any successful job search strategy and advancement within your career. Networking can be done both face-to-face and online, so take advantage of internships, job fairs and volunteer opportunities. The BCREB can help you access various venues. Make sure to organize your network, too. Contacts in your personal network are unable to help you further your career unless they understand your goals. Whether you are conducting a job search or not, it is critical to keep the lines of communication open. So take the initiative and reach out to your contacts you never know what possibilities may arise.
The BCREB wants to remind anyone cleaning out their closets to donate their gently used business attire items to Goodwill Industries and the Christian Center's Suit Yourself Boutique. Clothes are given to workforce customers in need and assist them in making that great first impression required on the road to re-employment. Please make sure clothes are clean and hung on hangers. All donations are tax deductible.
• Open a window to new opportunities: Another way to stay involved in activities outside the workplace and a great way to find potential employment is through volunteering and attending social events. It is a great way to refine your skills, gain some additional experience, and make some new connections. When it comes to your career, a little bit of effort up front can result in a big payback.
Did you know that 47 percent of working adults eat lunch at their desk on a daily basis?
Although this might sound harmless, most workstations carry dangerous levels of bacteria. Utilize this new season to clean up and clear out the cobwebs at the office. This process not only removes stagnant energy from a closed-up winter office, it makes way to remove the clutter and opens the door for new energy. Numerous research studies have shown that a clean, organized office environment means a healthier, more productive workforce. Here are some tips to jump start your office spring cleaning:
• Prepare your facilities and equipment: Inspect and refresh floors, entrance ways, machines and ensure all safety signage is up to date. Make sure all cooling systems, fans and ceiling vents are maintained and ready for operation. A cool and happy workforce is a productive workforce.
• Encourage and promote healthy habits around the office: Start a walking club and offer healthier snack options in the kitchen. When you clean and improve the environment you engage the workforce, improve their productivity, their loyalty and their retention, which improves your profitability. Revisit policies and procedures to make sure they are current and still relevant.
• Get organized and be productive: Evaluate what is on your desk and tame the clutter by parting with items you no longer need. This eliminates chaos and disorganization and replaces it with effectiveness and improved performance.
• Update your technology: Remove any applications and files that are no longer required or needed. Update your technology library, back up procedures and disaster recovery plans.
•Prioritize: Evaluate your workload and break it down into the essential projects that need immediate attention, those that can be put off until another time, and those that are no longer relevant or needed.
Spring cleaning involves hard work and yes, some arm-twisting, but it can lead to many improvements. By improving in critical areas, you and your company can become more competitive and profitable.
If you are interested in starting your own spring cleaning opportunities, the BCREB has resources with the following topics than can help to help yoo grow: Recruitment/retention; training; lean and continuous improvement; sustainability; innovation; and workforce development. For more information, visit BCREB.com.
With a little preparation, you will sail through those April showers and be ready to smell the roses this spring!
Heather Boulger is the executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board in Pittsfield.
“Berkshire leads state in 2015 population decline, census figures show”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, March 25, 2016
PITTSFIELD - Berkshire County's population has been declining since 1970, but the region is currently losing more people at a higher rate than any other area of Massachusetts, according to U.S. Census Bureau figures.
A total of 737 people left the Berkshires in the 12 months ending on July 1, 2015, a drop of 0.6 percent, according to population estimates that were released Thursday by the Census Bureau.
Both those figures are higher than in any of the state's 13 other counties over that same time span.
"You always need to keep in mind that these are estimates," said Berkshire Regional Planning Commission Executive Director Nathaniel W. Karns, who has not seen the most recent figures. "They're based on a survey, not the decennial census.
"But it wouldn't surprise me," Karns said, referring to the 0.6 percent drop in the county's population. "We have an aging population, and we have fewer kids. I think that's understood by most people who are paying attention to what's going on in the region."
Berkshire County has one of the oldest populations in the state, with higher percentages of people over age 65 and between the ages of 75 and 84 than the rest of Massachusetts. During the 12-month period that ended last July, 502 more deaths than births were reported in Berkshire County, according to the Census Bureau figures.
Berkshire County's total population is now 127,333, a decline of 3,400 residents since the 2010 decennial census. In Massachusetts, only Dukes, Franklin and Nantucket counties have fewer people.
Franklin County has the second-highest percentage of population decline (0.5 percent) during the 12 months that ended in July, but Barnstable County has lost the second most residents (332).
On the plus side, Suffolk County, which includes the city of Boston, is the state's fastest-growing county. Suffolk added 8,312 residents during the 12 month period that ended in July, an increase of 1.1 percent.
However, Suffolk is the only county in Massachusetts with a growth rate higher than 1 percent. The state of Massachusetts added 39,298 residents, an increase of 0.6 percent, in the 12 month period that ended in July.
Middlesex is the state's most populated county with 1.6 million residents, including 12,616 who arrived during the period covered by the census figures, an increase of 0.8 percent.
"Statewide we're being pulled along by Boston, which is doing well," Karns said. "The rest of the state is sitting in basically the same place since the Great Recession started. Economic improvements haven't filtered into the rest of the state."
In the rest of Western Massachusetts, Hampden County added 1,124 residents, an increase of 0.2 percent, while Hampshire County added 186 residents, a 0.1 percent jump.
Karns said efforts to try to increase the state's population base have been slow to take hold.
"The efforts that are going on to try to reverse that (decline) are just really in their beginning stages," he said. "When you have a big ship it takes awhile to get the thing turning in a different direction. This is one of those big ship issues."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413-496-6224. email@example.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
Our Opinion: "Addressing Berkshires' population loss"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 3/27/2016
The continuing population decline of Berkshire County isn't surprising, but that doesn't make it any less worrisome.
The Berkshires lost 0.6 percent of its population (727 people) between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015 according to US Census Bureau statistics (Eagle, March 26), These figures are estimates, but there is no reason to doubt their veracity, and the decline is the largest of any of the state's counties over that span.
Berkshire County has the oldest demographic in the state, and in that time frame there were more deaths than there were births. The county is struggling economically, and the lack of good jobs makes it difficult to retain young people after they have left high school or college.
However, it is not as if efforts aren't being made to reverse this trend. Berkshire Community College and Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts are working with Berkshire employers to help tailor courses so students are prepared for the high tech jobs or jobs requiring specific skills that are being offered. Communities are finding ways to attract new businesses and, as important, keep businesses and help them expand. New high schools in Pittsfield (Taconic) and serving Lanesborough and Williamstown (Mount Greylock) will ideally attract families, sustaining and building the population and the tax base.
All of these efforts are long-term, of course, and in the interim communities must find ways to address current reality. One of the most important involves sharing services to reduce government and school costs. The consolidation of school districts must be explored even if it means — especially if it means — tossing aside traditions and thinking patterns that have grown counterproductive. Reversing population trends of 40 or more years won't be easy but it can be done.
Laurie Lane-Zucker: “Pursue a new type of business as Berkshire economic engine”
By Laurie Lane-Zucker, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 3/28/2016
SHEFFIELD - For any resident of the Berkshires reviewing the general and school population projections for the coming years, the news is undeniably dismaying: a county-wide population dropping below 100,000 (from a high in 1970 of 150,000) by 2045, and school-age population dropping by 28 percent in only 14 short years. Couple that with economic stagnation and it could be crippling to the region.
This can all seem incredibly daunting. Let me, however, paint a different picture and offer a reason for hope. I see in these numbers an immense business opportunity – but for a new type of business; a business that seeks to generate social and environmental value, alongside traditional profit.
Some call these For-Benefit companies or B Corps. In Massachusetts and in a growing number of states, there are now specific legal designations for benefit corporations. To me, these sustainable businesses represent a clear path to growing a more inclusive, vibrant, resilient economy in the Berkshires.
Here's why I'm so optimistic. There are now over 1,600 B Corps in more than 47 countries. Just look to our neighbor to the north. Vermont is home to many leading B Corps, including Seventh Generation, King Arthur Flour, Cabot, Native Energy, Gardener's Supply, and Ben & Jerry's. Fast Company Magazine called the advent of the B Corp one of the top 20 business ideas from the past 20 years that has moved the whole world forward.
Side-by-side the incredible rise of social and environmental entrepreneurship and enterprise has been the growth of capital to meet these unique businesses' needs. Today this is generally recognized as impact investing. In 2015, impact investing moved, as Rockefeller Foundation President Dr. Judith Rodin likes to say, "from the margins to the mainstream." Global investors committed over $12 billion in impact investments — 54 percent more than just three years ago. Major players like Bain Capital, BlackRock, Citi, Goldman Sacs, and JPMorgan are all growing their impact investing portfolios.
Investing in an impact economy has tremendous potential for all of us who live in the Berkshires. Today, however, there's only one certified B Corp in the Berkshires, Feronia Forests in Lanesborough — the innovators behind Mission Maple and Ramblewild. With smart, targeted investment, there could be hundreds of new, for benefit companies in our region like Feronia.
Unfortunately, one of the most common failings of many current approaches to economic development, even when branded as innovation economies, is that they often employ 20th century approaches to address 21st century challenges.
Impact Entrepreneur, a professional network I established in 2011, is taking an alternative approach. We are launching a center for social and environmental Innovation here in the Berkshires that will tap into a global network of leading social entrepreneurs, impact investors, philanthropists and academics. The center will incubate businesses that will tackle the problems we face here in the Berkshires using 21st century solutions.
NEW MODEL INTRODUCED
Alongside our Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation, we've introduced a new model to incentivize regional sustainable development. We call this model Public Benefit Enterprise Zones (PBEZs). This model differs from traditional enterprise or economic "empowerment" zones in that they are explicitly structured to stimulate the incubation and acceleration of social and environmental impact businesses, trigger impact investments and spark the development of a regional "impact economy."
The Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation will be a B Corp incubator and accelerator. It will be a gathering place for global thought leadership. The Center has begun to collaborate with local partners, especially the region's educational institutions, to cultivate "home grown" impact entrepreneurs.
A rising tide of for-benefit businesses will provide much-needed jobs for the region. They will help retain and attract talent to the region — particularly millennials, more than 80 percent of whom value a company's social and environmental impact as a leading factor when considering employment.
The Berkshires has long been a region rich with social and environmental pioneers and firsts. Just a short bike ride from my home in Sheffield will take me to the place where Elizabeth Freeman became one of the first slaves in the United States, to be freed through legal process; Great Barrington was the birthplace of human rights champion W.E.B. Du Bois and home to the first electrified Main Street;Indian Line Farm in Egremont was the first Community Supported Agriculture farm (CSA) in the United States, and world-renowned physician and social entrepreneur, Dr. Paul Farmer was born and raised in North Adams.
We can continue that rich tradition. The establishment of the Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation and the world's first Public Benefit Enterprise Zone can create a vibrant regional economy that authentically reflects our forward-thinking, farm-to-table values, taps into the region's extraordinary creative culture, and creates a replicable model of a regional impact economy that we can export to a world thirsting for life-affirming, sustainable solutions.
Working together, we can build a more inclusive economy in the Berkshires. One that reinforces the values and brand of our region. Making the right investments now will help jump-start the viable economic engine needed to tackle the crippling problems on our horizon.
Laurie Lane-Zucker, a 20-year resident of the Berkshires, is founder & CEO of the Impact Entrepreneur Center for Social and Environmental Innovation.
Our Opinion: "CPA would make for a better Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 7/28/2016
Adopting the state Community Preservation Act will have genuine benefits for Pittsfield. Voters should have an opportunity to make it a reality in November.
The Community Preservation Act (CPA) provides an ideal way to raise funds for many important projects, among them preserving historic buildings and creating affordable housing. Those are prominent among the goals Pittsfield is addressing and must continue to address.
Because the CPA is funded in part through a percentage of real estate fees, every municipality already contributes to it and has since its inception. Real estate broker Beth VanNess told the City Council's Ordinance and Rules Committee Tuesday night that $43,000 in registry fees generated from home sales in Pittsfield last year went to the CPA pool shared by 161 other Massachusetts communities. (Eagle, July 28).
