Understanding Our Region

The Berkshires

First time visitors to the local area are usually struck by the region’s natural beauty and the seemingly tranquil pace of life.  But first impressions only tell part of the story.

Behind the bucolic facade of the Berkshires, the area is home to a vibrant culture of grassroots organizing focused on social justice, equity building, and economic development. Together, a range of public and private sector agencies, non-profits, students, activists, and volunteers comprise a hive of activity strengthening the local infrastructure and expanding access to critical services. Whether one calls it constructive activism or participatory democracy, something special is happening here.

There are lots of places we could start with on this regional snapshot, but the spirit just described is epitomized in the work of the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition (NBCC), located in North Adams. NBCC, also known as “The Coalition,” is a flagship organization facilitating the collaborative partnerships and advocacy that is revitalizing the area — one family at a time:

Berkshire Community Action, based in Pittsfield, serves as lifeline for countless families and provides invaluable support to the community safety net.

Berkshire Farm Center, located just across the border in Canaan, NY, is a national model because of the effectiveness of their programs with at-risk youth populations:

​Berkshire Immigrant Center, in Pittsfield, provides front line support to individuals and families experiencing the wide spectrum of issues inherent to the acculturation process.  Williams students play active roles in supporting and promoting the Center’s work.

1Berkshire, also Pittsfield-based, is harnessing the resources and talents of investors and entrepreneurs to stimulate local growth.

What’s the driving force behind the emergence of this network of enterprises? Seismic shifts within the local economic landscape.  Berkshire Country, like many parts of the United States, has seen the loss of major manufacturing hit its population hard.  Take a town like North Adams, Massachusetts.  While never a “factory town” in the purest definition, it came pretty close.  Sprague Electric, once housed at the current site of MassMOCA in North Adams, employed over 4,000 people at its height.  In the 1960s, whether during the lunch hour or a Friday night, North Adam’s downtown was thriving with activity and commerce.  But between the impact of its “urban renewal” projects of the late ’60s and ’70s, and Sprague’s departure in the mid-1980s, these and other factors altered the area’s economic fortunes as well as the community’s vital signs.

The story hardly ends here, though.  Where manufacturing once thrived, today, the creative arts, tech start-ups and other business enterprises form part of the collaborative culture writing new chapters in life of the resurgent Berkshires:

From Bennington to Great Barrington, the narrative of North Adams — growth to decline, and now, renewed optimism — is a story shared across the Berkshires.  As the local region expands its capacity for the infusion of new ideas and energy, the Berkshires are pushing back against the idea that one needs to be in large metropolitan centers to make an impact.

To help you get even better acclimated and, ideally, joining the diverse network of individuals and organizations buoying the region anew, please find the additional resources listed below by town:

If you want to find out more about the range of experiential learning opportunities CLiA facilitates throughout the region — and beyond — please connect with us through any of the following: