By Matt Miklave
Common Councilman and Democratic mayoral candidate
NORWALK, Conn. – Many have struggled over the last five years as the economy has sputtered along. Norwalk’s ambitious development projects (which I support) have languished as delay followed delay. Norwalk’s citizens have rightly demanded that any mayoral candidate set forth a plan to produce jobs and spur economic growth. Real change will not come through slogans or waiting for others to come with the next trendy idea. Real change will only come when the administration makes economic development a central focus of its daily activities by adopting proven strategies used by others. We need to talk less about the kinds of buildings we are trying to build and more about the kinds of jobs we are trying to create.
While Norwalk’s economic development has been stagnant, other communities have succeeded by investing in growth-oriented entrepreneurs. Ashville, N.C., Beaverton, Ore. and Denver, Colo. are just three communities that have witnessed an economic renaissance. They did so by focusing on businesses that create jobs. Norwalk’s efforts to encourage businesses to move from other communities to Norwalk, especially its efforts to grow the number of big box stores in our community, are misplaced. Statistics show that small growth-oriented employers create the vast majority of new jobs in the United States. Local businesses and entrepreneurs offer an exciting “home grown” resource to expand Norwalk’s economy.
If elected, beginning on my first day in office, I will take steps to partner with available federal, state, local and private funding sources to create a series of economic “accelerators” – physical spaces bringing together like-minded entrepreneurs and needed resources where they can collaborate, educate and innovate. Giving growth-oriented business leaders and innovators a place to share ideas, receive mentoring and educational support and interact with government officials, economic accelerators operate much like artist colonies – harnessing the creative power of like-minded people to take their ideas from model to market. The Miklave administration will create an Economic Accelerator Team to identify and focus available resources on a series of accelerators that build upon the strength and character of Norwalk, seeking to spark that “Yankee ingenuity” and innovation for which Norwalk was known at the turn of the last century.
While accelerators may take many forms, the first one I propose will focus on the culinary arts and hospitality industry. Designed to build on South Norwalk’s regional reputation as a destination for fine food and entertainment, the Miklave administration’s first accelerator will be located in South Norwalk. With an attractive, physical street presence, local and regional entrepreneur teams will be able to register to participate and have a physical location where they can “hang their hats” while they get off the ground. Local business leaders and educators will be invited and encouraged to serve as mentors and guides. With these sounding boards and some necessary equipment, budding business leaders will be tested by the women and men in our community who have “been there, done that.” This accelerator will also encourage local accountants, bankers, lawyers, real-estate agents and other professionals to provide more formalized instruction on leasing, protection of intellectual property, basic business accounting, financing, marketing, employment relations and the fundamentals of business. Local educators would also be invited to join the accelerator as leaders, teachers and mentors, providing a supportive environment for these current and future business leaders. My administration will support the accelerator concept by creating an on-site “one-stop shop” for all licensing, permitting and interactions with city regulators involved in business.
An accelerator focusing on culinary arts and the hospitality industry will appeal to a varied and wide-ranging group of entrepreneurs. Celebrating the rich diversity of our community, I hope our first accelerator will be called Norwalk Dines! and will build on our multi-cultural community – an asset we simply do not publicly celebrate enough and which makes Norwalk unique. Removing barriers that prevent our young strivers and seasoned business people from taking their business to the next level, the Norwalk Dines! accelerator can be the cornerstone for Norwalk’s economic resurgence.
The Norwalk Dines! accelerator will support additional pathways to growth by inviting Norwalk Community College to physically locate its culinary arts and hospitality program in South Norwalk, adding an exciting critical mass to the accelerator and South Norwalk. The Miklave administration will also work with the Norwalk Public Schools to create a regional education alternative to Briggs High School and our two high-school programs.
While a successful Norwalk Dines! accelerator will be a big first step toward generating new opportunity; it will be only the first step. My administration will seek to build other accelerators in rapid succession, including a focus on the maritime industry; wind, wave and solar power development; innovative watercraft and water-based recreational vehicles and more. Challenging us, our neighbors and our friends to collaborate, educate and innovate, Norwalk would be poised to be the anchor of Connecticut’s economic development in the years to come.
NancyOnNorwalk asked Miklave how much this accelerator progam would cost and where the money would come from. Miklave responded:
These are great questions. One of the reasons I have focused so much on Performance Based Budgeting (or Budgeting for Outcomes) is my belief that we can free up savings from our $350 million operating and capital budgets With the savings we generate through PBB, we can help support the accelerators (and fix our schools, and so on). The Economic Accelerator Team also will be tasked with the job of developing federal, state and private funds to support accelerators.
We are working to develop some hard cost estimates for our accelerators, and I am working with a team to help. But, as compared to the millions Norwalk has invested in the current redevelopment projects, accelerators are very efficient. For example, at the Planning Committee meeting on Thursday, the committee advanced a proposed $2 million HUD Loan application to support the renovation of the Globe Theatre. I am fairly confident that the accelerators will cost a fraction of that price.