If adopting the CPA is approved by Pittsfield voters and takes effect on July 1, 2017, a 1 percent surcharge would be made on property after the first $100,000 in assessed value, an increase of roughly $14 in the first year for an average single-family homeowner according to advocates. Along with the rehabilitation of historic buildings, such as for example, the St. Mary the Morning Star building on Tyler Street, and affordable housing, the revenue raised could be used to rehabilitate parks and preserve open spaces. There would not be a lack of candidates for the funds in Pittsfield.
It is unfortunate that Pittsfield rejected the CPA in 2006. [Mayor Jimmy Ruberto opposed the CPA in 2006]. Pembroke approved it the same year and has amassed nearly $2.5 million in the decade since. Under the current proposal for Pittsfield, exemptions for small businesses, veterans, senior citizens and low-income residents are provided that were not included in 2006.
The Ordinance and Rules Committee voted 4-0 to ask voters to consider adopting the CPA on the Nov. 8 ballot and ideally the full City Council will make the same recommendation unanimously when it meets in August. (North Adams should adopt the CPA as well.) The CPA has paid dividends for Lenox, Williamstown, Stockbridge and Great Barrington and it will for Pittsfield as well.
Sara Clement: “CPA will be a big boost for Pittsfield”
By Sara Clement, Op-Ed, The Berkshire Eagle, 8/2/2016
PITTSFIELD - Now is the time for Pittsfield to adopt the Community Preservation Act (CPA).
Next week, the Pittsfield City Council will deliberate on whether or not to place on the November ballot a question regarding the adoption of the Community Preservation Act (CPA) for our city.
We came upon the CPA as an innovative, flexible and locally controlled tool already used in 161 Massachusetts communities. As we learned about the CPA, we found how it could leverage state funding for crucial community projects that create jobs, improve neighborhoods, reduce blight, and preserve the architectural landscape necessary to foster a dynamic 21st century business community.
In the 16 years since it was introduced in Massachusetts, CPA funding has supported over 8,100 projects; preserved 23,471 acres of open space; initiated 1,500 new youth recreation programs; and created or supported roughly 10,000 units of quality housing for communities who have adopted the CPA.
The group Save St. Mary the Morning Star came together last year because of the threatened demolition of St. Mary's church, following Plunkett School's demolition and subsequent unsightly lot. Urban blight invites crime, already an important consideration. Additionally, the continual loss of our historical and architectural treasures threatens to change Pittsfield's cultural fabric and very identity.
In contrast, by improving public spaces and supporting groups that contribute to Pittsfield's development, we'll continue to create a tourist destination, which will generate income for local businesses, restaurants and establishments. Great Barrington, Lenox, Becket, Stockbridge and Williamstown have used CPA funds to help preserve their treasures, like the Mahaiwe, Ventfort Hall, Becket Arts Center and more. Restoration work requires construction, which is an economic boost.
We heard concerned citizens ask what could be done here in Pittsfield to save these structures. In most cases, by the time public interest is generated, it's too late and the buildings have fallen too far into disrepair and cannot be saved. People say, why couldn't we have done something sooner? There has to be something to prevent these losses to our heritage. If only we had the funds.
With that in mind, we petitioned the City Council to put this measure to the voters on the ballot this November. The Community Preservation Act seemed broad and flexible enough to respond to our concerns, and to also address other issues. It's Pittsfield's best chance, and in many instances, the only chance, to save historic structures and convert them for modern use.
VARIETY OF USES
CPA funds aren't limited to historic preservation, but may also used for community housing, open space development, and outdoor recreation projects. The CPA can be directed for a variety of things that couldn't otherwise be done with the current budget and funds. Whether you're interested in getting a dog park, improving Little League fields and Taconic's tracks, restoring the Springside and William Russell Allen Houses, saving the fire station on Tyler St., making a community center or a new trail — CPA can be used for all of this and more.
Pittsfield is, and has been paying into the fund since the CPA was enacted in the year 2000. Every city and town in Massachusetts has been paying — every time any property is bought and sold — but people just don't realize it. In the past few years alone, had we adopted CPA already, we would've had over a million dollars which could have been used to better Pittsfield. Instead, we are literally giving it away to the other 161 communities that have passed the CPA.
As stated on CPA's website, "Community preservation monies are raised locally through the imposition of a surcharge of not more than 3 percent of the tax levy against real property, and municipalities must adopt CPA by ballot referendum. The CPA statute also creates a statewide Community Preservation Trust Fund, administered by the Department of Revenue, which provides distributions each year to communities that have adopted CPA. These annual disbursements serve as an incentive for communities to pass CPA."
We are asking Pittsfield to adopt the conservative 1 percent, with various exemptions and we've calculated that the average single-family homeowner currently taxed at $176,000 valuation would pay about $14 more in the first year.
Our many supporters include but are not limited to: Friends of St. Mary's, Town Players of Pittsfield, Whitney Center for the Arts, Shakespeare in the Park, Pittsfield Historical Commission, Berkshire Environmental Action Team, Friends of Pontoosuc Lake, Hotel on North, Berkshire Historical Society, Shire City Sanctuary and Springside Park Conservancy, among others.
For those people and organizations interested in joining the campaign, you can write us at firstname.lastname@example.org. More information can be found on our Preserve Pittsfield group on Facebook and the preservepittsfield.org website.
We're proud to live in the Berkshires and join many Pittsfield residents who know what untapped assets we have, in our outdoors, in our parks, in our cultural venues, in our historic buildings and neighborhoods. The CPA can contribute to upgrading and improving the quality of life we are all seeking.
Sara Clement wrote this column on behalf of the CPA Committee of Pittsfield.
The Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough has been sold [September 1, 2016], sources have told The Eagle. (Eagle file)
“The Berkshire Mall has been sold, sources say”
The Berkshire Eagle, 9/1/2016
LANESBOROUGH - The Berkshire Mall, the county's largest retail shopping complex, has been sold, according to sources familiar with the transaction.
The transaction was finalized today, sources said. The mall has been owned since 2014 by a Texas-based real estate holding company.
Details, including who the buyer is and what may be in store for the mall, were not immediately available.
The mall has lost two anchor tenants, Best Buy and Macy's, over the last 10 months. Those spaces remain vacant, as do numerous retail spaces inside the mall.
The Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough is being sold to Mike Kohan, a New York-based developer for 3.5 million. Kohan said he hopes to revitalize the struggling mall. (Stephanie Zollshan The Berkshire Eagle | photos.berkshireeagle.com)
"Berkshire Mall to be sold to NY developer with eye on revival"
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 9/1/2016
LANESBOROUGH — The Berkshire Mall, the county's largest retail shopping complex, is being sold to a New York developer who specializes in purchasing and trying to revitalize distressed shopping centers.
Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, N.Y. will purchase the mall for $3.5 million from the shopping center's current owners, a Texas-based real estate holding company, according to the firm's principal, Mehran Kohanseih, who goes by the name Mike Kohan. The sale is expected to be completed on Friday.
"I usually deal with malls that are in a distressed situation," Kohan said. "I bring in more tenants and try and revitalize them. I think that mall has served the community well."
The current owners, COMM 2005-FL10 Berkshire Mall LLC, took over the mall in 2014 after the shopping complex's original owner, Pyramid Cos. of Syracuse, N.Y., failed to keep up with the payments on the property's $36.9 million mortgage. Pyramid opened the 720,000-square-foot shopping complex in 1988.
The mall was struggling before the new ownership group took over, and those struggles have continued. Anchor stores Best Buy and Macy's have both left the mall over the last 12 months.
A mall employee said a small store located near the Regal Cinemas also closed on Thursday.
The Berkshire Mall's current ownership group uses third party contractors to both run the shopping complex, and provide security and maintenance.
On Thursday, Kohan said his company does not hire third party contractors, and that employees of those firms currently working at The Berkshire Mall will be offered positions with Kohan Retail Investment Group.
Berkshire Mall General Manager Joseph Scelsi declined to comment on the sale Thursday except to say that he is still an employee of CBL & Associates Properties of Chattanooga, Tenn., which manages the mall for the current ownership group. The property is held by Strategic Asset Services of California.
Kohan Retail Investment Group currently owns 16 shopping complexes in several states. According to previously published reports in several media outlets, Kohan company's has mixed record in revitalizing the malls it has purchased.
Some of his properties failed after he took them over, according to published reports.
Employees of several mall stores said Thursday that they had heard the mall had been sold, but that no formal announcement was made.
"Excited but kind of nervous," was Mateo Suliveres' reaction to the news. Suliveres works at "Not Just Pretzels," a small food kiosk.
"I don't know what's going to happen," he said.
"I'm really excited," said Lindsey Wick, who has worked at Bath & Body Works for four years. "I'm hoping we see some change."
Shoppers were surprised by the news — "Wow!" said Kelly Gorman of North Adams. Another shopper, who declined to give his name, said he hoped new ownership would revitalize the complex.
"It can't get any worse," he said.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224. email@example.com @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield, with enrollment of just 68 students and a significant operational deficit, will close at the end of the school year in June. "My thoughts and prayers go out to all who grieve the end of this great school," said the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. (John Phelan — Courtesy Photo)
“St. Joseph Central High School in Pittsfield to close in June”
The Berkshire Eagle, 10/13/2016
PITTSFIELD — St. Joseph Central High School, the last remaining Catholic high school in Berkshire County, will close at the end of the school year in June.
The announcement came in a series of meetings with board members, faculty, staff and parents, led by Franciscan Sister of St. Joseph M. Andrea Ciszewski, Springfield diocesan superintendent of Catholic schools.
In comments to those gathered and in a letter distributed to the school community, Sister Ciszewski praised the past efforts of faculty, staff and board members in keeping the school operating, but said, in the end, a number of trends were working against them.
"As trends in the church and society evolved throughout the years, so have the St. Joseph Central High School realities of a steadily increasing cost of education, a declining school enrollment, greater financial assistance needs, the overwhelming price of renovations and major repairs of an aging facility, and increased annual operational costs," she said.
The school was formed in 1897 as St. Joseph's Academy.
Like many Catholic schools, St. Joseph's faced declining enrollment, in part a result of a declining school age population across Western Massachusetts, according to the diocese.
Initially, over the summer, school officials were optimistic that they would have their first increase in enrollment. But, at the last minute, an expected enrollment of international students fell through, leaving the Catholic secondary school with just 68 students and a significant operational deficit.
The diocese, which had provided more than $4.5 million in funding in just the last five years, could no longer afford to fund these deficits and so the decision was made to close at the end of the school year.
It has pledged to provide continuing financial assistance to those families who wish to continue to send their children to other Catholic high schools.
"It was with great sadness that this decision had to be made, but not before many years of valiant efforts by the very dedicated board, faculty and staff of St. Joseph's," said the Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski, bishop of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield. "We had hoped to turn around the enrollment decline and financial deficit, but despite the very best and exemplary efforts of so many, the task proved unattainable. My thoughts and prayers go out to all who grieve the end of this great school."
Our Opinion: "Closing of St. Joseph is a loss for Catholics, Pittsfield"
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, 10/14/2016
The closing of St. Joseph Central High School is obviously a blow to the local Catholic community, but the closing of a school that has long been part of the city's fabric is a blow to Pittsfield as well.
Enrollment at the school, whose city roots go back to 1897, has declined to 68. The last parochial school in the city and the last Catholic high school in the Berkshires will close its doors at the end of the academic year in June (Eagle, October 14).
Local Catholics may be angry with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield, which has closed city churches and sold or tried to sell church buildings in recent years, but St. Joseph's fate is part of a nationwide trend. According to the National Catholic Educational Association, more than 1,500 Catholic schools have closed or consolidated in the last decade, and student enrollment declined by almost 20 percent in that period. Elementary schools have been hit particularly hard, and the three Pre-K through eighth grade Berkshire parochial schools will no longer have a county high school to send students to.
The causes are many. Catholic schools tend to be in urban areas, which have experienced population losses. While public schools receive local, state and federal funding, parochial schools must place the burden of escalating educational costs on parents. An increasing percentage of Catholic parents are sending their children to public schools, both charter and traditional.
Over the decades, parents sent their children to St. Joseph's for the education, for the Crusaders' athletic teams, and for the tight-knit community they found there. While not a public school, St. Joseph has been a part of what defines Pittsfield, and it will be sorely missed.
