The Economic Development Commission (EDC) met Wednesday evening, June 14, with a larger-than-usual number of attendees.
The commission recently welcomed two new members, Jake Lubel and Matt Raimondi. They join commission chair Prasad Iyer and members John DiCenzo, Marybeth Stow, Toni Lee, Peter Squitieri and Marty Avallone.
Second Selectwoman Lori Bufano was also in attendance at the meeting.
After dealing with some administrative tasks, the commission delved into discussions of how Wilton should be promoting businesses like shops and restaurants inside Wilton, but also how to position and market the town to attract new businesses.
The latter, as discussed in the EDC meeting, is something other nearby towns are doing aggressively.
Iyer began the meeting, which was recorded on Zoom, with a reminder to the new members about the importance of compliance with FOIA requirements, something First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice has prioritized for all town boards and commissions.
The meeting also included the selection of a new vice chair. Iyer called the position, “critical from a continuity perspective.”
The vice chair shares meeting management responsibilities with the chair, leads the meetings in the chair’s absence, and generally commits to a higher level of attendance and participation on the commission.
Iyer asked for nominations, with consensus quickly gathering around Lubel. The commission approved Lubel for the role.
Video Program Update
Earlier this year, the EDC began discussing the idea of publishing business “spotlight” videos to be shared in the media or on social media with the objective of generating awareness and interest in local businesses.
The EDC has been working with the Wilton High School administration to develop a program in which students with interest in video production are enlisted to create the video content for those spotlights.
Two videos begun before the end of the school year have evolved nicely, DiCenzo reported, and his plan is to re-convene with members of the WHS faculty in mid-August, as the program is being incorporated into the curriculum. DiCenzo considered that “extremely exciting” and said he was looking forward to additional productions.
Community Movie Event
The EDC has also been exploring a Wilton community movie night. Avallone reported he discovered it would be a “lengthy process” to plan the event at Schenck’s Island, and complicated by other upcoming community events already on the calendar.
He is further exploring smaller potential venues, such as the town green/gazebo area, to “test” the idea and gauge community interest before undertaking a larger event.
The event would likely require one or more sponsors. “Something that will attract families into town, walking through town” is the idea, Avallone said.
As stated on the town website, the EDC’s mission is “to enhance Wilton’s reputation as a community where the quality of life for residents, professionals, and workers makes Wilton the ‘first choice’ to start a new business, to relocate an existing business, or for current businesses to remain and flourish.” This includes assisting existing businesses as well as promoting a “business-friendly” image for potential new businesses.
Bufano shared what she thought might be a good model for Wilton to consider: a New Haven program that sends email blasts to New Haven-based companies, which are then distributed to employees, promoting local events like live outdoor performances, pizza parties and lawn game nights at local parks and venues, and with local business sponsors.
One EDC effort would be aimed at large employers outside of town center, such as ASML, to encourage their employees to patronize local merchants and restaurants.
The EDC discussed the importance of identifying “compelling” offers (e.g., happy hours, discounts at restaurants) that would motivate employers to share the information with their employees, positioning them almost as special perks.
Commissioners felt developing relationships with HR contacts or other key executives would be particularly helpful. The commission also continues to consult Kevin Kane, a senior manager in the Cycling Sports Group at Dorel Sports (which acquired the Cannondale brand several years ago and employs about 160 people based in Wilton) for his insights.
Economic Development by Other Towns
The Wilton EDC spent significant time reviewing what two nearby towns — Westport and Fairfield — have recently been doing to promote their respective towns to prospective businesses.
Iyer said, “They put a lot of work behind it, and dollars behind it… this is a very professional effort that they have done.”
But there’s even more behind it. Westport and Fairfield are part of the “Fairfield 5,” an economic development coalition that includes Greenwich, Norwalk and Stamford, which was formed in 2017 by the top leaders in those communities.
Wilton’s EDC looked at Choose Westport/Fairfield websites through the lens of how it might optimize its own promotional efforts. Avallone pointed out that towns like Ridgefield or New Canaan might be as or more relevant for comparison, as they are off the I-95 corridor (and waterfront).
The EDC had launched a website and developed a promotional video in 2017, but believes the work needs to be updated to “reinvigorate the brand” of Wilton.
The commission has begun gathering and updating relevant information and statistics for a fact sheet, in the hopes of making it as graphically interesting and concise as possible. They also plan to approach, in a very exploratory way, some local agencies that might be able to advise on the commission’s promotional efforts.
As Avallone summarized, “We’re in an exploring phase where we’re trying to reinvigorate the brand [Wilton] for business.”