Throughout January, I attended several 2018 economic forecast presentations, and a challenge for Connecticut that was mentioned at each one is the difficulty that many towns have in growing their populations of young professionals. I continually hear about the number of jobs that are open for millennials as the existing workforce ages, while it seems like many of these young adults are leaving the state without giving it a second thought. From what I can tell about the national economy, an abundance of jobs is not unique to Connecticut, so leaders at the state and local levels must work to develop a culture that is more attractive to this generation and which builds upon those employment opportunities.
2018 will be an exciting one for CERC’s Municipal Services. We ended 2017 by giving a great workshop at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM)’s annual conference at Foxwoods where we talked with elected officials and key municipal staff about our free Fundamentals of Municipal Training workshop and our popular second phase, CERC’s patented self-assessment, that towns and cities are taking to focus on economic development priorities that will really move the needle in their community. United Illuminating has generously provided CERC’s Municipal Services with a grant to conduct these self-assessments in 15 of the communities it serves.
One of the most rewarding projects that I have been engaged in recently is the demolition and redevelopment of the site of the former Somersville Mill in the Town of Somers. To give some background, Somers was a thriving industrial community during the 19th and 20th Centuries and was home to the Somersville Mill textile plant for over one hundred years during this period. When the mill closed in the 1980s, the building was left abandoned and became an eyesore that was a frequent topic of frustration among residents.
During the Northeastern Economic Development Association annual conference in Providence, Rhode Island last week, CERC led a session titled, “Global to Local” focused on the business recruitment we do on behalf of the state of Connecticut, and how that translates to the local communities, and what the local communities need to do and be prepared for when a business is coming to their town.
Working in the Municipal Services Department at CERC this summer has been an amazing learning experience and has allowed me to engage in work that I am truly passionate about. I was able to grow relationships with local government officials, develop a deeper understanding of economic development strategies for municipalities, and hone my proposal and grant writing skills. I feel very fortunate to be working in a position that provides me so much personal satisfaction and one that allows me to give back to the state that I love.
CERC has been in almost 60 towns around Connecticut with our Fundamentals of Economic Development “101” workshop over the last three years. This has been such a great opportunity for towns to bring together their economic development team and begin the discussion of where they would like to focus their collective efforts.
After graduating with my Master’s in Public Administration from UCONN in May, I transitioned to CERC’s Municipal Services Department from the Research Department. Local economic development is my career interest, so I am thrilled to be in this new role. Naturally, I have immersed myself in the successes and challenges of Connecticut’s municipalities. Through interactions with elected officials, town employees, and residents, I have quickly noticed the negative impact the uncertain fiscal situation at the state level is having on municipalities’ abilities to provide services to their residents and move forward with projects that could bring growth. While towns should be working to build revenue and improve quality of life more now than ever, they are forced to delay these decisions as they expect to take on an additional, significant financial burden when the state budget is finalized.
CERC was recently hired to start managing grants for the Town of Hamden. As part of the economic development team in town hall (see announcement in Hamden’s newsletter), I am directly working with all department heads and elected and appointed officials on preparing grant applications and helping them administer the grants.
The most important component for a land-use regulatory process to function successfully is that the process be predictable and consistent. More important than any incentive or other financial benefit, a predictable and consistent land use process is what will help your town translate development proposals into real tax-paying projects that improve the town’s business community, as well as motivate residents and businesses to expand and renovate their properties.
Taking the six themes of our patented self-assessment tool for towns, I will outline the type of activities your municipality can do for “knock their socks off” economic development – learning what needs to be done, who should be doing it and how to do it, with staff or volunteers. Economic development is all about business retention, expansion, and attraction while maintaining the character of your community. This tool will help your community learn how to balance those priorities for a stellar local economy.