July 6, 2018
A workshop for the Citywide Plan (also known as the POCD) was held on May 30, 2018 to get Norwalk residents’ opinions on economic development in the city. During the event, more than 20 attendees looked at strategies to achieve three overall goals:
- Retain and attract high-quality businesses and jobs
- Grow Norwalk’s non-residential tax base
- Maintain and enhance government and community conditions that support desired growth and development
This “Prosperous Norwalk” workshop was one of four the planning team held to get insights into various topics important to the City’s future.
Below is a summary of the workshop on Prosperous Norwalk. If you were unable to attend this workshop, you can view the full Prosperous Norwalk presentation here. Don’t forget to take a short survey to let us know your opinion. The survey will be open until July 20, 2018.
Economic Development Goals and Strategies For Norwalk
The workshop began with a presentation on background data, and potential goals and strategies by the planning team’s economic development expert Dan Hodge of Hodge Economic Consulting.
Three broad economic goals and accompanying potential strategies for Norwalk were presented:
Goal: Norwalk has a diversified economy with a larger business tax base and more high-quality, good jobs for residents.
- Update zoning and land use in targeted industrial zones
- Focus on regional target industries: professional/tech services; finance; tourism, recreation, and culture; niche industries
- Develop a small business and entrepreneurial initiative
- Expand workforce housing availability
- Promote Norwalk Center and SoNo for creative economy small office users
- Optimize Norwalk’s coastal location and waterfront areas for recreation, tourism, economic, and transportation uses
Goal: Norwalk continues to strengthen the urban core with a mix of uses to attract residents, visitors, and businesses.
- Enhance business attraction and expansion tools in urban core areas to be consistent and transparent
- Track and evaluate development and business incentives
- Recruit a higher education presence for Norwalk Center
- Implement transit-oriented development for more live/work/play options
Goal: Norwalk has the right policies, infrastructure, and leadership for business growth and development.
- Establish strong citywide economic development leadership to develop and implement proactive strategies
- Define strategic focus areas in Norwalk Center for multi-faceted public investment and programming
- Pursue an action-oriented strategy to provide alternatives to the car in connecting the city’s activity centers
- Improve and maintain the public realm, parks, and infrastructure for enhanced quality of life
Regional Economic Conditions and Trends
To get a broader view of how Norwalk fits into the regional economy, participants heard a panel discussion moderated by Brian Griffin, President of the Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce. The panelists were Thomas Madden, City of Stamford Director of Economic Development; Melissa Kaplan-Macey, Connecticut Director, Regional Plan Association; and Carolyn Grossman Meagher, Director of Regional Planning, New York City Department of City Planning.
Here are some of the economic conditions and trends in the region that affect Norwalk that were shared by the panel:
- New York City has 40% of all jobs in the NY-NJ-CT metro area but since the Great Recession (2008), NYC’s share of job growth increased to 80%, especially in technology and creative industries
- Office job growth occurring outside of NYC is typically in areas that are well served by rail transit with a strong local workforce
- A strong rental housing market supports economic (business development) opportunities because people like to live where they work
- New suburban office campuses are not being built: “No one wants suburban office locations anymore”
- The amount of office space per employee is lower than before: a new 200- employee company uses the same amount of office space needed by a 75-employee company in the past
- In order to survive, first-floor retail/restaurants in mixed-use residential buildings need a population of approximately 15,000 people within one mile, as well as daytime employee lunch customers. Stamford has a new program offering a density bonus in exchange for more affordable (lower cost) first-floor retail space.
Stamford’s economic development was discussed as an example. The city has been pursuing a growth model of development around downtown and the train station that includes the following strategies:
- Residential growth has been crucial to attracting and growing businesses
- Key business sectors for Stamford are FIRE (finance, insurance, real estate), consumer products, professional services (accounting, consulting, etc.), digital media, and the XFL/WWE
- Proactive economic development activities include a professional, high-quality economic development web site (http://www.choosestamford.com/) that emphasizes live, work, play and is used to market/sell the region’s assets when selling Stamford
- Prospective developers are provided with a tremendous amount of information on real estate opportunities
- The City is actively partnering with the state of CT to be aware of business expansion opportunities and then to position Stamford for consideration
- Leadership of the Fairfield Five (Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, and other communities) as a regional marketing/promotion effort to try to have more companies based in NYC, Boston and elsewhere consider the region when thinking of expansion/relocation. In September, the group will host a meeting with technology companies to try to attract them to Fairfield County.
Participants asked questions and commented on the presentations and were asked to provide their views in two exercises. During the first exercise, attendees were asked about their level of agreement with statements on economic development. The greatest agreement was on the following strategies for Norwalk:
- Creating an economic development department with experienced leadership
- Increasing business expansion and attraction to help lower the residential tax burden
- Finding better ways to connect Norwalk’s multiple employment and commercial centers
- Pursuing a wider range of niche and artisan industries
- Continuing to focus on train station areas for walkable, mixed use development
The second exercise asked participants their ideas on what they would like to see as the priority economic development activities for the next 10 years. Comments included the following:
- Focus on niche industry and manufacturing
- Expand co-working and work/live spaces
- Increase walkable, mixed-use areas
- Reduce government silos
- Become a tourist-driven economy
- Limit further development of large retail stores
- Develop a city market
- House the people who work in Norwalk
Prosperous Norwalk was one of four citywide workshops in May to discuss and comment on specific topics. The other three were City Design, Green, Sustainable and Resilient Norwalk, Prosperous Norwalk (Economic Development), and Connected and Complete Norwalk. Full presentations from each workshop can be found on the Resources page of this website.
Information from the workshops and the surveys will help guide the development of the draft citywide plan over the summer 2018. Further opportunities for public comment in the fall will include a public open house, public review of the draft plan before adoption, and a public hearing at the Planning Commission when it considers adoption.