GREENFIELD - Robert L. Pura, president of Greenfield Community College, says, "It’s hard to have a vision if you’re not listening.”
Clearly, he has been listening and has helped the college create a vision for the future and how it will continue to help students reach their academic and professional goals.
“For us, a goal is to work collaboratively with employers in the region so students have opportunities in work and opportunities in education that build on each other,” Pura says. “The key is our ability to work collaboratively.”
Indeed, Franklin County has many individuals who are collaborating and listening to the needs of their towns, businesses and individuals to create a vision and then a way to enhance the quality of life and the business climate.
Another one of those collaborators is Lisa B. Davol, director of Turners Falls RiverCulture, a partnership of leaders from the Turners Falls arts, cultural and business communities who joined forces to promote and enhance the variety of cultural activities that Turners Falls has to offer.
“We are coming in on the home stretch of the (Gill-Montague) bridge renovation project,” Davol said recently, adding that the bridge work might be done by the end of the year, so “there will be many more incentives for new ventures to choose this location.”
“The commercial centers of Greenfield, Turners Falls, Shelburne and Deerfield all seem to be healthy with budding entrepreneurs opening new businesses and restaurants. Also, civic organizations plan a lot of family-friendly activities to attract people into their downtowns to increase traffic, local awareness and build support for merchants,”
says Ann Hamilton, president of the Franklin County Chamber of Commerce. “There is also an increasing number of people living in the downtowns, a good sign for commerce.”
Davol says she's seeing a shift in the type of businesses that want to locate in Turners Falls, noting that dining and retail are increasing.
Yet, in general, the Internet has brought challenges to traditional downtown retailers, business leaders say.
“Generational changes indicate that a large percentage of the population buy online without even stopping to consider local shopping. It’s convenient, open 24/7, and we are all bombarded by web ads and incentives,” Hamilton said. “Brick-and-mortar stores must provide excellent customer service, the right mix of merchandise and be innovative to compete successfully.”
Davol believes 2013 will be a critical year for Turners Falls, both because of the reopening of the bridge to two-way traffic and a plan for the burned-out Strathmore mill building 11. The latter, she said, has the potential to be an anchor economic driver for the region.
“With new retail and dining options approaching critical mass as well as RiverCulture's slated new alternative performance venue on the lower level of the Colle building, I think we are going to see more ventures start to springboard off the new energy and community spirit,” Davol said.
In addition, Franklin County is witnessing activity in the alternative energy field, including courses at Greenfield Community College, start-up businesses, training programs and general acceptance of wind and solar power as part of the mix to reduce consumption of fossil fuels. “This provides opportunities for future employment and new pathways for skilled workers,” Hamilton said.
Greenfield Community College prepares students for both career and transfer options and helps regional workforce development efforts by training nurses, emergency medical technicians, police officers and firefighters.
It also excels in educating students in the areas of green systems, health care, business, agriculture and the creative economy, according to Pura. Plans are in the works for a manufacturing program in collaboration with Franklin County Technical School in Turners Falls.
“Our business department is on fire creating very smart and needed stackable certificate programs,” Pura said, explaining that these programs will prepare students for the workforce and the next level of education.
The college is one of the county’s largest employers with 329 employees. Of the $19.2 million in funds that flow through the college annually, $14.9 million remains in Franklin and Hampshire counties.
The college, which last year enrolled more than 6,500 students in both credit and non-credit programs, celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012 with the completion of a construction project on the main building.
Franklin County's real estate market seems to be improving, and there are indications that younger families are moving to the area, “a good sign for fresh ideas and increased school enrollment,” Hamilton noted.
2012 saw the completion of the construction of the intermodal regional John W. Olver Transit Centerin Greenfield, which is home to the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and the Franklin Regional Transit Authority. It also serves as a bus depot for regional and commercial transportation services.
“The building is the first of its type to use zero-energy consumption due to large solar array in the rear,” Hamilton pointed out, adding that plans for train service from New York City are underway and anticipated in about a year and a half. “This will be extremely important for both business and leisure travelers.”
And, tourism is still an economic generator as Franklin County offers opportunities for outdoor recreation, history, galleries, special events and a variety of other activities “that this is sure to be a growing sector of the economy,” Hamilton said.
“Franklin County is a special part of Massachusetts that attracts visitors and new residents from throughout the country. It’s a great place to live, work and play,” Hamilton continued. “Our economic strength is in our locally-owned companies, many of which are still producing manufactured goods and employing people at decent wages with pleasant working conditions. We are not dependent upon any particular industry but are very entrepreneurial in spirit.”
Turners Falls will be the site of a regional creative economy summit in March, an opportunity to galvanize the creative community to think about the opportunities in all Franklin County towns and how creative professionals can grow their creative businesses to increase vitality and economic prosperity to ripple out to other sectors in the county.
"As small operation entrepreneurs, creative professionals have a unique way of partnering with diverse sectors to problem solve and maximize opportunity,” Davol said.