General Dynamics Mission Systems in Pittsfield is the largest high-tech employer in the Berkshires. It employs about 1500 in the city, has grown in headcount in 18 out of the past 19 years and expects to add 100 more people next year. With General Dynamic’s rapid growth, Carlo Zaffanella, vice president and general manager, believes that there are opportunities for new and existing local businesses to supply the company.
“Our Pittsfield operation spends many millions of dollars outsourcing to other companies. But, only a portion of that stays in the Berkshires,” says Carlo Zaffanella. “What we need is an innovation ecosystem with smaller companies filling these outsourced opportunities. It could be centered in Pittsfield around the Berkshire Innovation Center.”
General Dynamics designs and builds electronic systems that go onto military platforms. A major part of their business is supporting the United States Navy and Air Force.
“Think about submarines and surface ships. We either make things that go in them or on them, such as computer networks and specialty electronic devices. We also take things that other people create and make them all work together. Then, we go to the shipyards and bring the ships and submarines to life,” Carlo said.
As an example, Carlo cited the work General Dynamics does on electronics for submarines. Many years ago, GD made all of the components. They were unique and proprietary, but also expensive and difficult to upgrade.
In a major innovative change in the 1990s, a change that created a new future for the business in Pittsfield, GD transitioned to Commercial Off The Shelf hardware. Now, GD outsources all of that hardware for submarines and surface ships, and then develops the software and integrates them together into their systems, allowing GD to deliver their products faster and cheaper.
“We decided that we would bring the world to us: sensors, communications gear, navigational equipment, weapons. You name it, we are looking for everything that goes on a ship,” said Carlo.
Unfortunately, there are very few local suppliers for these high tech products.
“As I go around the country, I see a lot of companies like aerospace companies with long-term contracts. Often, around them are a lot of small companies that tend to fill the voids that the aerospace company has,” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity for small companies here to fill the niches, the voids, the opportunities that arise because General Dynamics is in Pittsfield.”
“And, by the way, you would be hard-pressed to find a more stable company to work with than us. Some of our contracts last literally decades,” he added. “Take the Columbia class submarines, the next generation of submarines, which have a life span until 2084. The parents of the commanding officers of those last submarines are being born now.”
He sees the Berkshire Innovation Center as a way to spark the innovation ecosystem. General Dynamics joined the BIC at its inception.