“Funding for St. Joseph's goes into diocese's pocket”
The Berkshire Eagle, Letter to the Editor, November 30, 2016
To the editor:
I write to express my deep concern involving the recent news relating to the closing of St. Joseph Central High School, the last Catholic school in the city of Pittsfield and the last Catholic High School in all of Berkshire County.
Decisions such as this I am sure are not easy, but for the bishop to come to such a decision, having expressed to the families of the school system and the city at large its commitment to a Catholic education remaining in Pittsfield to serve Berkshire County when he announced the closing of St. Mark School just two years ago, was enough for a parent, such as myself to believe these words to be true.
What makes such a decision for our children so hard to deal with is they are fully aware the diocese is presently in the process of constructing a brand new, state-of-the-art Catholic high school in the city of Springfield (Pope Francis Catholic High School) that will replace the tornado-ruined Cathedral High School. According to an article by a Springfield Republican reporter, Carolyn Robbins, dated June 1, 2014, Bishop Timothy McDonnell confirmed the diocese would rebuild Cathedral High School at a cost of a $38.5 million deal where FEMA will cover $29,428,184 of the cost (that's right federal money), or 75 percent of the cost with the remaining amount (a little more than $9 million) to be covered by insurance money received. Also mentioned in that same article, Bishop McDonnell stated the diocese received $50 million in insurance money, nearly $10 million more than was expected in insurance funds that covered other diocese buildings and funds.
I think it should be mentioned when the parents of St. Joseph's children met with the bishop and representatives of the diocese, the figures shared with the parents where not even close to the article mentioned above, and while we are aware the FEMA money received has to be used exclusively at the site of the damage, the unmentioned, or should I say, misrepresented amount of insurance money is far more than the amount shared by the diocese at this meeting. It is even further than the amount requested by the parents' proposal to either close the school in a more thoughtful manner, allowing those on property to see through to there Catholic education, or to use these four years to turn the school around. There has not been community or parental involvement in any of the financial or administrative decisions within this system that hasn't changed since the days the Sisters of St. Joseph ran the school.
Even if the school required $10 million (which it will not) the diocese will still put $30 million in its pocket from the deal it had brokered. Isn't greed a sin?
Bruce Lambert, Pittsfield
The writer is a St. Joseph Central High School parent.
The Nuclea offices on Elm Street were empty on Thursday. (Ben Garver — The Berkshire Eagle)
"Nuclea files for bankruptcy"
Biotech firm could owe as much as $10M according to filing documents
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, 10/20/2016
PITTSFIELD - Nuclea Biotechnologies, which moved out of its Pittsfield offices earlier this year, has filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection, leaving a significant list of Berkshire creditors in its wake.
The local debtors include the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority, the city of Pittsfield, Berkshire Medical Center, the former North Adams Regional Hospital's laboratory, the Berkshire Gas Co., the owner of Nuclea's former facility on Elm Street, several private businesses and local residents, and three Berkshire County law firms, according to papers filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware.
Nuclea's liabilities could be as high as $10 million, according to the documents.
A hearing in the case is scheduled for Nov. 9.
PEDA, the quasi-public agency charged with the William Stanley Business Park's development, has filed a claim with the court seeking close to $10,000 that Nuclea owes the agency for its share of unpaid rent and utility costs.
The biotech company sublet space from PEDA for its computer operations at the agency's administration building on 81 Kellogg St. from November 2012 before vacating the space at the end of April. Nuclea's sublease with PEDA — the administration building is owned by General Electric — expired this month, said PEDA Executive Director Cory Thurston.
Nuclea also owes the city of Pittsfield $1,521 in property tax revenue, according to records on file in the city tax collector's office. It was not clear whether the city intends to file a claim with the court for that sum. Mayor Linda M. Tyer referred inquiries to City Solicitor Richard M. Dohoney, who could not be reached for comment.
Founded in 2005, Nuclea Biotechnologies developed diagnostic assays and kits used in the early detection and monitoring of biomarkers in oncology and endrocrinology. Nuclea's HER2 Neu License, also know as the Serum HERS2 IVD ELISA diagnostic kit, is a highly regarded means for testing for metastatic breast cancer, according to court documents.
Filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 7 of the federal bankruptcy code allows financially troubled entities to forgive some debts, but requires them to sell a variety of personal assets — a process known as liquidation — to repay as many of its remaining debts as possible. Creditors are repaid in order of priority, with secured debtors receiving payment first.
The court is required to appoint a trustee to oversee assets in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, according to Pittsfield Attorney Jack Houghton Jr., the Chapter 7 bankruptcy trustee for Berkshire County.
"His job is to marshal or pull together all the assets as they might be, liquidate them into cash, and bring that altogether," Houghton said.
Don A. Breskone, the attorney appointed as the trustee in the case, said while Nuclea has ceased operations and no longer has employees, it continues to hold "potentially valuable intellectual property," including its HER2Neu license.
Breskone, of Wilmington, Del., is interested in marketing and selling Nuclea's intellectual property and other assets, court documents indicate.
Nuclea has up to 200 creditors, between $50,000 and $100,000 in assets, and between $1 million and $10 million in liabilities.
Those figures are not unusual in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy filing, Houghton said.
"When you're running a business you generally want your assets to exceed your liabilities and your income to exceed your expenses," Houghton said. "When somebody goes south, you usually look at their income as well as their financial statements. It's sort of like a doctor assessing someone's general health looking at blood tests to detect a high sense of illness.
"You're going to see that on these types of businesses that are fading," Houghton said. "It's not unusual that when you go into Chapter 7 (those figures) are way out of balance."
Once administrative expenses are paid, no funds will be available for distribution to unsecured creditors, the filing states. But Houghton said that procedure can be subject to change, and that if a change does occur a new filing will take place.
"Many times, but not all the time, with a corporation filing that may initially be the case," he said. "But many times it will change."
Nuclea's decision to file for bankruptcy comes after a series of events that began last December when the company's board of directors replaced founder and CEO Patrick J. Muraca, a Pittsfield native, with biotech veteran Donald E. Porgozelski, who left the company soon after.
In January, Nuclea announced that it planned to close a laboratory in Pittsfield while eliminating positions at another company facility in Cambridge.
The company then vacated its Pittsfield operations on Elm Street this spring, and moved its headquarters to Cambridge. Nuclea also maintained operations at Muraca's alma mater, Clark University in Worcester.
The company also ran a student educational initiative, the Nuclea Summer Science Institute, in conjunction with Berkshire Community College for three summers before it ended in 2012.
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224. firstname.lastname@example.org @TonyDobrow on Twitter.
Keith Giraouard, the regional director of the Berkshire Office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network and Alice Maggio, the executive director of Berkshares, host a workshop focused on bringing small businesses to the Morningside neighborhood in Pittsfield. The event at La Fogata restaurant on Tyler Street asked participants to come up with, vote on, and begin to develop business models for potential new industry in the area. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle.
Bringing 'Buy Local' Full Circle
"Brainstorming session focuses on bringing businesses to Morningside neighborhood"
By Tony Dobrowolski, email@example.com - The Berkshire Eagle, November 16, 2016
PITTSFIELD - The ideas for businesses came from all angles. Everything from a micro mall to mini golf, a commercial kitchen to an international food bazaar was proposed.
Alice Maggio, the executive director of BerksShares Inc., wrote them all down on long sheets of paper. The ideas in this brainstorm session were for businesses that could be located in the city's Morningside neighborhood, Pittsfield's poorest area. The process is part of a formula developed by two local business leaders to get Berkshire residents thinking more about regional economic development.
Tuesday night's workshop at La Fogata Restaurant on Tyler Street was the fifth in a series of six sessions called "Bringing 'Buy Local' Full Circle" that were co-developed by BerkShares Inc., which manages the county's local currency, and the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center in Pittsfield. They have been taking place across the county since September. The sixth and last session in the series will take place on Monday, Dec. 12 at Iredale Mineral Cosmetics in Great Barrington.
The session at La Fogata was co-hosted by the Alchemy Initiative, a Berkshire-based organization that is managing a project known as Morningside Up. That initiative has been funded by a FreshLo grant the city of Pittsfield received from The Kresge Foundation to "use food as a creative platform to revitalize a neighborhood."
None of the 27 business ideas suggested by the 22 people in attendance Tuesday night were actually adopted, and some needed a little coaxing before they were written down.
"I have an idea, but I don't know what it is," one woman said.
Participants voted for their five favorite ideas - the commercial kitchen, the micro-mall, the international food bazaar, a greenhouse/garden, and an arts center focused on recyclables were the top choices. The participants then broke into small groups to discuss each idea, then presented their findings to Maggio and Keith Girouard, the regional director of the MSBDC's Pittsfield office.
Ideas culled from all of these workshops will be used for discussion by the participants in the "Entry to Entrepreneurship" initiative, a business planning program for young people that begins its third year in January. Entry to Entrepreneurship is part of a larger initiative known as Community Supported Industry, that is headed by both BerkShares Inc. and the Schumacher Center for New Economic Development in Great Barrington (BerkShares is actually a program of the Schumacher Center). Like the workshops, the program for Entry to Entreprenurship was also developed by Maggio and Girouard.
"The students are often very young," said Maggio, referring to the Entry to Entrepreneurship program, which is open to young people between the ages of 14 and 25. "They don't have that much experience in the world to even recognize business opportunities or even gaps in the local economy. We thought as a way to augment this year's program we could do this series of workshops as a way to generate business ideas from other community members who might have more experience in the world and better ideas of what opportunities there might be."
The five ideas that were fleshed out Tuesday night will be added to the others suggested at the four previous workshops on BerkShares website., www.berkshares.org..
"They're like little snapshots of the work that was presented," Maggio said. "Anybody's that interested can look at those ideas, and our students can, too."
The workshops also give older Berkshire residents who may have a business idea but not the time to develop it, an opportunity to present those proposals to the public.
"We wanted to find a way to capture some of those ideas," she said. "The thing that Keith has brought to this is a real strong background in business."
The MSBDC network, which has branch offices across the commonwealth, provides free, high quality and in-depth business advising, training and capital access that contributes to the growth of small businesses in Massachusetts.
"I'd like to think that it's created a culture of success, community engagement ," Girouard said, referring to the effect the workshops have had on the community. "Being an entrepreneur can be a lonely endeavor,. Wouldn't it be good if it was supported by the community."
Most of Tuesday night's participants were millennials, but the workshop also attracted several older folks, including Diane Marcella of Pittsfield, who heads the Tyler Street Business Group. Marcella said a similar brainstorming session was conducted in support of the Morningside Transformative Development (TDI) initiative, part of a state program that provides funding to advance development proposals in neighborhoods in the state's Gateway Cities which include Pittsfield.
"It's a good process," Marcella said. "It gets input from everybody in the neighborhood. You get a mix of age groups....You don't want a small group of people to decide everything."
Contact Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.
The Morningside Up coalition, with Alchemy Initiative, Berkshares, and the Berkshire Office of the Massachusetts Small Business Development Center Network, hosts a workshop focused on bringing small businesses to the Morningside neighborhood in Pittsfield. The event at La Fogata restaurant on Tyler Street asked participants to come up with, vote on, and begin to develop business models for potential new industry in the area. Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle.
“Region's low-wages sign of deeper problem”
By Tony Dobrowolski, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle – February 10, 2017
PITTSFIELD — The number of people not working in Berkshire County has dropped sharply, but employees in the region earn much less than those in most of the rest of the state.
According to a Williams College expert, the syndrome of low wages will remain until the region succeeds in attracting the sorts of employers now choosing to operate in Eastern Massachusetts.
Stephen C. Sheppard, an economics professor who studies the region, said county leaders need to find ways to improve education and transportation — two steps needed to gain interest of industries that pay better.
Sheppard was reflecting on data recently released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. They indicate Berkshire County was one of five less-populated state counties where average weekly wages were below the national average during in June 2016 compared to the same month the previous year.
At $843, Berkshire County's average weekly wage was the fourth lowest in the state ahead of only Hampshire ($842), Barnstable ($833) and Franklin ($781) counties.
The lower weekly wages "underscore the challenges" that less populated regions experience when competing with larger, more populated counties mostly located in eastern Massachusetts, Sheppard said.
"It's why Berkshire County's delegation ... need(s) to continue their good efforts to help bring good quality education and and good quality transportation out in the west," said Sheppard.
