Wilton’s Economic Development Commission (EDC) has had a full year, making headway on its initiatives and laying the groundwork for several upcoming projects in FY2018. Vivian Lee-Shiue, chair of the EDC, gave GOOD Morning Wilton an overview of where the commission will focus in the coming year.
Digital Marketing Materials
Although the EDC is technically on hiatus in August, its members are currently finishing work on some marketing materials–an online brochure for potential new residents, to compliment a smaller publication highlighting the Best Things About Wilton (like Ambler Farm and the 4th of July Fireworks). The online brochure, and the ‘Best Things’ publication are meant to be materials that would supplement the residential video produced in the spring, and realtors can provide all three to clients considering Wilton as a place to live.
“Those three items are hopefully going to be marketing collateral that then the realtors and potential small businesses can use to say, for people who would move into town or businesses in place, can say, ‘This is what makes Wilton really unique and here’s what’s great about it,” Lee-Shiue says.
Lee-Shiue says the brochure will be introduced like the residential video was, via a press release, social media, and as a sharable resource for anyone to use it.
“The brochure is going to be unveiled in the next couple weeks or so. It’s an online, interactive brochure, where you can simulate flipping the pages. We’re calling it a ‘discovery guide’ because it’s not really a full-fledged brochure with a lot of details, but has [an overview] about what Wilton has to offer, and links to various amenities in town.
“It has a little bit of the history of Wilton, to kind of orient people; we talk about regional activities available in town; social clubs; arts and culture; and some of the events that occur throughout the year. We have a pretty big section on schools because that’s obviously one of our big selling points. We also highlight Wilton’s open space and nature–that’s kind of our Wilton trademark, so we want to make sure people understand that we have a lot of open space that was done by design and it enables us to have more recreational activities. How Wilton Center kind of caters to that sort of open design, and the fact that the Center is off of the main Rte. 7 thoroughfare, so it’s pedestrian friendly.
“It’s not going to be an answer book. It’s going to be something that they’re going to look at as they are considering moving to Wilton and can say, ‘There’s a lot of cool stuff in Wilton so let’s explore it a little bit more.’ Here are the highlights of the good things in town and if you’re interested in learning more you can contact somebody at the EDC, somebody at Town Hall, people at the Chamber–we have links to each one of these organization’s websites. It’s intended to draw their attention so that they explore the next step.”
Commission members are also working on a commercial video aimed at enticing businesses to give Wilton a closer look.
“The commercial video is a completely different audience. It’s targeted at potential businesses that that are looking to possibly relocate in this area, and that intent is really to highlight what Wilton brings to larger businesses., larger corporate entities, not really your mom-and-pops, retail or anything like that. Larger entities like Dorel Sports or Cannondale Bike, ASML, Breitling, Tauck Travel. Those types of corporate entities that would want office space and bring a number of employees into town.
“We talked to a few different businesses and it’s going to be a 3-minute video where principals of some of the companies based here talk about why they landed in town and what their experiences were getting here.”
“We’re going to end it with footage around town–of what the traffic looks like, information about where the town sits and the distance between New York and Boston; that we have two Metro North train stations, that we’re centrally located if you drive between some of the large hospitals; that access to the shoreline is big deal. All the different things that Wilton can offer–transportation, the ability to work with the town, what Wilton as a town demographically can offer some of the businesses.”
Hand in hand with the marketing materials, the EDC is working on beefing up the its own digital presence, both on its own website and on social media. This work is being done keeping in mind that first selectman Lynne Vanderslice is spearheading a project to upgrade the town website, and putting all town entities on the same platform–including the EDC. Everything will have a similar look and feel across all the town boards, commissions, departments, etc.
“In between the time she gets that town platform up and running, we want to overhaul all of our content–there’s some information that’s missing there with respect to some of the contacts in town, with respect to how do you get access to certain types of entities and permits and things like that, who are some of the large brokers; or if you’re interested in coming into town how would you put your foot in the door,” Lee-Shiue says.
That means social media strategy needs attention too.
“We’re trying to have more regular updates on social media, where we’re constantly sending out reminders of what we’re up to. We want to be a little more active on the digital side.”
Earlier in the year, the EDC had started to map out a new website entirely on their own, but with everything being consolidated through the first selectman’s effort, it has allowed Lee-Shiue and her fellow commissioners to narrow their work.
“We’re going to focus exclusively on the content and the marketing outreach, and leave the design to the side until we see what the town website’s going to look like. So our original digital strategy was a little bit broader, but we’re very much in favor of everybody being on a common platform and a common look and feel.”
There may be a need to involve an outside vendor to assist in the digital realm. Lee-Shiue says the EDC has reached out to vendors that are experienced with content development from an economic development perspective.
“We’re going to make the proposal to the Board of Selectmen that we go with a vendor that can help us with how to put together the strategy for this process. They have experience with things like, How frequently should you be updating your audience? What type of information do you want to be updating? What’s the format for doing it? They have certain templates. We’re going to make that proposal, whether it’s approved or not is to be seen. It probably won’t happen until August or September possibly.”
