November 1, 2016 - This fall, Berkshire Taconic is listening and learning. Through a dozen focus groups and online surveys reaching thousands of people, the community foundation is gathering input from donors, nonprofit partners, civic and business leaders and residents on the issues, trends and needs in our region. (We’ve received nearly 2,000 responses alone to our resident survey, just one out of four surveys we conducted with our research firm to gather information from our key stakeholders). This outreach is integral to a community assessment process we are undertaking this year to deepen our understanding of the issues facing the region. The assessment results will help us sharpen our strategic focus and build our knowledge base to better support our donors and nonprofit partners.
This process is perfectly timed for me as Berkshire Taconic’s relatively new CEO. I’ve been gradually climbing a steep learning curve by listening to many people who know the region and the community foundation well. The outreach we are conducting has broadened my reach, allowing me to meet and learn from many of the community foundation’s champions, key partners, healthy critics and people we’d need to engage more to have the impact and success we are striving for.
So what am I learning? Below are some observations from attending focus groups and other outreach conversations. The data analysis and assessment findings—determined through the rigor of a formal research process—will become available early next year.
- The Berkshire Taconic region has many strengths: resilient communities; a dynamic and talented mix of people; world-class cultural and natural resources; the proximity of major urban centers that provide markets for our goods; and second home residents who contribute to our economy and consider this region “home.”
- Demographic changes are underway that require our communities to adapt. Overall, there are fewer of us, we are getting older and our communities are becoming more diverse. We are fortunate to have a growing Hispanic community and must seize the opportunity to most effectively integrate newcomers into our communities and workforce. Many communities have growing numbers of second home residents, which has implications for civic engagement, enrollments in public schools and choices at the municipal level on where we invest our tax dollars. Many have observed that there is a growing gap between higher income residents and families challenged by the region’s job market, housing prices and overall affordability. And others have reminded us that there are pockets of deep poverty, often hidden, within miles of prosperous town centers and other amenities.
- Jobs, Jobs, Jobs! Economic development broadly defined received a lot of airtime in the focus groups and prompted many questions: How can the region create good jobs in industries with growth opportunities? How do we retain and attract young people? Create affordable housing options for people who want to build their careers here? Provide better access to broadband? At the same time, there is a lot of buzz about sustainable agriculture and the growing food economy, and finding ways to invest more in entrepreneurialism, innovation and downtown development projects across the region.
- Headwinds are increasing for communities and families. Substance abuse, especially opioid addiction, is sapping the potential of too many of our residents. Many participants shared a perception that civic engagement may not be as high as it used to be. The lack of transportation options is an issue for people who want to “age in place” or have better access to educational opportunities, health care or better jobs in neighboring communities.
I recognize these themes are not new to you. They mirror national trends and are issues in front of many rural regions. But how we choose to respond must be distinctive to this region, since solutions will come from the assets inherent to this place—most notably our people.
Berkshire Taconic looks forward to engaging you in helping to determine the most valuable ways the foundation can work alongside other vital partners to shape a bold vision for the region, one that contributes to a vital economy, sustainable communities and a high quality of life for all residents.
READ MORE FROM PETER TAYLOR