High state taxes, commuting inconveniences, unaffordable housing, and governmental attitudes that are not business-friendly are among the reasons Fairfield County is no longer the commercial real estate draw it once was, according to a roundtable of commercial real estate brokers.
Twelve brokers joined the roundtable discussion hosted at Comstock Community Center by the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WestCOG) on Feb. 15. It was the first in a series of focus groups aimed at helping the business community recover.
“In the 1970s, when New York City was falling apart, you had companies coming to Fairfield County. That is no longer true,” said Steven Obsitnik, an associate of the Imagine Connecticut group.
Commercial real estate deals with retail, office and manufacturing leases of available space. It also concerns itself with new development.
There are hotspots of development, like Trumbull and Shelton, but the rest of the county is not so lucky, said Winthrop Baum, chief executive officer of the WEB Realty Co.
“Fairfield County is on life support, because of its proximity to New York City,” Baum said.
Businesses have to work together to change the state’s policies and make commercial real estate bloom again, but that will take time.
“It’s like turning a big cruise ship,” said moderator Hal Kurfehs, vice president of Coldwell Banker.
Connecting with commercial brokers is important because they have the pulse on where things are going, said Elizabeth Esposito, associate planner for WestCOG. “They know who is moving in and who is moving out. They gave us perspective which will influence the golden objectives for our economic development plan,” she said.
Wilton will become the epicenter of a series of focus groups planned by West-COG to hear from business owners and stakeholders in the region about the strengths and weaknesses they see in the region’s economy.
“They are particularly interested in the barriers businesses in the region face. What is holding businesses back? What can be improved to help businesses?” Esposito said.
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.
Following are upcoming sessions at Comstock Community Center.
Advanced Manufacturing
Monday, Feb. 27, 11:30 a.m.
Moderator: Elizabeth Stocker, director of economic development, city of Norwalk.
This focus group will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the advanced manufacturing industry in the region. Workforce, training, and resources will be some of the many topics discussed.
Healthcare Tech
Wednesday, March 22, noon. Moderator: Valeria Bisceglia, business adviser, Connecticut Small Business Development Center.
This focus group will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the emerging health care tech industry in the region. Workforce, resources, training, and growth will be some of the many topics discussed.
Creative Economy
Thursday, March 23, noon.
Moderators: Jackie Lightfield, executive director of Stamford Partnership, and Lisa Scails, executive director of Cultural Alliance of Western Connecticut.
This focus group will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the creative sector in the region, including digital media, creative arts, graphic design, marketing, sports/entertainment production, etc. Barriers, growth, supply chain, and distribution will be some of the many topics discussed.
Other meetings are:
Small Business II
Tuesday, March 7, 8:30 a.m., Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.
Moderators: Harold Kurfehs, vice president of Coldwell Banker Commercial, and Lisa Scails, executive director of Cultural Alliance of Western CT.
This focus group will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by small businesses (fewer than 25 employees) in the region. Permitting processes, workforce, resources, and growth will be some of the many topics discussed.
FinTech
Tuesday, March 14, noon, Sacred Heart University, Stamford.
Moderator: Thomas Madden, director of economic development, city of Stamford.
This focus group will explore the challenges and opportunities faced by the emerging FinTech industry in the region. Workforce, resources, training, and growth will be some of the many topics discussed.
WestCOG serves Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, Norwalk, Redding, Ridgefield, Sherman, Stamford, Weston, Westport, and Wilton.