Economic Development Commission: A pitch to brand Wilton

Developing a marketing plan to “brand” Wilton is at the top of the Wilton Economic Development Commission’s to-do list, as reported to the Board of Selectmen at its meeting Monday night, April 1. Board Chairman Peter Gaboriault said the group has been meeting consistently with the intention of creating an economic development plan that will spur business in the town.

“Frankly, we’ve made a lot of progress,” Mr. Gaboriault said. “We’ve spent a lot of time meeting people to get up to speed. We have a diverse group.”

Commission member Karen Keasler presented a draft of the economic development plan that was seen as more of a brainstorming document.

“I chose Wilton because I live here,” Ms. Keasler said, taking on the persona of a hypothetical prospective business owner. “When I started looking, there was no easy way to find information about places to rent to put my commercial business in. It would have been great to have a website. My partner, who was settling the business with me, she was driving through the area and only saw Route 7. She thought there wasn’t a Wilton Center.”

Using that role-playing, Ms. Keasler highlighted the various issues a business owner can encounter.

“Things as simple as signage weren’t as simple as they could be,” Ms. Keasler said, still in character. “An advocate to shepherd us would be nice.”

She laid out a basic plan they considered to be the “can do” list, beginning with a need to commit dedicated resources to Wilton’s economic development. While the commission would prefer to hire a full-time employee to be responsible for economic development, Ms. Keasler said they would appreciate volunteer resources as well.

A marketing plan is needed to gain “some understanding of who our target market is and why they should come to Wilton and really brand Wilton,” she said. This would be to attract businesses to town. At the same time, Ms. Keasler said, the commission must nurture the businesses that are already in Wilton and find out what their needs are. This information will be useful to develop other programs to keep those businesses in town.

Also on the list of “can do” items is a development plan to ensure the town is utilizing its commercial space to the fullest.

Lastly, said Ms. Keasler, Wilton must “optimize to foster a business-friendly environment. Be ‘one Wilton’ when it comes to economic development.”

First Selectman Bill Brennan was very surprised with the amount of detail within the draft and called it “impressive.”

“The objective is to get a development plan,” Mr. Brennan said. “In terms of committing resources, we have to understand that we’re a small town. We only add people when we absolutely feel necessary. We have to be realistic in the environment that we’re in.”

“However,” he added, “the board is very supportive of the commission in terms of hiring. We budgeted for it in the ’14 fiscal plan. You have a lot of talent in the commission.”

Second Selectman Harold Clark said, “You have a lot of credibility because of your careers. The credibility is going to be a big thing. You don’t just want somebody who is a town employee to do it.”

“It’s a collaborative process,” Mr. Brennan said. He added that the commission should speak with neighboring towns, such as Ridgefield, to get their thoughts.

Commission member Lee Wilson stepped to the podium to voice his concerns to the Board of Selectmen.

“I think Cannondale is the greatest opportunity this town has,” he said. “I think what the town should be doing is taking a proactive approach to Cannondale. A plan should be developed for the redevelopment of the area. You can create a synergism of pedestrian traffic that is lost in Wilton Center. People go to CVS and drive across the street to Village Market.”

In response to a question by Selectman Ted Hoffstatter about the clarity of zoning regulations, Mr. Wilson said, “The town should take the leadership so the developer knows what he’s getting into. The market timing is key. These markets change over time. If a developer can come in and see what he can do today, he can make reasonable risk/reward decisions.”

“You can’t do everything at once,” said Mr. Brennan. “Getting the plan in place is the important thing.

“What is the low-hanging fruit?” asked Selectman Richard Dubow. “What are the small problems that can be solved easily? We should be up and running with a website.”

The next step for the commission is to put a marketing plan together.

“I suggest priorities,” said Mr. Brennan. “There’s a role for the Chamber of Commerce, there’s a role for the town, there’s a role for Realtors.

“This is not easy, and we recognize that.”