While they have approached Stamford and other area municipalities about accommodating its growth of jobs and lack of housing opportunities, New York City officials have not approached Wilton. First Selectwoman Lynne Vanderslice said she would welcome the conversation.

The issue came up at a meeting of the Economic Development Commission on June 12, which welcomed Lisa Mercurio, vice president of the Business Council of Fairfield County, as an invited speaker.

With a GDP of $98 billion, Fairfield County ranks 38th nationwide in terms of regional wealth. By contrast, New York City, just a few miles from the county’s southern border, is No. 1 in the nation, with a GDP of $1.7 trillion. But there are advantages to being in the shadow of an economic Goliath.

Due to its proximity, Fairfield County cannot help but be affected by the successes and failures of New York City, Mercurio said. While the city is adding population and jobs, it is not adding the housing to keep up with each.

Information Mercurio shared from NYC Planning shows the metropolis has 253,000 more jobs than permitted housing units. Likewise, Long Island has 49,000 more jobs than places for its people to live.

Connecticut, which has 83,000 more housing units than jobs is competing with Northern New Jersey and New York state’s Hudson River Valley, which are similarly situated.

“For the first time in a long time, New York City is looking outside its region proper to see who can accommodate their growth,” Mercurio said. The fact that New York’s Mayor Bill DiBlasio appointed a director of regional planning is a “statement to the fact that they’re really wanting to look at the region as a whole, knowing that if the region is successful the city will be successful.

“They have met with the zoners and planners in Fairfield County and really have asked them ‘do you want to grow with us? We see New York City growing and if you are willing to accommodate this growth, we want to further the conversation.’ So they are meeting regularly with planners in Fairfield County and hopefully, we’ll keep that conversation going,” Mercurio added.

Neither Vanderslice nor Bob Nerney, the town’s planning director, has been approached, “but there is no reason we can’t contact them,” Vanderslice said on Monday, June 24, adding she’s reached out to the EDC.

“Wilton has the available corporate office space. We offer an attractive live, work, play option, without the traffic headaches of 95 and the Merritt and homeownership is more affordable than Westchester and towns closer to the border,” she told The Bulletin in an email.

Each day, 37,000 Fairfield County residents commute into New York City, while 9,000 city residents reverse-commute to Fairfield County, according to estimates from NYC Planning. Twenty-one percent of employed residents of Fairfield County earn their salaries in New York City.

For workers aged 25 to 54, New York City and Northern New Jersey have seen an increase from 2000 to 2013-2017, while Connecticut, the Hudson River Valley and Long Island have seen a decrease:


  • New York City — up 470,000, up 18 percent.

  • Northern New Jersey — up 43,000, up 2 percent.

  • Long Island — down 43,000, down 4 percent.

  • Connecticut — down 31,000, down 4 percent.

  • Hudson River Valley — down 21,000, down 3 percent.


Specifically, Fairfield County lost 4,000 people 25 to 54, down 1 percent.

Population

Despite this loss, Connecticut is still in a strong position given that its remaining workforce is highly educated and productive. Fairfield County’s workforce ranks third in the U.S. in terms of productivity, which is measured as GDP per capita, Mercurio said.

However, job growth is dependent on population growth, and if not for an in-migration of foreign-born residents, Connecticut would be losing overall population. In Stamford, Mercurio said, a person with a bachelor’s degree is more likely to be foreign-born than Connecticut-born.

While the towns of Wilton, Ridgefield, and Weston and the city of Danbury experienced double-digit population growth from 1990 to 2000, they and many other Fairfield County towns saw extremely decelerated growth from 2010 to 2017. Connecticut’s major cities of Hartford and Waterbury saw negative population trends.

In terms of age groups, Wilton’s population does not track with Stamford or the rest of Fairfield County.

At 32 percent, Wilton’s most numerous age group is 19 years old and under. It then drops to six percent for those 20 to 29, and eight percent for 30 to 39.

In Stamford, by contrast, 22 percent of its population is 19 and under, while 16 percent is 20 to 29 and 15 percent is 30 to 39.

For the county as a whole, 25 percent of its population is 19 and under, while 12 percent is 20 to 29 and another 12 percent is 30 to 39.

After school-aged children, Wilton’s largest population group is 50 to 59, with 18 percent.

Of millennials, there are 8,000 single people living in Stamford with an average per capita income of $108,000. One-third don’t own cars, 28 percent don’t have driver’s licenses. Stamford is in the top 10 for restaurants per capita and two craft breweries have opened.

In general, municipalities along rail lines have seen greater population growth than those that are not. Commercial real estate along rail lines is considered prime, while properties in other areas are being converted to residential or recreational use, Mercurio said.


Jobs

While Connecticut has not replaced all the jobs lost from 2008 to 2018, Fairfield County has, Mercurio said.

Comparing 2008 to 2018, health care remains the state’s biggest employer with 65,073 jobs. It is the only job sector that has added jobs.

Retail, government, manufacturing, financial, and professional tech services all declined.


Wealth

Connecticut remains first in per capita income but its growth at 3.4 percent is slower than for the U.S., which is 3.8 percent.

While Fairfield County remains first in per capita income, it increased more slowly — 3.2 percent — than the U.S. as a whole — 3.6 percent.

From 2007 to 2017, Fairfield County’s per capita personal income compound annual growth rate was 1.8 percent while for the U.S., it was 2.6 percent.


The future

The upshot of Mercurio’s talk, according to a handout she gave to EDC members, is that “Connecticut is in a ditch — but not a dead end” and “Fairfield County is in the slow lane.”

New York City, “our engine for growth,” is reaching its physical capacity and will bring growth to areas that are accepting of it. “New York City solutions to New York City issues will benefit contiguous regions, east of the Hudson River, with ways of entry and compatible cultures,” the handout said.

editor@wiltonbulletin.com