NORWALK, Conn. – A living, breathing document aimed at moving Norwalk forward economically was revealed Wednesday, with promises that it will be revisited and kept current.
The effort to create an Economic Development Action Plan began in October and involved about 40 people, Mayor Harry Rilling said.
“We are here today to release the final product,” Rilling said at a press conference. “I don’t really mean final product because this is a living, breathing document that will help us guide Norwalk’s economic future for three, four, five years out. What we want to do is not let this sit on the shelf and gather dust like some plans do. …we want to revisit this and convene a meeting every six months to kind of look at the document, determine where it needs to be tweaked, measure our progress, on some of the key actions, look at the goals and see if they are still viable goals. So it is really important that we visit this over and over again.”
The plan is available on the city’s website, and here:
It’s already in action, he said. The “Red Carpet” process for expedited permitting was used to get the Head of the Harbor South development going, Rilling said, as the process itself was developed.
“This plan to some degree is already being implemented,” Rilling said.
The goal of Red Carpet is to make the permitting process easier to navigate, a “kind of a one stop shop,” with some application process perhaps available online, he said.
The first action listed in the plan is “Establish a Business Retention and Expansion Program, engaging Norwalk’s corporations, small businesses, and entrepreneurs.”
“The main premise of economic development is to work with the businesses that are here already,” Economic Development Director Elizabeth Stocker said. “Learn more about what they do, who they hire, what kind of needs they have is important because sometimes all it takes is that phone call that visit and they feel better about being in a location because they recognize that the city government does know that they are here and appreciates that factor and we want them to do well as a business in this community.”
So, “Business retention has a lot to do with being available to those businesses,” Stocker said. “If they have a question they know who to call in City Hall. That word city hall makes people feel they are faceless. This helps bring a face to them, they know they can pick up the phone, have a one on one discussion. The mayor makes himself available as well. It’s a real good learning experience for us as well because there’re a lot of products that are still manufactured in the city.”
Rilling spoke of the importance of cutting ribbons, as what might seem like a trivial ceremony to some is very important to the people who have invested their sweat, tears and maybe a life’s savings into a business.
“To go and cut a ribbon and turn your back and say, ‘OK, thanks, welcome to Norwalk,’ and then they never hear from you again, that’s not the right thing,” Riling said. “We need to be there for them. They need to know that we are available, that my economic development director is available to them, they need to know that I am available, that my staff is available and for that matter all of the department heads in the city are available to be there to answer any questions, to help them.”
Rilling credited Stocker, Brian Baxendale of SCORE and Business and Advisory Council Chairman Harry Carey with being the prime movers and shakers in developing the plan.
“Norwalk is a vibrant place,” Rilling said. “It’s alive again and we want to make sure we get people into Norwalk and show them what we have because quite frankly if you look at our resources we pretty much in Norwalk, we have it all.”
“Norwalk is quickly becoming a destination,” Rilling said, going on to explain that he had just gotten a report that showed that Norwalk’s available office space has declined by 3 percent as the availability of office space in surrounding communities has increased.
“I think the handwriting is on the wall,” Rilling said. “People are recognizing Norwalk as a great place to open a business, to retain a business, to expand a business, certainly to live, work, educate their children. So we are really excited about all the positive feedback that we are getting when we reach out to the community. But nothing but really good news when it comes to Norwalk’s future.”