Council of Governments learns region’s weaknesses, strengths

Not surprisingly, the high cost of homes and rental apartments in Fairfield County has emerged in a series of business focus groups as one of the most crippling local factors that comes into play for the Stamford, Danbury, and Norwalk business hubs of which Wilton is a part.

The findings were outlined in a report of the Western Connecticut Council of Governments based on focus groups conducted during the winter with representatives from real estate, small business, manufacturing, arts and media, and technology.

Other threats to business growth in the region include the high debt loads college graduates carry in order to pay for their educational credentials, the outflow of older residents to retirement communities including Florida, and a general consensus that unskilled jobs may become harder to fill.

The lack of homes and apartments in the lower price ranges in the county means workers have to commute longer distances to take jobs here, and are just as soon attracted to other locales where transportation is better and the lifestyle more livable.

There are strong points, though. Across the spectrum of focus groups, the region’s high quality of living with quality housing stock of good value rates very highly, as does the educated workforce and the simple fact that western Connecticut residents lack any discernable regional accent, unlike their neighbors in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, and New Jersey. This makes the county a hotspot for call centers that perform customer service and bill collecting duties for companies with nationwide reach.

The WestCOG staff is particularly interested in the barriers businesses in the region face. “What is holding businesses back? What can be improved to help businesses?” said Elizabeth Esposito, associate planner for the WestCOG.

Feedback from the focus group series will be used in the creation of a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, known as a CEDS. Once complete, the CEDS will facilitate continued economic development in the region for the next five years, Esposito said. Input from the business community is key to the creation of this plan.