By John Durkan
04:19PM / Friday, July 19, 2013
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Berkshire and Franklin counties are working together to assist small businesses with the help of a federal grant.
State and local officials met at MediTerra on Friday afternoon to kick off Economic Resiliency in the Northern Tier, a business assistance program funded by the $280,000 Disaster Relief Opportunity grant that was provided by the U.S. Economic Development Administration and matched at 25 percent — $70,000 — by Franklin County Community Development Corporation.
“Small businesses are the backbones of our community, they’re the ones that create the jobs, they’re the ones that spur vitality,” said John Waite, the executive director at FCCDC, who is partnering with Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.
The program will run for 18 months and focus on providing businesses with services to address technical or financial needs
“It’s really looking at providing the easiest, easiest way for any business owner to find resources available to them,” said Amy Shapiro, the business assistance director for the FCCDC. “Through our partners, through our stakeholders, which are the accountants, the lawyers, the insurance agents, the realtors, who are all working with small businesses, we’re really looking to partner with them and work closely so everybody knows who’s available to do what work, what their specialty is, so that small business owners know where to go for support.”
Waite said the original intent of the grant was to assist businesses affected by Tropical Storm Irene, but most of the focus will be on helping small businesses, mostly those consisting of 20 or fewer employees.
“When was that storm? It was a while ago,” he said. “There’s a few businesses still needing to recuperate from that but most of them, like I said, we want to help them build resiliency so the next problem [they can] jump back much quicker.”
Waite also said $25,000 of the budget will go towards specific consultants familiar with how different businesses work, whether its a restaurant or industry-related.
To assist in the process, the group will hire two business development specialists for each county. The specialists will conduct outreach and promotion of the services and program, create reports based on data and record results, as well as interview clients, assess their needs and follow their progress.
Local, state and federal officials talked highly of the program.
Dan Johnson, representing U.S. Rep. Richard Neal, said the grant is a great opportunity to rebuild and expand.
State Rep. Gailanne Cariddi, D-North Adams, said she could relate to business owners with her own experience.
“I know how tough it is to do business in our area and I know that technical assistance and various roles that are coming over with this initiative will be able to help everybody who has a small business in our area,” Cariddi said.
Rep. Paul Mark, D-Peru, said his district was hit hard by Irene and stressed preparation for future endeavors.
“We have to make sure we’re prepared in case another disaster hits so we’re not behind the 8-ball again,” Mark said.
Mayor Richard Alcombright and Everett Handford, representing U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, also gave remarks at the kick-off event.