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Chamber of Commerce exec. director hopes to position county as 'outdoor recreation hub'

  • Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Blais speaks about her goals for promoting business and tourism during a meeting of the Northfield Area Business and Tourism Association, Wednesday. Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline



Recorder Staff
Thursday, January 25, 2018

NORTHFIELD – New Franklin County Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Natalie Blais wants to make Franklin County the destination for activities like skiing, mountain biking and ice fishing, positioning the county as “the outdoor recreational hub of Massachusetts.”

Blais, who joined the chamber last fall, spoke before members of the Northfield Area Tourism and Business Association Wednesday about her priorities for the chamber, with outdoor recreation being a primary focus.

Blais proposed highlighting recreational opportunities through community outreach, continuing to use the chamber’s website and social media to promote events, and sharing residents’ personal stories of recreation.

“If you go across Franklin County, that’s what you find: people who moved here to do what they love,” she said.

Members of NATABA, a tourism promotion organization for Northfield, Bernardston, Gill and Winchester, N.H., commented on how “the Berkshires” has name recognition that Franklin County doesn’t, despite its own natural attributes like rivers and mountains. Perhaps, they agreed, that’s something that can change.

Blais’ other goals include supporting existing manufacturers while “seeing what we can do to attract new industries,” and capitalizing on the “creative economy.”

“There’s so many good things happening in Franklin County around arts and culture,” she said.

Northfield, NATABA members agreed, often has businesses tucked away where residents have to search to find them. Business owner John MacDougall, who offers financial services, wondered if the town could identify a small industrial park that could support manufacturing businesses.

Likewise, Joan Stoia said she’d like to see more office space in Northfield for businesses like MacDougall’s, and her husband Steve hoped for more employment opportunities. The two are NATABA founders.

“We feel strongly that we are the gateway to the Pioneer Valley,” Stoia said of Northfield, adding that as a member of the Historical Commission, she’d like to see the town’s history promoted more. “We’d like to make more of a splash when you come into the valley.”

NATABA members hoped that the arrival of Thomas Aquinas College, which may begin classes as early as fall pending state approval, and the replacement of the Schell Memorial Bridge, expected to start in 2021, will attract tourists and boost the economy.

In regards to the chamber itself, Blais said she plans to bring back “after fives,” evening meetings that will allow local business owners more of an opportunity to network than the morning breakfasts. She hopes business owners will continue to reach out to her with ideas on how the chamber might better support and enhance the local economy.

“I think we always have to be evolving in order to be successful,” she said.

Reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261 ext. 257