"It's why we all need to work together to attract local investment to local firms and have an educated workforce to continue to provide educational opportunities," he said.
The situation is different in the state's larger areas.
Average weekly wages increased in eight of the state's nine largest counties between June 2016 and June 2015, led by Bristol County at 4.3 percent.
In Suffolk County, which includes the city of Boston, average weekly wages increased by 4.0 percent to $1,571, which is the highest in the state, and almost double the average weekly wage in Berkshire County.
Suffolk is ranked sixth among 344 large counties nationwide in average weekly wage growth, according to the BLS data. Six of the state's nine largest counties recorded wage growth higher than the national average of 2.2 percent. The percentage of weekly wage growth was not available for the state's five smallest counties.
Tim Consedine, regional economist for BLS in Boston, noted the state's concentration on the fields of education, high tech, software publishing and scientific research.
"Those are very well paid positions and they are heavily concentrated in the eastern part of the state," Consedine said. "Looking out west, those jobs are not as prevalent."
The difference in average weekly wages stems from the urban-rural split, according to Sheppard.
"It's a pattern that many smaller communities deal with," he said. "It is sometimes called the urban wage premium or the urban wage gap. It's something we do observe in the U.S and in large counties where wages tend to be higher in the larger cities."
Weekly wages in urban areas tend to be higher because the cost of living there is higher. Employers have to provide higher wages to attract workers, Sheppard said.
"I would be pretty confident that Berkshire, Barnstable, Franklin and Hampshire tend to be lower wage areas than Suffolk," he said.
Wage growth in the state's larger counties coincided with an employment increase. Employment in eight of the nine largest counties increased during the 12-month period that ended in June. Suffolk County led the state at 2.5 percent, higher than the national average of 1.1 percent.
Combined, the state's largest counties accounted for 93.7 percent of total employment in Massachusetts during that time span, according to BLS data.
"We should have a goal of getting our local average weekly wages closer to $1,000 than to the mid-$800s," Sheppard said. "The way to do that is to attract local investment to local firms and have an educated workforce to provide educational opportunities."
That's not easy to do.
"It's a struggle that we have to worry about in Berkshire County," said Sheppard, "that our fellow citizens in Suffolk don't have to worry about."
Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski can be reached at 413 496-6224.
Average weekly wages by county*
1. Suffolk: $1,571
2. Middlesex, $1,470
3. Norfolk, $1,162
4. Essex, $1.054
5. Worcester, $992
6. Nantucket, $967
8. Bristol, $938
9. Dukes, $891
10. Hampden, $885
11, Berkshire, $843
12, Hampshire, $842
13, Barnstable, $833
14. Franklin, $781
National average, $989
*Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Letter: Tourism only image crippling Berkshires
The Berkshire Eagle, February 17, 2017
To the editor:
I'm responding to your recent article "Region's low wages sign of deeper problem." Most of us know that the Berkshires is suffering from high opioid abuse, high suicides, high alcoholism, etc., as a result of low esteem caused by a lopsided economy. Berkshire politicians, economic development officials, Williams College economists, etc. have put a wall around the Berkshires and support the narrow and harmful "tourism only" image. This provides for a seasonal low-income economy.
Our immediate neighbors to the east call themselves the knowledge corridor. If you had a manufacturing business and wanted to locate in New England where would you consider the knowledge corridor or the tourism corridor?
Northampton has reported a drop in vacancies and more than $700,000 in local meals taxes.
There are thousands of very good-paying jobs 45 to 75 minutes West in New York's Capital Region. Why is it so difficult for our leaders to see this opportunity and deal with it in positive ways? Residents of New Hampshire travel to Boston for jobs. Residents of Connecticut travel to New York City for jobs. The Berkshires should retain the UMass Donahue Institute to do a study.
The writer is president of Ralph Brill Associates.
“J.C. Penney closing in June”
By Tony Dobrowolski email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, March 17, 2017
LANESBOROUGH — J.C. Penney has announced that its store in the Berkshire Mall will close June 18, an employee told The Eagle on Friday.
The Lanesborough store is among the 138 outlets the chain will be closing nationwide. It is the only J.C. Penney in Massachusetts that is scheduled to close, and one of just three in New England, according to a list that was released by the company.
The other New England stores targeted for closing are located in Connecticut and Maine.
The company announced last month that it planned to close between 130 and 140 stores nationwide as part of a continuing effort to advance sustainable growth and long-term profitability.
Approximately 5,000 positions nationwide will be impacted by the store closures, most of which will occur in June. It was not clear how many people are employed at the Berkshire Mall store.
J.C. Penney is in the process of identifying relocation opportunities within the company for esteemed leaders. The chain will also provide outplacement support services for those eligible associates who will be leaving the company. Most of the affected stores will begin the liquidation process on April 17.
J.C. Penney has been located in the Berkshire Mall since the retail complex opened in September 1988 and is one of two of the mall's remaining original anchor stores.
It is the third anchor store to close in the Berkshire Mall during the last 18 months. Best Buy closed in October 2015, followed by Macy's last winter.
Berkshire County's largest retail shopping complex was sold for $3.5 million in September to a New York developer who specializes in purchasing and trying to revitalize distressed shopping centers.
“Would-be Crowne Plaza buyer out of picture; new auction planned”
By Larry Parnass, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, March 24, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Going once, twice ... not sold.
The company that offered the top bid Feb. 22 for the Crowne Plaza hotel at 1 West St. in Pittsfield has defaulted on its $3.95 million bid.
"We are going back to sale," said Marianne Sullivan, president of Sullivan & Sullivan Auctioneers LLC of Sandwich.
Sullivan declined to provide more details, saying her firm was not authorized to speak about the status of the landmark downtown property.
Under terms of the February auction, Ladder Capital Finance LLC, the winning bidder, loses a $100,000 nonrefundable deposit.
It was not clear whether Ladder Capital backed out before it was required, under auction rules, to pay another $300,000 within five calendar days.
Brian Harris, the company's CEO, could not be reached for comment Friday.
In a short phone interview with The Eagle's Tony Dobrowolski on Feb. 22, Harris offered a note of caution, saying that he preferred to speak about a purchase only after it went through.
"Right now all we have is a deposit," Harris said.
Ladder Capital's decision to drop out could signal that even at $3.95 million — well below its assessed value of $7.6 million — this wasn't a deal.
In an effort to gauge the expenses a future buyer faces in restoring the property, The Eagle interviewed a representative of another company that attended the February auction.
This real-estate official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had calculated that the property needed an investment in the range of $20 million — above and beyond the purchase price.
One issue facing a prospective buyer is the need to fulfill a requirement from the Crowne Plaza corporate parent, the InterContinental Hotels Group, that properties be upgraded every 10 years.
"Without updates, they just don't want their flag being hung there without the required updates," said the real-estate expert, who had communicated directly with the InterContinental Hotels Group.
The 14-floor hotel, built in 1970, was renovated in 1997 and 1998 when it changed from being a Hilton franchise. At the time, about $1 million of improvements were made.
The owner at the time, Eugene Weiss, had purchased the hotel in 1986 from the Berkshire Life Insurance Co. for $10.3 million.
Another financial concern for would-be buyers, the real-estate expert said, is the state of the hotel's adjoining 325-space garage structure, which is also in need of renovation. "The garage also has a $6 million or $8 million bill associated with it, and that's not even for a teardown and rebuild," the real-estate official said. "Unless someone steps in and makes a significant investment ... that's its major issue."
The hotel's general manager, Chuck Burnick, could not be reached Friday for comment on the condition of the property.
The delay in putting the hotel property into new hands means the city of Pittsfield will continue to wait to recoup at least $253,900 in unpaid property and utility taxes.
The February auction, which Sullivan said will be rescheduled, followed a decision by Santander Bank of Boston to foreclose on a $16.5 million mortgage given to two co-borrowers, Berkshire Common Corp. and Shireberk Corp.
Weiss, who died in 2014, had been listed as president of both borrowers. His son, Andrew Weiss, now oversees Berkshire Common Corp. and Shireberk Corp.
The property under foreclosure includes the 179-room hotel and its two restaurants and the garage, which sit on a 3.2-acre parcel.
A three-story office building at 2 South St. was not part of the sale.
Reach staff writer Larry Parnass at 413-496-6214 or @larryparnass.
“Income inequality grows in the Berkshires”
By Tony Dobrowolski, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, July 14, 2017
PITTSFIELD — A lack of good paying jobs. An increase in economic inequality. Stagnant wages. Growth that registers below the national average. Lack of affordable housing options.
Spending on tourism is booming while the second home market is growing. But poverty is on the rise, and many residents are considering leaving the area because it's too expensive to live in.
Those are some of the main findings contained in a "A Closer Look" a report by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation that examines the economics and demographics of the nonprofit's coverage area which includes parts of four counties in three states, and all of Berkshire County.
The most significant findings contained in the report are in the jobs and economic data, said Berkshire Taconic President Peter Taylor. Residents of these areas in Massachusetts, New York and Connecticut are all wrestling with similar issues, the data indicates.
- More than a third of the area's residents cite the lack of available jobs as reasons why they would consider moving out of the area.
- 60 percent reported challenges accessing job opportunities for themselves or a family member.
- More than 50 percent of residents with household incomes from $50,000 to $124,000 are considering leaving the area within the next three years.
- 44 percent of residents under the age of 46 have also considered leaving the region within that same three-year time span.
The foundation's coverage area includes 68 total municipalities located in Berkshire County, Columbia and northeast Dutchess counties in New York, and northwest Litchfield County in Connecticut, along with the town of Stamford, Vt.
The report was formulated with the help of a consultant, Mt. Auburn Associates, which held community conversations in several municipalities, including North Adams, and scheduled 12 focus groups with the region's residents to discuss the issues that mattered the most to them. Data was also gathered through online surveys. Over 2,300 people participated in the process of formulating the report, which took place from September to December.
"We undertook this process beginning last January so the foundation could gain a deeper understanding of the issues trends and needs facing our communities," said Berkshire Taconic President Peter Taylor. "It's important to our work and our nonprofit partners, and the donor community having this approach because it's how they approach their philanthropy."
According to the report, economic growth in the four county region has been 3.3 percent since 2010, though it is 7 percent in Columbia County, which includes the city of Hudson, N.Y. But those figures are well below the the U.S. average of 9 percent.
About a third of the region's towns and cities had unemployment rates higher than the national average of 8.3 percent between 2011 and 2015, the report found. The labor force participation, the metric that measures the active portion of an economy's workforce, ranged between 50 and 75 percent throughout the region, but nearly half of the 68 municipalities were below the national average of 64 percent.
The report shows a 15 percent decline in the amount of available farmland between 1997 and 2012.
The region saw job growth in health care and social assistance, which make up 15 percent of jobs, and the government, retail trade, accommodation and food service sectors. There was also a high level of self employment.
The report also found an increase in tourism spending — a total of $1.3 billion in the four county region — a thriving creative industry highlighted by 200 nonprofit organizations.
During that same time span, the number of jobs in food-related industries, production, processing, distribution, restaurants and retail, increased to 17,500, or 12.3 percent of all of the region's jobs as of 2015. Employment in that sector has grown by almost 8 percent since 2010, which is almost twice the overall region's job growth
"Jobs and economic development are the most pressing issue for residents across age income levels and across education levels," Taylor said. "As a region we need to be thinking about how we can look at assets of our region compared to other regions and think of ways to grow the economy to provide good jobs for the people of this region."
The report also highlighted several demographic changes. The number of residents over age 65 in the entire region was 19 percent between 2010 and 2014, higher than the state averages in Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York, and the national average of 13.7 percent. Of the region's 68 municipalities, 59 saw an increase in the percentage of senior citizens. Only five experienced an increase in children. The number of families without children in the region is 21 percent higher than the national average of 43 percent.
According to the American Community Survey, which is performed by the U.S. Census Bureau, the region lost 2.5 people for every one resident it gained between 2010 and 2014. The highest amount of population loss in the region was in Berkshire County at 3.6 percent.
The report found several signs of deepening inequality throughout the region.
Although 54 of the 68 municipalities had median household incomes that exceeded the national average of $53,600, incomes throughout the area have not kept pace with inflation, meaning that many workers are earning less now than they did in 2000.
