21/21

No, I didn’t make up the title.
That’s the name of the initiative put forth by Norman Charest, Berlin’s economic development director. It is a proposal to replace Berlin’s failing manufacturing sector with infrastructure to make the city an ATV recreation destination.
“This is not strictly a tourism initiative,” he said in tonight’s city council meeting. “The old Berlin is dead and gone. We need to reinvent ourselves, and this is the low hanging fruit.”
Mr. Charest said the city has already felt positive economic impact from the ATV park at Jericho Mountain, with businesses relocating to the area specifically for the proximity to trails. The city needs to capitalize on this, he said, and then push the capitalization into high gear.
This hits close to one of my posts last week where I said the opposite — that Berlin needs to diversify its recreation opportunities, not focus them, as part of a complete package for tourism. I listened to Mr. Charest speak tonight, and I heard the echo of a hole in his thesis. Two actually.

  1. Mr. Charest said if Berlin creates the infrastructure for ATVing, manufacturing jobs will follow. That was shortly after he said manufacturing jobs are migrating overseas, fast becoming only a memory in the United States. ATV park or no, it isn’t cost effective to manufacture goods in the U.S., and there is nothing Berlin can do to change that. Mr. Charest is working to bring recreation to the area in hopes that new jobs will bring the old jobs back. But he said the old jobs aren’t coming back. Where that leaves Berlin is a mystery, but certainly without a strong manufacturing sector. The city still has to find the jobs somewhere else.
  2. Enough with the power sports. Mr. Charest mentioned outdoor recreation, hiking, skiing, rock climbing and kayaking in his presentation. I could add to those: ice climbing, mountain biking, road biking, cycle touring, trail running, rafting, canoeing, bird watching, caving and geocaching. There are literally dozens of outdoor activities that could take place around Berlin; there is land enough for all of them. Unfortunately, there is only one in the 21/21 initiative: ATVing.

Mr. Charest is right; Berlin needs to figure out the next step in its evolution to a sustainable economy. And he’s doing more than most people: he’s working on a solution. The problem is residents of Berlin, Mr. Charest included, know how to do what they know how to do and don’t know how to move beyond those activities.
Can Berlin build an ATV park? Sure. As Mr. Charest said, “What we did for fun we now have to do for business.” But how does Berlin develop those outdoor recreation draws that Berlin residents don’t do for fun? How does Berlin develop Mount Forist for rock climbers, and plant caches in the woods for geocaching, and set up good trails for hiking and trail running, when these aren’t the recreation activities the city is familiar with? Where is the plan for that?
Mr. Charest’s plan addresses a need, but it unlikely ATVs, snow mobiles, hiking trails or anything else is ever going to bring back enough manufacturing jobs to return Berlin to its former glory. The 21/21 initiative, however, will undoubtedly bring jobs into the city and be an important part of moving the city towards the twenty-first century. It is only a sliver, however; as Mr. Charest said, “It is the low hanging fruit.” It is time for the city in general, and Mr. Charest in particular, to look for the things the city doesn’t know so well, to see what they can do to revitalize the local economy. The city needs to look beyond what its residents like to do on weekends, to what it has to offer to people from other backgrounds. It needs to start peering around the tops of the trees.

I’m interested in what people have to say about this. I’ve made it clear I think Berlin needs to do more to shed its blue collar image if it wants to thrive instead of just get by, and I don’t think more ATV entertainment will work toward that end. But I don’t have any answers, just questions. I’m going to pose those questions to local business people to see what they think the 21/21 initiative will do for them. The results will be in next week’s Berlin Reporter.

I also pose those question to you. What activities should Berlin be encouraging? Where will the city see the most benefit? Does outdoor recreation sans gasoline fit with the city? Is the current plan comprehensive enough? Who’s duty is it to see the plans come to fruition? Is there a blue collar mindset? What does that mean for the city’s future? What will have to change for the city to thrive, not just get by?

I’d like to hear what people think. Where should Berlin go next? What does 21 really mean for the city? Will the city need a 22/22 initiative, or can it find its way in the dark?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s