Finding ways to attract minority businesses to Wilton

WILTON — In an attempt to build diversity within the business community, a member of the town’s Economic Development Commission has floated the idea of creating a minority investment fund that would be financially supported by town businesses.

Toni Lee presented the idea as a way the commission can “economically support new ventures” in the town that has vacant retail and office space.

The proposal was greeted with enthusiasm by her fellow commission members as well as First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice and Selectwoman Lori Bufano, who also attended the meeting Wednesday via Zoom.

Lee said such a fund could help further the commission’s goals of new business development and expansion and retention and expansion of existing businesses.

“Businesses, organizations and brands throughout the country are investing in supporting minority businesses, minority hiring” and initiatives that support minorities, she said in an outline she shared. Many, she added, are looking for ways to have “an impact.”

Beyond hiring, she said, one way established businesses can help is to “put money behind businesses that are minority led.”

It would also be an opportunity, she said, to connect the business community with civic organizations such as Kiwanis, Lions and Rotary.

Lee outlined Wilton’s business needs as:

 Finding ways to attract new kinds of business to town.

 Making the town attractive to existing businesses to keep them here.

 Making the town a destination for visitors and shoppers.

“I think if we give businesses a reason to really be invested here beyond their own businesses, that it also helps with retention and their own expansion,” Lee said. She also sees it as a way to make Wilton a destination for those who want to support local minority businesses.

“Through actual business investment, mentorship, counsel, and in-service contributions” the fund could bring “businesses together interested in supporting the Black Lives Matter movement and that they could do it on a local community level where they could have a real impact,” she said.

“My thinking is we are at a moment in our country where people want to do things to really show support for the minority community and to put an effort behind it,” she added. “I saw this as a way for a local bank, a local attorney, a business in town that might want to help us create a fund … and we would work with entrepreneurs and start-ups and maybe established businesses in other towns to help them create their own offering here in Wilton.

“If you build it and bring people together you are creating a community,” she said.

Vanderslice saw merit in the idea and offered some insight into Wilton’s demographics.

“Wilton has had a growing minority population … the significant growth has been in the Asian population and I think that a combination of the Hindu temple and ASML has helped drive that,” she said.

Vanderslice suggested that beyond businesses, money might come from community members looking to support such a fund. Recalling her experiences in fundraising for A Better Chance, she said significant funds came from individuals. She also suggested structuring the fund as a nonprofit.

The commission agreed to discuss the idea further at its next meeting, which is scheduled for Oct. 14.