Commission looks to finalize Berkshire sustainable economic plan

After three years, a $500,000 countywide effort to develop an updated plan for promoting an efficient and sustainable Berkshire economy has been completed. The next step of the solidifying the plan includes searching for public input as the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission (BRPC) prepares to make its final decision on the plan. The plan outlines goals and strategies to inform the region’s economic developmental planning for future decades.

The BRPC began looking for public input last Thursday at the Berkshire Athenaeum. While the BRPC has no regulatory power on its own, the plan created by the agency serves as a recommendation and proposed course of action that a spectrum of community institutions typically draw from and utilize, making the plan of significance to the future of Berkshire development.

“The plan’s intent is to provide a framework to guide public, private and nonprofit initiatives and investment in the region,” Nathaniel Karns, BRPC executive director, said. Karns also noted that the state government has increasingly relied on such regional plans when looking to plan its own spending.

The “Sustainable Berkshire” plan was created to provide an in-depth analysis of the current state of the region and to develop an approach to community development in terms of eight key aspects: economy, climate and energy, housing and neighborhoods, land use, infrastructure services, conservation and recreation, local food and agriculture and historic preservation.

Much of the content of this plan is dominated by concerns about the future of the regional economy, especially in light of population and demographic projections for the area. One of these problems includes the identification of a severe lack of young workers in a rapidly aging local population. This problem is only predicted to accelerate over the coming years with continued retirements of the rest of the “Baby Boom” generation. Currently, the average age of a manufacturing worker in Berkshire County is 57, and concern is high that the region will not be able to attract, educate or retain a younger work force to fill the

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“The impacts on our economy, on public and private services and on housing needs and markets, are going to be profound over the next 20 to 30 years,” Karns said.

Because the BRPC does not have regulatory authority, many members of the community questioned where the information came from and how the implementation process would work.

BRPC Senior Planner Amy Kacala explained that the commission worked closely with officials and players in the local economy in the development of the plan. Elements of it had already generated interest and seen some beginnings of implementation, according to Kacala. BRPC will also continue to work actively with other communities’ stakeholders as well as make annual assessments of the relative progress of implementing its strategies throughout the county.

If this plan is improved by the commission, which consists of delegates from all 32 cities and towns in the county, it will replace a previous 2001 regional development plan.