At 11 percent, the entire region's poverty rate is below the national average of 15 percent, but poverty has increased in almost three-quarters of the region since 2000, and by 10 percent or more in most towns and cities. In some areas, including the cities of Pittsfield and North Adams, as many as one in five residents are living in poverty. The Berkshire County poverty rate is 12 percent, higher than any other areas in the region. One Berkshire County estimate found that nearly 12 percent of the population faced food insecurity.
At the same time, the number of properties being used for second or vacation homes in the region increased by 28 percent from 2000 to 2014. In over a quarter of the region, 30 percent of the housing was occupied part-time (the regional average is 14 percent). On the flip side, 45 percent of the renters in the region paid more than 30 percent of their income on rent between 2010 and 2014, while 22 percent spent more than half.
Resident perspective surveys found that 30 percent of the region's residents have faced challenges accessing affordable housing. The third highest reason people are considering leaving the area is because they believe the region is too expensive to live in.
Contact Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.
“Businessman Patrick Muraca misused $400k of investor funds, feds allege”
By Bob Dunn, The Berkshire Eagle, August 1, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Local businessman Patrick Muraca is facing federal charges for allegedly misappropriating hundreds of thousands of dollars from investors and funneling that money into his fiancee's restaurant business.
Muraca raised at least $1.75 million from 15 investors in NanoMolecularDX and MetaboRX, described by Muraca as pharmaceutical development companies, according to court filings obtained by The Eagle.
A Pittsfield native, Muraca also was the founder and former CEO of Nuclea Biotechnologies, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection in August 2016. He later purchased that company's assets, and in April formed NanoMolecular DX in Lee as a way to market those assets.
Investors in the new company were under the impression their money was going to be used to manufacture cancer diagnostic tests and develop clinical trials, but instead Muraca diverted at least $400,000 to pay for things like groceries, restaurant trips, entertainment and to subsidize the restaurant business, according to the Securities and Exchange Commission complaint filed in U.S. District Court.
The complaint alleges Muraca removed investor money from the business accounts and transferred it into his personal accounts or paid personal expenses directly from the business accounts.
In a parallel action, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York also has announced criminal charges against Muraca.
This story will be updated.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter or firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Did businessman use cancer tech funds on personal expenses?”
August 1, 2017
BOSTON (AP) - Federal authorities say a Massachusetts businessman paid his personal expenses and supported his fiancee's restaurants using at least $400,000 from investors who believed the money was going toward technology aimed at fighting cancer.
The Securities and Exchange Commission on Monday filed a complaint in Boston federal court. Federal prosecutors filed a parallel criminal case in New York City.
The SEC's complaint against Pittsfield, Massachusetts, native Patrick Muraca says he raised nearly $1.2 million for his two pharmaceutical development companies by telling investors their money would be used to develop products to detect cancer and other diseases.
Officials allege some of the money was used on payments to a casino and rent for the restaurants.
Muraca's companies, NanoMolecularDX and MeetaboRX, say they're "responding accordingly" to the charges.
“Questions over Muraca credentials linger”
By Bob Dunn, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, August 3, 2017
PITTSFIELD — When Patrick Muraca announced he was bringing his biotechnology firm, Nuclea Biotechnologies, to Pittsfield in 2006, he touted a doctorate in biostatistics from St. Regis University as part of his educational background.
St. Regis University was unmasked as a bogus "diploma mill" in 2005 by government authorities and, according to a 2008 Washington Post article, it was among a number of phony schools that sold $6 million worth of fake degrees to people in 130 countries between 1999 and 2005.
A check of Muraca's background via his LinkedIn profile shows he may have also exaggerated or misrepresented some of his associations with other organizations.
LinkedIn is a business-centric social networking site on which participants can post their resumes and other work-related information.
Muraca's attorney Anthony Doyle said in a statement Thursday, "Mr. Muraca, in an effort to continue his training and education, engaged in a long-distance program offered by St. Regis University. He paid tuition and engaged in a dissertation offered by the organization. When he discovered that the university lacked the legitimacy to meet appropriate standards he removed the certification from his credentials."
A civil suit against Muraca has been filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission in federal court for allegedly diverting approximately $400,000 of investor money for a pair of biotech firms he launched toward personal expenses, including support of his fiancee's restaurant business.
Muraca lists among his experience a role as the president of the board of directors of The Moments House, a Pittsfield support organization for people diagnosed with cancer and their families, from May 2012 to December 2014.
In response to queries, The Eagle was provided by a representative of Muraca's with a copy of a letter of resignation on Nuclea letterhead, dated February 2014, sent to Moments House director and co-founder Alice Trumbull.
Trumbull said Thursday she had never seen nor received that letter.
Trumbull said Muraca didn't resign in February 2014, noting that he spoke at Moments House's annual Slice of Life fundraiser at the Crowne Plaza Hotel about two months later in his role as president of the board of directors.
Trumbull said that fundraiser was the only event in which Muraca participated and he never attended regular meetings, which were among the reasons why the other board members voted him out of that position in mid-2014. She also said he joined the organization closer to December 2013, not May 2012.
Muraca's own LinkedIn profile contradicts the letter his representative provided, as it lists his tenure of service as the president of the board ending in December 2014.
Trumbull said Muraca also reneged on a promise to pay the first year's rent for The Moments House's Depot Street location, another reason he was voted out by the other board members.
Trumbull said she did send a letter to Muraca in December 2013 thanking him for a $2,400 donation that covered the security deposit on the Depot Street building. She said Muraca paid monthly rent "a couple of times," intermittently.
She also said Muraca failed to follow through on promised support for kitchen renovations and insurance on that building. She said donations from community members made up for the shortfall.
"Thank God for our generous donors," she said.
On his LinkedIn profile, Muraca lists, being a "member of the board," of Jenesis Biosciences from April 2014 to the present.
Jenesis was formed in 2013 by the Boston-based Joslin Diabetes Center in an effort to "accelerate the development of new ventures" in diabetes research and treatment, according to its website.
Sarah Darcy, a spokeswoman for the center, said Jenesis was dissolved in 2016 after it failed to generate the amount of hoped-for business. She said Muraca was a member of Jenisis after joining in 2014, but the company had no board of directors and, while it did have an advisory board, Muraca was never a member of it.
In another letter provided to The Eagle by Muraca's representative, dated Sept. 20, 2016, Muraca was informed of Jenisis' dissolution and told he owed Joslin a balance of $178,071.37 for unspecified services rendered to Molecular Metabolism, a company Muraca said he co-founded and of which he was a board member.
When asked if that balance was paid, Darcy said she would not comment on the matter in that level of detail.
A representative for Muraca said they believe that balance was not paid and that it was eventually part of Nuclea's bankruptcy filing in October 2016.
According to filings in U.S. District Court, the SEC has accused Muraca of soliciting approximately $1.75 million from more than a dozen investors for the stated purpose of backing a pair of pharmaceutical companies — NanoMolecularDX and MetaboRX — involved in cancer research.
The complaint alleges Muraca used about $400,000 of that money for personal expenses, including groceries, a payment to a casino, restaurants and support of his fiancee's restaurant businesses, Leenie's Paninis and More in Lenox and the former Sullivan Station restaurant in Lee.
Muraca allegedly filed paperwork changing the stated nature of the two businesses from biopharmaceutical to restaurant food service without informing the investors.
He also allegedly misrepresented to investors how much of his own money he contributed to the companies and how much revenue the companies were generating. The SEC suit claims those companies have yet to generate any revenue.
In an email dated Nov. 14, 2016, which was included in court documents obtained by The Eagle, Muraca said NanoMolecularDX had generated $50,000 in revenue and projected $250,000 of revenue in the first quarter of 2017 and $1.44 million for the entirety of 2017.
Doyle, Muraca's attorney, acknowledged the charges are "serious." He said he is reviewing the complaint and feels "confident that when we have the opportunity to present our case that a very different set of facts will emerge."
As of Thursday afternoon, no court dates had yet been set in the matter.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
“SEC Probe: Muraca spending traced on social media”
By Bob Dunn, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, August 4, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Facebook posts and corresponding "check-ins" apparently link area businessman Patrick Muraca to illicit transactions from investor-funded business accounts toward payments to bars, restaurants and a casino.
According to filings in U.S. District Court, the Securities and Exchange Commission has accused Muraca, 48, of soliciting approximately $1.75 million from more than a dozen investors for the stated purpose of backing a pair of pharmaceutical companies — NanoMolecularDX and MetaboRX — involved in cancer research.
The complaint alleges Muraca used about $400,000 of that money for personal expenses, including support of his fiancee's restaurant businesses, Leenie's Paninis and More in Lenox and the former Sullivan Station restaurant in Lee.
Muraca allegedly filed paperwork changing the stated nature of the two businesses from biopharmaceutical to restaurant food service without informing the investors.
As part of the investigation, authorities cross-referenced Facebook posts and "check-ins" at various locations against withdrawals from the accounts for the two firms.
Ten posts on his Facebook that correspond to transactions between Jan. 14 and March 19, 2017, were included in court files obtained by The Eagle.
Those transactions represent a total of $1,937.55 and include payments to restaurants and bars including O'Laughlin's Pub and Tito's Mexican Grille, both in Pittsfield.
The largest single expenditure of those included in the documents was a $437.32 payment to Coach Inc., which makes high-end designer handbags, among other items.
The next largest payment on the list is $410.26 to the Prime Italian Steakhouse and Bar in Lenox on March 2.
According to the files, Muraca checked in at the restaurant and wrote a corresponding post, praising the meal and the 32-ounce steak he'd ordered.
"A great meal with great friends," part of the post reads.
The debit card payment for that tab was posted the next day and a bank statement for NanoMolecular shows it was drawn out of its account.
A Jan. 14 post from Muraca announces a trip to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut and documents show a corresponding $45 debit card payment to the casino drawn off of the NanoMolecularDX account.
A message sent to Muraca's representative offering an opportunity to comment was not returned.
Muraca also allegedly misrepresented to investors how much of his own money he contributed to the companies and how much revenue the companies were generating. The SEC suit claims those companies have yet to generate any revenue.
In an email dated Nov. 14, 2016, which was included in court documents obtained by The Eagle, Muraca said NanoMolecularDX had generated $50,000 in revenue and projected $250,000 of revenue in the first quarter of 2017 and $1.44 million for the entirety of 2017.
In a statement, Anthony Doyle, Muraca's attorney, acknowledged the charges are "serious." He said he is reviewing the complaint and feels "confident that when we have the opportunity to present our case that a very different set of facts will emerge."
Questions also surround Muraca's credentials, as he once touted a doctorate in biostatistics from St. Regis University, which authorities determined was a bogus "diploma mill," selling degrees and graduation certificates.
A review of Muraca's online resume via his LinkedIn account also showed discrepancies, including a listing of board membership with a company that did not have a board of directors.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
“Workers paid with bad checks: Muraca's company account had been frozen by court”
By Bob Dunn, email@example.com – The Berkshire Eagle, August 30, 2017
PITTSFIELD — Businessman Patrick Muraca gathered six employees of his biotech company, NanoMolecularDX, on Aug. 1 and assured them everything was fine with the company and its assets had not been frozen.
Neither of those statements were correct, according to court documents.
At that meeting, Muraca gave each of the six employees a paycheck drawn from the NanoMolecular bank account and, in doing so, may have violated a temporary restraining order, issued the day before, which did, in fact, freeze the company's assets.
Muraca, formerly head of Nuclea Biotechnologies, has been accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of taking money from people investing in NanoMolecular and another company, MetaboRX, and using those funds for personal expenses. He established those companies as a way to market the assets from Nuclea, which he purchased after that company went bankrupt.
"Muraca began his... scheme in the spring of 2016 with a lie," according to court documents.
The temporary order was issued about 4:45 p.m. July 31, following a court hearing at which Muraca's attorney appeared, according to court files.
According to a Muraca representative, Muraca had no knowledge that order had been issued at the time he distributed the checks on Aug. 1.
One employee attempted to cash their check, but the bank was unable to process it, according to court files.
Another employee, who identified himself as NanoMolecular's chief information officer, said he'd been employed there for about a year, but hadn't been paid all the money he was owed during that time.
