After many months of wrestling with strategic questions about its purpose and purview, Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) met on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022 with a renewed sense of direction for how it will support economic development efforts in the Town.
The EDC’s previous meeting on Sept. 14 — which included lengthy discussion with First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice — was essentially a reset for the Commission, providing clarity and consensus on the Commission’s role.
That meeting had several key takeaways which Vanderslice reported to the Board of Selectmen on Sept. 20:
- The EDC wants more direction from the Town
- Commissioners prefer to be assigned tasks rather than set their own direction
- Current commissioners have some willingness, within certain parameters, to play a role in advocating for (or against) development projects
- The EDC will continue some of its usual activities, including a social media campaign, local business video promotion, corporate programs to incentive workers to patronize Wilton businesses, and outreach to businesses
Vanderslice seemed to have the full support of the selectmen when she proposed that going forward, the EDC would operate under the supervision of the First Selectwoman’s office. She now plans to attend EDC meetings on a regular basis.
Forces for Economic Development
Fundamentally, Vanderslice says, the Commission should not be seen as the primary economic driver within the Town government. That’s a change from earlier times.
“They [the EDC] do not see themselves as a driver of the Grand List,” Vanderslice told the selectmen. “If you go back to 2014 when [the EDC] was formed, it was formed to be a driver.”
As such, Vanderslice recommended a change in the BOS’ expectations for the Commission.
“The takeaway from all this is we need to adjust our expectations,” Vanderslice said.
“I think we’ve been over-expecting from a group of volunteers,” she continued. “We need to dial back on how we think [the Commission is] going to impact the Grand List, or market [the Town], or even support the POCD.”
Vanderslice has stated on numerous occasions that the primary responsibility for economic development lies with the First Selectwoman’s office and with Director of Land Use and Town Planner Michael Wrinn.
In November 2021, Vanderslice gave a presentation to the BOS in which she said all Town boards and commissions “have a role in ensuring Wilton remains an economically vibrant community equally attractive to businesses, residents and investors” but “some roles are more active or prominent than others.”
Vanderslice praised the work of the EDC in its supporting role, with its success in creating an Instagram campaign, hosting an informational webinar focused on shared workspaces during the pandemic, and developing customized promotions for employees of local businesses, among other efforts.
Throughout the process of redefining the EDC’s role, a collaborative spirit between the commissioners and Vanderslice has been apparent.
“[The Sept. 14 EDC meeting] was a good meeting,” Vanderslice told the selectmen. “I think when we left the meeting everyone felt a little better” about the EDC’s future direction.
Task 1: Signage
The first task Vanderslice said she would assign the Commission would be to research and develop recommendations for signage regulations for Wilton businesses, to be submitted for consideration by Planning and Zoning (P&Z).
The topic of signage has recently been hotly debated by P&Z. P&Z Commission Chair Rick Tomasetti has also publicly commented about his desire to revamp the signage regulations, though a timeline for that remains uncertain.
At the Nov. 9 EDC meeting, Vanderslice suggested the EDC’s work on signage recommendations could provide a valuable jump-start in the P&Z process.
She offered the EDC specific guidance on how she felt the Commission should approach their assignment, strongly recommending that the Commission establish subcommittees that would:
- Begin with understanding and evaluating P&Z’s current signage regulations, in consultation with Town Planner Michael Wrinn
- Have discussions with local businesses about their signage needs and wants, including businesses that have been found to have violated the regulations
- To consider residents’ input and to gauge public opinion on matters such as neon signs, for example
- To gather comparative data on the signage regulations in surrounding towns, expanding an effort already underway by EDC member Peter Squitieri
A New EDC
The new direction for the EDC coincides with a potentially new composition of the Commission.
Vanderslice asked the current slate of commissioners (EDC Chair Prasad Iyer, Marty Avallone, John DiCenzo, Jason Lubel, Alison Smith, and Squitieri) to let her know their intentions to seek re-appointment when their terms end at the end of November. She indicated that Marybeth Stow, who has not attended an EDC meeting in many months, would likely not be re-appointed.
The Commission currently has at least one open position on the board, and Vanderslice indicated more could be added once the Commission identifies any gaps and specific skill sets that may be needed.
She emphasized that subcommittee members for the signage initiative do not have to be full-time members of the Commission.
Interested in serving on the Commission or a subcommittee exploring Wilton’s signage regulations? Look under the “Residents” tab on the Town website for information how to volunteer.