Econ. Dev. Commission Points to Successes Amid Uncertainty About Its Future Role

EDC Chair Prasad Iyer (file photo, Town of Wilton Zoom recording)

Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) held its regular monthly meeting Wednesday evening, May 11.

Commissioners continue to work toward consensus and clarification of what the Commission’s role ought to be going forward.

At its previous meeting on April 13, the EDC formed a sub-committee with the purpose “to better determine the mission and vision” of the EDC. EDC Chair Prasad Iyer and Vice Chair Jake Lubel are on that sub-committee.

Their first step was to schedule time for discussion with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice. At the May 11 meeting, Iyer and Lubel reported to their fellow commissioners about their discussion with Vanderslice. (GOOD Morning Wilton also reached out to Vanderslice who declined to comment on the discussions prior to updating the Board of Selectmen.)

Lubel indicated the discussion included broad topics about how the commission has functioned in the past, as well as areas in which the EDC has not been previously involved but could be in the future.

Lubel emphasized that “no conclusions were reached” but one key takeaway was “the idea that we need to be more proactive” in areas such as “direct outreach with businesses,” for example.

On several occasions, including the May 11 meeting, the commissioners have openly discussed their desire for better guidance and direction from the Town’s leaders as to how to best utilize their time and efforts. 

Iyer framed the strategic questions facing the commission.

“The thought process is, how do we think about this commission… what else do we need in terms of talent and time?” Iyer asked rhetorically. “That’s the follow-up discussion that needs to be had… Where else can this commission add value outside of the [commission’s] very clear boundaries, and how do we make that happen?”

Iyer also referred to the size and composition of the commission. Currently, the commission operates with less than a full slate.

Their terms also expire on June 30. Iyer encouraged the commissioners to consider their intentions to continue serving, pending a possible shift in the EDC’s priorities.

“With the help of the Board of Selectmen, we need some direction on our focus,” commissioner John DiCenzo added. “That would drive who [we] need to populate the commission.”

Lubel agreed. “We should have guidance before [our] next meeting,” he said.

Iyer defended the EDC’s performance over the last 18 months.

“In the last one and a half years, [the EDC] did a whole lot of very tangible stuff for the Town,” Iyer said, citing several examples such as hosting a small business owner forum; launching a social media campaign; maintaining relationships with organizations like the Wilton Library and the Wilton Chamber of Commerce; and generally “sparking dialogue” in the Town.

“I think the entire commission all should feel proud of what [we] have achieved, within the guidelines provided,” Iyer said.

EDC Master Plan Input

At the May 11 meeting, Commissioners also began to compile their thoughts on what input the EDC will offer for the Wilton Center Master Plan currently in process.

Commissioners plan to generate a list of areas or initiatives they feel should be addressed in the Master Plan, and then reach consensus on what the top priorities should be. Preliminary ideas included increasing housing units in Wilton Center, for example, and improving signage along Route 7, among other ideas.

More discussion is expected at the next EDC meeting.

Culture Crawl “Proof of Concept”

Also of note, commissioner Alison Smith reported on the outcomes of a recent promotional event, Culture Crawl CT.

Though it was not officially an EDC event, Smith developed the concept and led the planning for the three-night, three-town theatrical event, organized through a unique partnership with the Wilton Playshop, Westport Country Playhouse and ACT (A Contemporary Theatre) of Connecticut in Ridgefield.

“[Culture Crawl CT] could be proof of concept for the future,” Smith told the commissioners.

Over 100 people participated, Smith said, including a majority from outside Wilton. She referred to a post-event survey which demonstrated the event was successful on a number of measures.

According to Smith, the majority of participants said they had never been to the Wilton Playshop before. Furthermore, a very high percentage reported they tried a Wilton restaurant or patronized a Wilton business they otherwise would not have, as a result of the promotion, which included a “swag bag” of coupons and gift certificates to local merchants.

Participants also reported high interest in future events, such as a “kids crawl” (which Smith said was already “in the works” for this summer) or comedy crawl, movie night, or similar type of multi-town event.

“Our theater got visibility, our businesses got business, our restaurants got business… a lot of cross-pollination,” Smith said.

Smith believes the success of Culture Crawl makes it a model for “when we talk about what the scope of the EDC could be” with tangible economic results.

Commissioner Marty Avallone agreed.

“Drawing people from other towns should be a key focus of the EDC,” Avallone said. “It’s those [people] beyond Wilton we’ve got to reach and market to. They’re not finding [Wilton businesses] just travelling up Route 7.”

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