At that meeting, he received a check drawn from the NanoMolecular account in the amount of $2,715.25. He did not attempt to cash the check after learning of the other employee's failed attempt to do so.
Since then, the SEC has been granted a preliminary injunction, which restrains Muraca from taking any action to withdraw, sell or "diminish the value in any way" any funds or assets of the companies. Additionally, banks involved with those companies are prohibited from allowing withdrawal of funds.
Muraca also was ordered to provide records of all transfers and payments between the company and its investors including the dates, amounts, names and account numbers associated with those transactions.
And he is prohibited from soliciting new investments or opening new bank accounts, or destroying any books, records documents or computer files connected to the alleged misconduct.
The court that granted the injunction did so after finding the SEC had made the necessary findings to allow it to go forward.
According to the court, the SEC has shown it is "reasonably likely" to establish Muraca engaged in the conduct alleged, that a reasonable likelihood exists that the violations would be repeated, and a "strong indication," unless such an order is in place, Muraca may "dissipate and conceal assets," which could be subject to a payment of any court-ordered penalty.
"Without a preliminary injunction, it is likely [Muraca] will continue to violate the securities laws while this case is pending," according to court records.
The SEC investigation alleges that Muraca used investor money to pay for non-business related expenses like groceries, restaurant and bar tabs, cigars, mortgage payments on his mother's home and expenses related to a pair of restaurants operated by his fiancee.
According to court files, Muraca solicited money from at least 15 investors, raising about $1.18 million. At least $400,000 of that money was diverted to three separate accounts over which Muraca had control and spent on items not related to the running of the businesses.
Muraca also allegedly misrepresented the amount of his own money he invested into the companies.
A hearing in the case was scheduled for Aug. 28, but was canceled. As of Wednesday afternoon, it had not been rescheduled.
Reach staff writer Bob Dunn at 413-496-6249 or @BobDunn413 on Twitter.
The Country Curtains board of directors announced their vote to recommend the liquidation of the Berkshires-based company to shareholders. credit photo: Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle.
The 110-square-foot distribution center of Country Curtains in Lee was shipping out 3,000 items daily as of April 2016. Amid growing challenges in the retail industry, the company's shareholders will vote Oct. 4 on a board recommendation to liquidate the operation. Eagle file.
“Country Curtains board recommends struggling company close”
By Tony Dobrowolski, firstname.lastname@example.org – The Berkshire Eagle, September 12, 2017
STOCKBRIDGE — Country Curtains, the Berkshire-based home furnishings company founded by the late John and Jane Fitzpatrick over 60 years ago, is on the verge of shutting down.
Unable to find a strategic buyer or turn around the firm's faltering operations, the company's board of directors has recommended an orderly liquidation of Country Curtains and its related operations.
The recommendation is contingent on a vote of the company's shareholders, which is scheduled for Oct. 4. If the vote is affirmative, Country Curtains will begin the liquidation process in early October, with the goal of shutting down operations on Dec. 31.
"The liquidation would start the next day," said chief marketing officer Shane Wirta.
If the shareholders do not vote in favor of liquidation, Country Curtains would resume normal operations until the board can vote again, Wirta said.
If the board's recommendation is approved next month, most employees will remain with the company for at least 60 days after the vote, the company said on Tuesday.
The Berkshire County Regional Employment Board has already begun to mobilize its rapid response team to assist employees if the recommended liquidation is approved, according to State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox.
Liquidating the company in an orderly fashion would allow Country Curtains to preserve value for its over 300 shareholders, who consist of employees, board members and Fitzpatrick family members, Wirta said. Forty percent of the company is owned by current and former employees who participate in Country Curtains' employee stock ownership plan.
"This has been a heartbreaking decision, but the board is confident that it is in the best interest of our shareholders," said Country Curtains CEO Celia Clancy in a statement. "The changing retail environment makes it increasingly difficult for a small, independent company to compete and meet customer expectations on price, product delivery and product mix."
About half of the company's 360 employees work in the Berkshires, Wirta said. Country Curtains also operates a production facility in West Hartford, Conn., and has 22 retail outlets in 11 states.
All of the employees were notified of the board's decision on Tuesday.
"The mood is somber, sad," Wirta said. "It's hard because a majority of the people who work here have worked here the majority of their lives. I don't think anyone ever thought it would come to this.
"They (the board) really wanted it to go to another company so it could stay in the Berkshires, but it just didn't happen.
"We explored every avenue," he said. "We tried for a couple of years with a couple of buyers but it just didn't work out."
Like many brick and mortar retailers, Country Curtains has been affected by the increased popularity of online shopping sites like Amazon.
The company launched a turnaround effort two years ago by bringing in new leadership including Clancy, a former board member, who had previously held high-ranking executive positions at some major retail outlets including Walmart. But the strategy didn't work.
Country Curtains losses exceeded $3 million in 2015, $5 million last year, and were on track for similar losses this year through August, the company said. The firm brought on an investment banking firm with experience in working with catalog and direct retailing in hopes of finding a buyer, but that approach also fell short.
In a letter she read to Country Curtains' Berkshire employees on Tuesday, board Chairwoman Nancy Fitzpatrick described the process that led liquidation recommendation as, "enormously difficult for all involved. Please know that our board explored every alternative before coming to this sad conclusion.
"The challenges of a small company like ours being able to compete in the current online, retail and manufacturing environment have been enormous," her letter stated.
"We invested in an industry search to find qualified buyers who would integrate our business into a larger operation, and bring fresh investment and new ideas to the company," the letter further stated. "Unfortunately, despite all the things we tried, we haven't been able to turn around our financial losses and we have not found the right buyers."
Nancy Fitzpatrick's parents founded Country Curtains at the kitchen table of their then home in Whitman in 1956.
"Country Curtains made an incredible positive impact on the Berkshires," Nancy Fitzpatrick said. "Everything has its own time."
The Fitzpatrick family also owns Main Street Hospitality Group, which runs several Berkshire lodging establishments, including the iconic Red Lion Inn, a lodging establishment her parents saved from destruction when they purchased it in 1968. The group also runs Hotel on North in Pittsfield and Porches Inn in North Adams.
In her letter, Fitzpatrick said her family remains committed to the Berkshires and "the well-being of our region."
"This is very sad, in many ways," Pignatelli said. "It's a sad, disappointing reflection of the time we're in that this company that started on the Fitzpatrick's kitchen table then morphed into what we have today can't compete with the Amazon's of the world."
Reach Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224.
Our Opinion: “Painful end to era at Country Curtains”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 13, 2017
It began more than 60 years ago with a single package of textile, wrapped for shipping in brown paper on the dining room table of the Fitzpatrick family's home. Now Country Curtains, the first mail order curtain company established in the United States, will likely shutter its doors by year's end (Eagle, September 13).
Founded by the late John and Jane Fitzpatrick in 1956, the once-burgeoning Berkshire-based business has been unable to turn around its faltering operations following a reboot last year that included bringing in a new CEO. Efforts to find a strategic buyer have also proven unsuccessful. The company's board of directors announced Tuesday its recommendation for an orderly liquidation of Country Curtains and its related operations, contingent on a vote of the company's shareholders, scheduled for October 4. The shareholders could vote against the recommendation, but the comments of CEO Celia Clancy and Board Chairwoman Nancy Fitzpatrick demonstrate their belief that this difficult decision should and must happen.
The closing of Country Curtains would be a big blow to the Berkshires. Half of its staff of 360 employees work in its Berkshire facilities, which include the 110,000-square-foot distribution center in Lee and a production facility in Housatonic. Country Curtains has 22 retail outlets in 11 states, and also operates a second production facility in West Hartford, Connecticut. Though more than 3,000 items were being shipped daily from Lee as of April 2016, this hasn't been enough to weather the whiplash changes in retail that have left many independent, brick-and-mortar outlets struggling to find their bearings. Death by Amazon? Perhaps. Country Curtains reported $5 million in losses in 2016, coming off $3 million the previous year.
"It's just such a whole new world in business with the whole digital universe," Ms. Fitzpatrick, Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick's daughter, told The Eagle last year. "We have had to play with things like promotion offerings, sending out emails, offering discounts that have been entirely contrary to our corporate culture."
Culture, indeed, is what the Fitzpatrick name has become synonymous with. Arguably no family has done more to support the Berkshires' non-profit art, education and social institutions than the Fitzpatricks, and it was Country Curtains' early and vigorous success that helped bankroll so many of these generous efforts.
As we await the shareholders' vote, the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board has announced it stands ready to assist Country Curtains employees, if and when the need arises.
It's always a sad day when we see a Berkshire business fail, and there have been too many in recent years. It's sadder still when its a company as storied as Country Curtains, which has done more than its share over the years to ensure our community is cut from a different cloth.
“Officials ponder void to be left in Country Curtains' wake”
By Clarence Fanto, Special to The Berkshire Eagle, September 13, 2017
LEE — Looking ahead to the expected closing of the Country Curtains home furnishings business, town officials are hopeful that the headquarters property on Pleasant Street (Route 102) will attract a major employer.
About 175 of the company's 360 staffers who work in Lee and at a manufacturing facility in the Great Barrington village of Housatonic will be seeking new employment before the end of the year, assuming shareholders vote on Oct. 4 to approve the board of directors recommendation for an "orderly liquidation" of the business.
The company, started 60 years ago by Jack and Jane Fitzpatrick, reports total losses of more than $10 million since the beginning of 2015 on current annual revenue of $52 million, down from $80 million five years ago.
"It's very sad, it's going to hurt a whole lot of people," said Ernest J. "Chuckie" Cardillo, who served as facilities manager for the company and now is a selectman and the fire chief in Stockbridge. "All those local jobs lost, that's big."
Cardillo, who worked at Country Curtains for 15 years beginning in 2000, called it "a good place to work. I knew the Fitzpatricks for a long time, but they were in a tough market competing against everybody else. When I was first there, they were expanding retail stores and business was good."
"It's going to be rough for the local communities with so many people out of work," he added.
"It's very sad," said Lyndsay Broom, who worked in human resources at the company for two years before being hired this summer as the assistant chief administrative officer for Lee and Lenox.
"My heart is with my Country Curtains family," she said. "I enjoyed working there so much; it's an amazing group of people. We care about our community and we want to help."
Broom called the impending shutdown "a huge blow to Lee, Stockbridge and the area." She cited the dedication of the employees, many of whom have worked at the company for decades.
"I wouldn't be where I am without my time at Country Curtains," Broom added. "It taught me a lot."
Among the 300-plus shareholders are employees, board members and Fitzpatrick family members, and 40 percent of the company is owned by current and former employees participating in Country Curtains' employee stock ownership plan.
Lee-Lenox Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen praised the immediate activation of the Berkshire Regional Employment Board's Rapid Response Team to assist displaced employees after the expected vote to liquidate.
State Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli triggered the mobilization of the unit.
"That was brilliant; that's exactly what the first step needs to be," Ketchen told The Eagle on Wednesday. "He's really a one-man band taking care of all that. Obviously, the big concern is the jobs and the contributions they make to the overall local economy and how it affects all of us, especially Lee but the immediate region as well."
"The community has had a sense that change was coming," Ketchen said. "However, now the decision has brought some finality to the speculation."
Pignatelli termed the upcoming closing of Country Curtains "a sad, disappointing reflection of the time we're in that this company that started on the Fitzpatricks' kitchen table in 1956, then morphed into what we have today, that it can't compete with the Amazons of the world."
In an interview on Wednesday, president and CEO Celia Clancy, a veteran retail executive hired 18 months ago, acknowledged the role of the web in the company's downfall.
"We did not keep pace with the tremendous growth of the internet," she said. "We invested in our website a year ago, it's very good looking but we didn't get the kind of return on investment that we were looking for. We had tremendous costs, but it turned out to be too little, too late."
Efforts to sell the business were intense, with the help of an investment bank experienced in catalog and direct-to-consumer sales, Clancy said. "We cast a very wide net."
About 40 of the company's 175 local employees work at the Country Curtains manufacturing facility in Housatonic. A production site in West Hartford, Conn., was closed earlier this year, and some of retail stores have been phased out, with 19 still remaining, primarily in the Northeast and Middle Atlantic states, including the original outlet in the Red Lion Inn.
