This article ran in the Pittsfield Gazette, a Pittsfield weekly, on August 4, 2016
PEDA’S FAILURE—the COST OF NOT FOLLOWING THE FORT DEVENS MODEL
I have had numerous successes in the City of Pittsfield. But a long time ago, starting around 2004, I failed to stir the Pittsfield City Counsel to take control of the Pittsfield Economic Development Authority (PEDA) and put it on a new course. As I began writing this column, literally 11 years ago to the day, my piece “Reformed PEDA Key to City,” was published in the Berkshire Eagle (July 24, 2005). You can read this at DelGalloColumns.wordpress.com, where a number of my previous columns are found. If you read that particular piece, you will see other letters to the editor regarding my PEDA proposals beneath that column. I wanted to follow the Fort Devens model. Fort Devens is a former Massachusetts brown-field that turned into a prosperous business/industrial park by Mass Development. I wouldn’t get an A for imagination, but why not try something that was working elsewhere and proven true? (Today, I would also like to use the Albany nanotechnology approach.)
Over a decade ago, I proposed following the Fort Devens model with (among many other things) streamlined permitting, known incentive packages, and a website that properly cataloged what the William Stanley Business Park had to offer. We also favored making the meetings public, having regular reports to the Pittsfield City Council, a “Team Pittsfield” approach where the entire community collaborates to attract and retain businesses, properly cataloging incentive packages to get that ever-so-important initial look from people starting or relocating businesses (developing quality leads is as critical as the close), a better cooperation with Mass Development, “one stop shopping” so as to streamline but not eliminate the myriad of permits one has to get, and hiring staff members with past experience in successful industrial/business parks and perhaps a background in economic development. My entreaties were declined in an atmosphere of “not invited here” means “no good.” When PEDA started, there was $15.3 million available to PEDA, as well as 100,000 square feet of rent-free space that could have been given out, as well as traditional tax incentives which could have been given with claw-back provisions. It was a blown opportunity that could have quite literally saved the City of Pittsfield and the region.
Over the course of the years, many of my ideas that once were considered “controversial” have come to be regarded as a generally accepted belief. The fact remains in the time period of 2004-2005, I was largely dismissed as a minor trouble-maker, needlessly calling attention to a project that was on tract and not in need of public attention. The fact that I filed City Council petitions in an upbeat, team-approach manner did not matter. In short, none of my ideas regarding PEDA were ever implemented.
About four years later, on September 22, 2009 another Eagle column I wrote, “Path Toward a better PEDA” was published. (Also available at DelGalloColumns.wordpress.com) Former Mayor Charles Smith was so impressed with this column that he actually said to me that if I ever ran for office, any office, he would join my team for election. At that time, we had the additional insight the William Stanley Industrial Park was not physically ready enough and the schematics had to turn into realities.
In 2004-2005, I stood virtually alone in my calling attention to PEDA. Today, PEDA’s failure is a generally accepted fact denied by nobody. Regarding PEDA, the statement that I was right and everyone else was wrong may not be 100% correct, but it is 99.99999% correct. When Pam Malumphy ran for mayor, she once said to me “You were clairvoyant regarding PEDA.” That’s a direct quote.
The long-term ramifications on PEDA’s failure not only on Pittsfield but the region cannot be understated. Today’s regional economic failure (we a very poor county compared to the rest of the state) is tied-in with PEDA’s failure. We are quickly losing what remains of our high-paying jobs, both white-collar and blue-collar. In turn, the region’s high crime rate (compared to historical regional numbers) is to a very large extent, in turn, pegged to the failing local economy. Much of the region’s wealth is from GE pensioners, and those warnings a decade ago that they would start dying off is now, sadly, turning to fruition. If the trends of the last two decades continue, I predict in another 15 years (if not sooner), we will have what Detroit is today.
When I announced my run for state senate, I called up Roger Guochione. I did not know Roger personally, but in 2004, he had heard me on the Dan Valenti radio show, and he approached me and said that I was needed for the City of Pittsfield. He turned my focus to PEDA. So I recently called Roger and asked him to research how Fort Devens was doing now that all those years have passed—I didn’t want to embarrass myself. It turned out that Fort Devens, eleven years later, is still going gang-busters. Imagine if we followed the Fort Devens model eleven years ago at PEDA? Can you imagine what it would have done for Pittsfield and the Berkshires if PEDA was a thriving industrial/business park as Fort Devens is today?