NORWALK, Conn. – Low-paying jobs that lead to the exodus of young Norwalkers was one of the topics bandied about by Common Council candidates last week in East Norwalk.
With the withdrawal of the application to build a BJ’s Wholesale Club on Main Avenue fresh on everyone’s minds, Republican Norwalk Police Commissioner Pete Torrano asked about the assertion that big box stores do not provide good jobs.
“Norwalk has a large number of unskilled workers,” he said. “What exactly are these better jobs that the unskilled workers in Norwalk can fill?”
Four candidates chose to respond.
Democrat Sharon Stewart, a social worker from District B, said there are plenty of opportunities for workforce training in Norwalk.
“Big box stores are hiring people to make $9.50 an hour, or $8.50,” she said. “The 2003 census told everybody that for a single person with no children to survive in Norwalk, you need to make $23 an hour. With that said, how can you expect a family of three or four children to actually do anything other than collect welfare and collect food stamps? There’s nothing else for them to do.”
Common Council President Doug Hempstead, a Republican, said it’s about finding balance and smart growth. The Stew Leonard’s vice president said he isn’t opposed to big box stores. He has asked around, he said, and found that some Costco cashiers get $7,000 bonuses.
“I think it’s having the right companies come to town,” he said. “… If you go back 20 years, everybody was against big office buildings in Norwalk, too, at one point. That’s kind of how we wound up with Route 1, because everybody was opposing, they didn’t want Merritt 7 on Route 1.”
A mix of high-paying professional jobs and jobs for unskilled workers is the reason Norwalk has a Triple A bond rating, he said.
Democrat Warren Peña, 33, running for re-election after his first term as a councilman, agreed Norwalk needs balance.
“All I’m hearing from my peer group around here is it’s just too expensive around here,” he said. “There’s just no jobs that pay us well enough. So where are they going? Moving up north where it’s cheaper. Getting out of Norwalk, where they actually love.”
Bruce Kimmel, an incumbent Democratic councilman running as a Republican-endorsed candidate, expounded a bit, without focusing on jobs.
“The issue with BJ’s is that it was too large,” he said. “It was on a Superfund site and not a brownfield site. Superfund sites can never be fully remediated. It’s a few blocks away from the Norwalk River. The environmental reports were never released. We knew traffic would be exacerbated despite what the consultants were saying, and we did find out the consultants did have reservations.”
He agreed with Hempstead – times change.
“The problem we have today traffic-wise on Connecticut Avenue is because, when it was being developed, the West Norwalk Association and other associations fought vehemently for big box stores.”