Employees at the Lee headquarters work in teams specializing in web, direct mail and catalog sales and marketing. as well as a merchandising and inventory management group. Other staffers work in accounting, internet technology (IT) and in the pick-and-pack warehouse facility responsible for shipping out all orders. The company also maintains a call center and customer care center.
"We will do everything in our power to assist the employees," Clancy said. "The company and the family have many connections in the community, ready to help. It's been a pleasure and honor to lead this team for the past year and a half."
Clancy pointed out that efforts to sell the company's main campus are intensifying.
"The site is fantastic, a real jewel, quite beautiful, and people have approached us," she said. "There's some interest and we've also spoken with business and civic leaders interested in helping the employees, seeing the Berkshires grow and helping area businesses expand."
Ketchen, the chief administrative officer, emphasized that the town of Lee would do whatever it can to help find another appropriate use for the company's substantial headquarters off Route 102.
"It's a very valuable piece of property along the industrial corridor, close to the Massachusetts Turnpike, the Housatonic River and the railroad not far away," he said.
He said the Select Board and the Lee Chamber of Commerce would work closely with Town Hall leadership to field inquiries.
"We often get contacted by folks looking for property, and it's just a matter of finding the right fit," he said. "We have contacts we can follow up with that might be right for that site, and we'll absolutely do that."
The company's holdings in Lee, including the building and land at 705 Pleasant St., as well as The Rink on Housatonic Street and several other parcels, are valued at $6.3 million, according to Sarah Navin at the Lee Assessors Office. The company currently pays $88,805 in annual property tax.
In a letter to employees distributed on Tuesday, board Chairwoman Nancy Fitzpatrick called the decision to recommend liquidation of the company's assets "heartbreaking, enormously difficult for all involved."
"We all love Country Curtains," she wrote, "and I can say, unquestionably, that we have the best and most dedicated employees in the business. But the truth is Country Curtains is simply no longer able to operate in a way that can be financially sustainable."
Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at email@example.com or 413-637-2551.
“Tourism booms but locals struggle: Behind the two worlds of the Berkshires”
By Katie Johnston, The Boston Globe, September 14, 2017
LENOX — The sound of mournful oboes floated across the manicured lawn on a recent misty night, mixing with trilling cicadas as darkness settled over Tanglewood. It was Berkshire Night, when county residents get in free to see the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its summer home — a rare opportunity for most locals. But some are too busy cleaning people’s vacation homes or waiting tables to attend. Others have no way to get there, or can’t afford a baby sitter to watch their kids.
The Berkshires are rich with art, dance, theater, and music, dotted with picturesque towns and rolling hills that bloom red and gold in the fall. Tourists and second-home owners have been flocking here in increasing numbers, but for many of the people who live and work here year-round, getting by is a greater struggle than it used to be.
The number of people in poverty in Berkshire County rose by nearly a third between 2000 and 2015, even as the overall year-round population dipped and the number of seasonal home owners increased almost 19 percent, according to data compiled for a recent study by the Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, a public charity based in Sheffield. More than 40 percent of residents under age 46 surveyed said they are considering moving in the next three years, largely due to a lack of jobs and career advancement.
Many locals cobble together part-time service jobs that ebb and flow with the seasons, traveling to the tourism-centric southern part of the county on a bus that doesn’t run at night, on Sundays or holidays. And as more tourists visit — visitor spending is up nearly 30 percent since 2009 — and more wealthy New Yorkers and Bostonians buy summer homes, low-paying front-desk-clerk and cashier jobs proliferate while housing prices get more out of reach.
“There’s two worlds,” said Alisa Costa, who works to connect low-income residents with resources in the region, on the western edge of Massachusetts. “The people who benefit from the wonderful assets in our community, and the people who serve them.”
And this divide, similar to those in other tourist destinations, keeps getting bigger.
Pittsfield resident Courtney Mcardle has three catering and bartending jobs and works 50 hours a week during the busy summer and Christmas holiday seasons.
But when it’s slow, she’s often late making her car payment and can only pay the minimum amount on her credit cards.
Mcardle, 26, gets subsidized day care for her two kids, but doesn’t necessarily consider herself hard up. That changed at a fund-raising gala for the Barrington Stage Company in Pittsfield earlier this summer.
When the auctioneer noted that they needed $5,000 to make it a record-breaking night, the hands went up. Mcardle, who was waiting on the VIP table, was amazed. “It was like it was nothing,” she said. “I didn’t realize how broke I was until I went to this party and they thought $5,000 was chump change.”
Two of the biggest sectors in the region are retail, which provides average weekly wages of $581 a week, and lodging and food service, at $438 a week, according to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission. The county also has a lower share of people working full time, and more working part-time than state and national averages, due in part to a heavy reliance on service jobs.
For Berkshire County residents, the median household income is just shy of $50,000, well below the state median of close to $70,000. For visitors to the Berkshires, it’s $100,000.
The Berkshires once had a substantial manufacturing presence, but between the 1970s and the 1990s the area lost more than 20,000 middle-class jobs as General Electric downsized and Sprague Electric shut down.
A number of paper mills have also shut their doors in recent years. Country Curtains, the home furnishings company that employs about 180 people in the Berkshires, recently announced that it’s on the verge of closing.
“We had a generation and a half that was underemployed,” said Jonathan Butler, president of the regional economic development organization 1Berkshire.
“And we’re still dealing with a mix of generational poverty and a lot of different social challenges that were a direct result of that.”
The opioid epidemic has also taken a toll. Kate Lauzon, a 40-year-old single mom in Pittsfield, says she got hooked after a car accident 10 years ago.
She’s clean now, she said, but is still on disability, and last year she started working part-time as a security guard at Tanglewood, Jiminy Peak, and other tourist destinations. Her disability check was cut when she started working more this summer, though, and now she can’t afford car insurance.
“I guess I’m going to have to take the bus from now on,” she said.
The economy is recovering from manufacturing job losses, in part due to increased tourism, as Pittsfield, North Adams, and other cities have revitalized their downtowns, outdoor recreation has expanded, and spas have become more prevalent, including the Cranwell Spa & Golf Resort in Lenox, which is set to undergo a major renovation.
Tanglewood, the area’s biggest attraction, draws 35,000 more people a year than it did in 2008 and generates roughly $40 million more in economic activity, according to a recent study by a Williams College economics professor.
But the increase in high-end vacation homes also drives up real estate prices, making it less affordable for working families. Steven Picheny, a 75-year-old former owner of a medical device sales and marketing firm who spends his summers in Great Barrington, knows a police officer in town who can’t afford to buy a house but doesn’t qualify for assistance.
“He should be able to buy a house in the town that he’s defending,” Picheny said.
Adrienne Teixeira, 49, of Great Barrington, said vacationers “act like they kind of own the town.” But Teixeira, who has a part-time office job and also cleans rooms at a bed and breakfast, knows they are vital to the economy: “We need these people; that’s the problem.”
Many residents are well aware of the issues their neighbors are facing. Phyllis Cohen, 72, who moved with her husband from Newton to their house in Egremont full-time several years ago, volunteers at a Great Barrington elementary school as part of the Jewish Women’s Foundation.
“The paradise for part-timers and retired transplants is more like a quicksand patch for many of our native neighbors,” she said.
As more well-off tourists and vacation-home owners populate the Berkshires, there is a growing sense among locals that they don’t belong here anymore.
Carolyn Valli, executive director of Central Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, which gets twice the number of applications for permanent housing than it did a decade ago, said that even though food stamp recipients get incentives for buying produce at farmers markets, some have told her they don’t feel comfortable there because of the wine tastings and other offerings geared toward tourists.
A number of initiatives are underway to help struggling Berkshire County residents. Pittsfield recently landed a $475,000 Working Cities grant from the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to promote economic growth, and the city has a full-time community organizer for three years, thanks to the state’s economic development and finance authority.
Berkshire United Way is also developing a matchmaker program that will link residents with job opportunities for in-demand professions.
This type of program could help locals like Andrew Hayden, 24, the electronics manager at Walmart in Pittsfield, who is studying robotics online at Southern New Hampshire University. Hayden lives in a Habitat for Humanity house with his younger brother, who also works at Walmart, and their mother, Bonnie, who has severe rheumatoid arthritis.
Before the sons got jobs a few years ago and helped build their new house, equipped with wide hallways to accommodate their mother’s wheelchair, Bonnie was spending nearly her entire disability check to rent a moldy house with broken windows that allowed mice and squirrels to get in.
Andrew is reluctant to leave his mother, but he isn’t confident he’ll be able to make a good living in the Berkshires. “There’s a lot of jobs; there’s just not a lot of careers,” he said.
The lack of high-speed Internet holds people back, keeping them from opening businesses or completing school assignments. Limited bus service also makes it difficult to get ahead.
Catheryn Chacon, 27, said it took her almost two hours each way, by foot and by bus, to get to class at Berkshire Community College, roughly 14 miles from her home in Lee. She had to rely on friends for rides at night when the bus wasn’t running.
Chacon, whose family emigrated from Colombia when she was a teenager, now works as a tax accountant at Ernst & Young in Boston.
But she thinks about moving home and opening her own business, maybe even taking advantage of the burgeoning vacation-home market, she said: “I know real estate is big in the Berkshires right now.”
Bonnie Hayden, 54, who has rheumatoid arthritis, was the first Pittsfield recipient of a Habitat for Humanity house that is accessible to the disabled. With her is son Andrew, 24.
Katie Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ktkjohnston.
“Wealthy in county are part of solution to economic woes”
The Berkshire Eagle, Editorial, September 17, 2017
The problems of low wages, disappearing jobs and a growing wealth gap in Berkshire County aren't new and they defy easy resolution. The causes are many, and are in large part linked to national trends. It's a distraction from finding those solutions to scapegoat tourists and second-home owners who are not the issue.
At a town hall Friday at Berkshire Community College, Representative Richard Neal, a 1st District Democrat from Springfield, held up a copy of a front page article from Friday's Boston Globe about the widening of the income divide in Berkshire County (Eagle. September 16.) The Globe article summed up the issues facing the Berkshires — without breaking new ground — but from its opening paragraph, in which the sounds of the Boston Symphony waft over the lawn at Tanglewood on a "Berkshire Night" free to residents that many can't attend because they are cleaning vacation homes, can't afford a baby-sitter, or can't get a bus, the premise is established of the Berkshires as a playground for aristocrats served by bitter, downtrodden peasants.
It makes for a colorful story hook, but a simplistic one. It would be just as easy to write about the swells heading into a Boston Symphony Orchestra concert at Symphony Hall in Boston while ignoring the homeless person sitting in a nearby doorway. Wealth gaps aren't exclusive to the Berkshires in Massachusetts.
Housing prices have indeed increased considerably in recent years in South Berkshire. Second home-owners there, and elsewhere in the Berkshires, however, pay taxes, patronize local businesses, frequent restaurants, and support cultural attractions like Tanglewood that provide jobs and boost restaurants and hotels. County residents can disdain them if they choose, as did several in the Globe story, but the root of the economic problem is elsewhere
The problem, in fact, has many sources. National online retail trends are largely to blame for the painful demise of Country Curtains in Stockbridge, a long-established employer. The county has lost a manufacturing base that employed thousands. Small manufacturers remain, and BCC and MCLA are focused on helping train county residents to fill the skilled positions they offer. As Representative Neal observed Friday, "18,000 precision manufacturing jobs go unanswered" in New England. Some of them, according to Berkshire employers, are right here.
High electricity costs are another factor cited by the congressman, which highlights the important efforts of elected officials to fight an indefensible rate increase proposed by Eversource that would further burden Berkshire businesses. The Inadequate bus service on nights and weekends make it difficult for workers without cars to get to their jobs. This is a problem the Berkshire Regional Transit Authority can't address without the kind of funding governments in Western Europe, for example, traditionally provide for public transportation. The Globe story asserted that inadequate high-speed internet was preventing residents from starting up businesses, but a lengthy series of Eagle stories in recent months shows how this problem is being successfully addressed in small towns.
The economic difficulties of the Berkshires are being taken on by government, businesses, educators and others, but they are deep-rooted and most of all complex. It is simplistic to point figures at wealthier Berkshire residents who aren't the problem and are part of the solution.