Having all of these digital elements in place is critical, says Lee-Shiue, because for many, it will be the first point of entry to learn about Wilton.
“We’ve realized that when people are looking to either move into town, or businesses are looking to come into town, the first thing they’re going to hit is a website of sorts. They might go to the Town of Wilton website, but more and more people are going to either a Chamber of Commerce or economic development website and so we feel strongly our content has to be dynamic and really up to date. It’s really critical to do this digital overhaul because it sets the first impression for anybody who is looking to possibly come into town. Up to date, very dynamic, very exciting content, will capture their interest–the intent, again, is for them to then say, ‘I want more information about Wilton.’ So they’ll either reach out to us or to Lynne or her staff to gain more knowledge.”
Part-Time EDC Employee
The EDC has talked about having a town employee to help part-time with its agenda. However, that was a complicated proposition to do affordably. The thought, says Lee-Shiue, was to find someone with enough experience in economic development who would only work a certain number of hours–a number below what would require the town to provide benefits.
“We do need some arms and legs that can help us be the point of contact for economic development, who can take down information as it relates to either contacts at various organizations or with the state or with the town or whatever that might be. They would spend a little bit more time on gathering information or doing some of the work that we’re doing. Right now it’s all being done by volunteer members of the commission who are spending a lot of hours on this and we’re pretty flat out,” she says.
For now, the EDC has turned to Wilton resident Sarah Gioffre, who works part-time in the selectman’s office on special projects. She has been supporting the EDC until it can be determined whether the budget can support taking on someone else.
“It would give us a little more capacity because really, at the moment, most of it is being done by three or four commissioners, and we are spending hours and hours per week on it and we’re still not getting as much done as we would like to. It would give us a little bit more bandwidth and capacity. Someone who is able to do it on a focused time frame versus in between our kids and our own jobs and things like that.”
Wilton Center Working Group
The EDC is also exploring bringing in help from other volunteers with more vested interest in how strong the town is.
“The name is not really defined yet but it’s kind of a Wilton Center downtown working group, comprised of stakeholders from various groups: Chamber of Commerce, EDC, possibly some business owners, maybe from other commissions–[for example], Wilton Center is in a wetland area maybe they want to have somebody from Inland Wetlands the Conservation Commission involved.”
Lee-Shiue says it wouldn’t be an official town commission, but more of a working group to collectively brainstorm ideas on how to improve what happens in Wilton Center–anything from aesthetics, to helping businesses work on signage issues, to directing owners where to seek temporary permits.
“If people have issues with figuring out who they need to go to in the town to get things like signage, if they don’t know what to do in order to get approval for outdoor seating, if they want temporary approvals or permits for temporary events. We would serve not as a researcher but as a go-to if they have questions, we would be the facilitator between any sort of downtown business or entity and the town.”
The group would be proactive with ideas as well as reactive to inquiries or issues.
“Things like, how can we improve user experience, how can we improve walkability. We would tackle things like the plan and the strategy and define that. It’s looking holistically at what we can do to improve the Wilton Center user experience. We want to make sure that somebody focuses on the overall vibe you get from Wilton Center, she says.
But would there be crossover with what the Chamber of Commerce is supposed to do? Lee-Shiue says the group wouldn’t be as event driven as the Chamber, although there might be some outreach events.
“It could be working through opportunities, like for example the liquor ordinance change that we did, that could have possible come through an entity like this. If there are people who are looking for changes and they want to implement it but they don’t know how to do it, perhaps they come to us first and then we can kind of figure out how to open the doors.”
Speaking of changes, one area of potential and desired change that attracts a good deal of attention from Wilton businesses is signage. Lee-Shiue says a separate signage working group has been formed to look at existing regulations and see if they’re business friendly–or can be made friendlier.
“There are so many different regulations depending on where you are and what kind of business you are, and there are businesses that are grandfathered and stuff like that. We want to look overall at comparison of towns on signage, and we will probably tackle temporary signage as a first step, because that is obviously the hot point of a lot of businesses in town. But then overall the goal is hopefully to come up with a signage proposal that might be a little bit more friendly to businesses than existing ones are.”
She compares the process to what the EDC went through on the proposal to change the town ordinance to extend hours that restaurants could serve alcohol.
“We’ll do some research, come up with a proposal, bring it to the necessary commissions–I think in this case it probably goes to Planning and Zoning and the Board of Selectmen. Depending on what our final proposal is, it would most likely have to go to public hearing because it’s an ordinance change and then it would have to be voted on in a town meeting. Our role as a working group would be to just come up with a proposal and that’s about as far as we can take it. We’d have to have justification for the proposal and reasons why we think that’s a smart idea, and look at all the repercussions for businesses that may be grandfathered into it, and take it forward on a proposal basis. Just like the liquor ordinance did, it gets turned over to the selectmen and P&Z for their review and approval.”
Some parts of the interview have been edited for clarity and brevity.