September 18, 2017
Re: Open letter to Berkshire Eagle Editors
The cornerstone to economic growth of a community or region, in this case, Berkshire County, is a simple one! It is “Invest in the people and the community”. Why? The answer is that the people are the most valuable resource to a community.
In Pittsfield and the Berkshire region, it has been four consecutive decades of major population and job loss. The most valuable resources of Pittsfield/Berkshires are diminishing decade after decade.
Pittsfield politics is part of the problem! Pittsfield is run by a Good Old Boy network of political hacks who report to Boston/Beacon Hill Democratic Party powerbrokers. The people who run Pittsfield politics mostly come from multigenerational, inbred families. If you want a good job in Pittsfield, you have to kiss their dirty behinds. If you speak out against the G.O.B.’s, you get blacklisted from employment.
Moreover, Pittsfield politics is financially unsustainable. Every fiscal year, City Hall raises its operations budget by 5% and its capital budget by well over $10 million. The average local residents who work for their hard-earned money cannot afford the high taxes that benefit the vested interests and tourist or creative economy.
A young professional who wants to start a family in Pittsfield faces a lot of obstacles, which include a depressed local economy, a lack of living wage jobs, and the G.O.B. network of insiders and hacks. If you stay in Pittsfield, you live by having to defer to the G.O.B.’s provincial political agenda. You have no choice but to kiss the G.O.B.’s dirty behinds!
It has been reported locally, statewide, and nationally that Pittsfield is one of the most economically unequal communities around. There is a shrinking middle class sandwiched between a few wealthy and many poor families in Berkshire County. That means that Pittsfield/Berkshire County’s economic growth is in the underclass, poverty, welfare, social services, jail, crime, and the like.
All of Pittsfield’s socioeconomic indicators are pointing down! Instead of local politicians and community members in Pittsfield investing in people, they are consolidating their banal political power in a China-like one political party system that results in non-competitive, mostly uncontested “elections” with pre-determined or hand-picked lifetime office holders.
The Berkshire Eagle dominates Pittsfield politics with its entrenched power as the area’s only daily newspaper. The Eagle pushed for the Civic Authority, the Consent Decree with GE, and the career political hacks in state and local politics. If you don’t fall in line with the Eagle’s political agenda, you get the shaft just like with the G.O.B.
If Pittsfield politics wants real economic growth and equality, it will have to change from its G.O.B. model of entrenched local power to a fair and just system that invests in its people and community!
- Jonathan Melle
Letter: “Inequities in income a real county problem”
The Berkshire Eagle, September 22, 2017
To the editor:
I read the Sept. 15 Boston Globe article "Locals struggle as tourism booms" with great interest and empathy. I also read The Eagle's Sept. 17 editorial "Wealthy in county are part of solution to economic woes" and am sorry to see such a simplistic response to the large issue highlighted by the Globe's reporting.
In the Globe article, Steven Picheny notes a police officer in Great Barrington can't afford to buy a home in the community he protects. And that is the point the Globe article is making — not that people feel disdain toward tourists and second-home owners, but that the housing market (some may say the retail shops, the restaurants, the attractions as well) caters toward an average visitor (or resident) making $100,000 a year or more while the median local income is much less, and where residents struggle to maintain year-round employment in order to afford their apartments or homes, often cost-burdened to the point of paying more than 50 percent of their income toward housing costs alone.
In Lenox, for example, we know that nearly half (47 percent) of our households qualify as low to moderate income. That could be a household of two making no more than $51,200 a year or a family of four making $64,000 a year. What home can this family of four purchase? A home priced at around $175,000. How many of these two-plus bedroom homes exist in the Lenox area today? According to Zillow, seven in Lenox and Lee. Throughout the region, residents pay at least half of their income just toward housing costs.
Local developers creating new ownership stock promise a new product priced "around" $600,000; local developers creating new rental stock describe their market as affluent weekend residents who want the second home in the Berkshires but not the hassle of a whole house and its maintenance needs. A new apartment is offered on Airbnb for short-term stays, not for year-round leases. A hospitality developer says that's the way things are: You have your resort towns and your service towns.
Inequity throughout the region is exhibited in different ways: the dearth of housing opportunity congruent with wages; the lack of public transportation service congruent with needs; the attainment of broadband by small, affluent communities but not by our population centers; and the high-quality educational experiences offered in some school districts but not every school district.
The workers who pick up the lawn at the end of a Tanglewood concert, or the folks who plow the roads during a blizzard, drive the cruisers and fire trucks every day, pump out your septic system, teach your kids and give you your flu shot — our communities and our region depend on them year-round, and where and how they live is just as important as how the visitor or seasonal resident experiences the Berkshires.
Gwen M. Miller, Housatonic
The writer is the town planner in Lenox.
“Berkshire Mall Sears store to close”
By Amanda Drane, The Berkshire Eagle, November 2, 2017
LANESBOROUGH — The Sears store at the Berkshire Mall may have dodged bullets in previous rounds of store closures over the past year, but not this time.
Sears will close early next year, The Eagle has learned.
The store is among 63 stores nationally, including Kmart, that are closing their doors, the company announced Thursday.
"We will continue to close some unprofitable stores as we transform our business model so that our physical store footprint and our digital capabilities match the needs and preferences of our members," Sears Holdings said in a release.
The store will run a sale that will begin later this month and continue through the end of January, according to a California advertising agency that has been authorized to handle a promotional campaign for the final sale. The Sears Auto Center is scheduled to close in December.
"Eligible associates impacted by these store closures will receive severance and will have the opportunity to apply for open positions at area Kmart or Sears stores," the company said.
In response to an inquiry from The Eagle, a Sears spokesperson said that "the number of associates impacted is not available," and "the majority of these jobs are part-time positions."
The Berkshire Mall, which was built in the 1980s, has lost a number of major anchor stores in recent years — Thursday's announcement marks four out of five anchor stores lost in the past two years. Since 2015, the mall has lost Best Buy, Macy's, Eastern Mountain Sports, Payless Shoe Source, Kay Jewelers and J.C. Penney, which closed its doors in June of this year.
The Target store remains open; it owns an attached building.
Kohan Retail Investment Group, of New York, bought the mall in September of last year. The company owns 16 malls between Florida and Washington state, and specializes in purchasing and trying to revitalize distressed shopping centers like the Berkshire Mall, which has seen three owners since 2014.
Mike Kohan, principal of the company, said that although it's been difficult to fill vacancies, he's not looking to sell the beleaguered shopping center any time soon.
"At this point I'm not thinking to sell it," he said. "We're going to push as hard as we can to fill those spaces."
Amanda Drane can be reached at email@example.com, @amandadrane on Twitter or at 413-496-6296.
Sears will become the next big retailer to close its doors at the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough. Photo credit: Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle
A closing sale is scheduled to begin Nov. 10  and end Jan. 28  at the Sears in the Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, according to a California advertising agency that has been authorized to handle a promotional campaign for the final sale. Photo credit: Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle
The 29-year-old Berkshire Mall has lost four of its five anchor stores since October 2015, including the two original anchor tenants, Sears and J.C. Penney, which closed in July. The fifth anchor, Target, owns its own space in the mall. And the mall has had three owners since 2014. Photo credit: Stephanie Zollshan - The Berkshire Eagle
“Beleaguered Berkshire Mall doesn't paint a pretty picture”
By Tony Dobrowolski, The Berkshire Eagle, November 5, 2017
LANESBOROUGH — This is what a struggling shopping mall looks like: Multiple empty storefronts, lots of vacant parking spaces, papered-up doorways, an exterior sign that's missing two letters, and a wrestling ring that occupies a space that once housed a national retailer.
The Berkshire Mall doesn't paint a pretty picture. And the beleaguered 720,000-square-foot shopping space, the county's largest retail shopping complex, received another in what seems like an endless series of blows Thursday when Sears announced that it would be closing its store at the mall in late January.
A closing sale is scheduled to begin Nov. 10 and end Jan. 28, according to a California advertising agency that has been authorized to handle a promotional campaign for the final sale. Sears Auto Center is scheduled to close next month.
The 29-year-old Berkshire Mall has lost four of its five anchor stores since October 2015, including the two original anchor tenants, Sears and J.C. Penney, which closed in July. The fifth anchor, Target, owns its own space in the mall.
And the mall has had three owners since 2014.
Sears Holdings Corp.'s decision Thursday to close 63 more stores in the U.S. comes three weeks after the chain received legal permission to liquidate its remaining 130 stores in Canada, a move that puts 12,000 employees in that country out of work.
The news that Sears plans to close its store in the mall stung longtime local store patrons Friday.
"I think it's horrible," said Debra Goddeau of Pittsfield, while shopping at Sears.
Goodeau thought Sears should relocate to the Allendale Shopping Center in Pittsfield, where the store was located before it moved to the Berkshire Mall when the complex opened in September 1988.
"People are going to miss Sears," she said. "It's like an icon."
"It's very sad," said Sonal Vyas of Williamstown. She worked at Sears right after moving to the Berkshires from Connecticut in 2006.
"I have personal feelings about this store, because it was my first job," she said. "I started here."
"Sears was a good store," said Nick Diorio of Pittsfield. "There was hardware, appliances, a little clothing, odds and ends. I'm going to miss it."
It could not be determined how many employees Sears has at its store in the mall, because the store manager could not be reached for comment Friday.
But employees who are impacted by the closure have been asked to register at the BerkshireWorks Career Center in Pittsfield to be eligible to receive services from the state's rapid response team, said Heather Boulger, executive director of the Berkshire County Regional Employment Board. On Monday, impacted employees can register at North Adams City Hall, Boulger said. Registration will take place at Berkshire Community College's South County campus in Great Barrington on Wednesday, she added.
The continued loss of tenants at the Berkshire Mall, which has also included Eastern Mountain Sports, Payless Shoe Source, Kay Jewelers and Hollister this year, has been compounded by the complex's assessed value, which is $19.5 million, according to Lanesborough town records.
The mall's assessed value is six times higher than the $3.5 million its current owner paid for the complex in September 2016. Berkshire Mall Realty Holding LLC, a subsidiary of Kohan Retail Investment Group of Great Neck, N.Y., is the company that bought the mall last year. Kohan, which specializes in purchasing and trying to revive distressed shopping malls, has had trouble meeting its property tax obligations to the town of Lanesborough, and almost lost the management of the complex this summer when it was late on a payment for more than $200,000.
The Baker Hill Road District, which has jurisdiction over the mall property, took legal action against Kohan this summer to retrieve the back tax revenue before Kohan paid it. In March, the road district asked the state to amend its bylaws so that it could own and maintain real estate, which would give the entity the ability to own the mall property.
On Friday, Lanesborough Town Manager Paul Sieloff said the road district is moving forward with those plans.
"It's in the Senate, and we're waiting," said attorney Mark Siegers, who represents the Baker Hill Road District.
Also this summer, Berkshire Mall Realty Holding LLC and Kohan Investment Group's owner, Mike Kohan, were sued in Berkshire Superior Court by UG2 LLC of Boston for allegedly breaching the terms of a contract to provide janitorial and housekeeping services that expires in August 2018, according to court documents. Kohan inherited the contract from the mall's former owner, COMM 2005-FL Berkshire Mall LLC, court papers state.
At the time the complaint was filed, UG2 LLC was seeking $143,096 in damages. The case is pending, and additional documents are expected to be filed with the court by Monday.
During a walk through the mall Friday, The Eagle counted 23 empty storefronts among the mall's more than 70 retail spaces. Some of the empty storefronts are filled with items from other stores, or promotional materials, while others contain a jumble of store furnishings like clothing racks.
Sieloff said the Baker Hill Road District is continuing to move forward with its plans "because the current owner doesn't seem to be putting in the effort" to make the shopping complex economically viable.
"What I mean is, I don't see the effort to try and recruit new stores and keep the stores that they have," he said. "This is a very important business in central Berkshire County that we cannot allow to deteriorate and cause more problems economically for the county."
Kohan told The Eagle on Thursday that's he not selling the mall. "We're going to push as hard as we can to fill those spaces," he said.
Contact Business Editor Tony Dobrowolski at 413 496-6224 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Jonathan Melle
- Amherst, NH, United States
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