NORWALK, Conn. – An all-star lineup of community-minded Norwalk business leaders has been assembled with the goal to lead the city back to what Mayor Harry Rilling described as the greatness it once had by pulling the “best from the best.”
The first task of the campaign promise-fulfilling Business Advisory Council, Rilling said, will be to find a replacement for former Business and Economic Community Development Director Tad Diesel, who retired shortly after the eight-year reign of former Mayor Richard Moccia came to an end in November. The council will then go on to study best business practices and look at making Norwalk’s permitting processes more friendly to new businesses and Norwalk homeowners.
“This is something that we have to put together,” Rilling said at a Tuesday press conference. “We are here right now with some initial thoughts and ideas, my thoughts and ideas as what I want to see from this business advisory council. As we meet, there will be more ideas put on the table.”
Rilling described the council’s members as “people from different walks of life with different visions, different thoughts to bring to the table.”
They will consult with the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to learn best practices and “pull the best from the best,” Rilling said.
The members, recruited by Irene Dixon, are
Harey Carey, AT&T director of external affairs
Mike Sutton, partner, Benefits Planning Services LLC
Mike DiScala of M. F. DiScala
Tony Aitoro, Aitoro Appliances and Electronics
LaTanya Langley, Diageo North America senior general counsel
Yvonne Hickey, Xerox, general manager of public sector Northeast
Stacey Lopez-Hascoe, SoNo Corporate Suites director
Patricia Toni, Norwalk Hospital risk manager
Irene Dixon, Hilton Garden Inn Norwalk director of sales and marketing
Olivia Dardy, former Common Council candidate
State Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk)
“Our job right now is filling (Diesel’s) position, but I do believe that, over the long term, this council is going to be one that’s very important to the mayor and assuring that our economic engine in our city is moving forward and moving forward the best it can be,” Duff said.
The group is fine tuning a job description for Diesel’s replacement, a position that will now be called economic development director, Rilling said. That person will work closely with the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency and the Norwalk Chamber of Commerce, but report to the mayor, he said.
A request for applications will probably go out by the end of the week, Rilling said.
“We’ll be looking for somebody who will aggressively market the city of Norwalk by reaching out to potential investors and potential businesses, trying to draw people into Norwalk, showing them our natural resources, showing them what we have to offer and why we are the best place to do business,” Rilling said.
The successful candidate will be “a person with a proven history, a person who knows how to get things done, a person who is a self-starter,” Rilling said.
“The biggest indicator of future performance is past performance,” he said. “We really want to take a look at what are the things that the person has accomplished in the past and what successes have they had.”
“I do see this as one of the most important positions they can be filled in the mayor’s office,” Duff said.
Rilling said Diesel retired for personal reasons. He said he did not ask Diesel to retire.
The effort to make the permitting process more friendly is the fulfillment of a campaign promise, a response to feedback Rilling said he got from the public.
“It seems at times that they said Norwalk is a very difficult place to do business and it tastes longer to do things that it might take someplace else. I’m not sure that’s the case all the time, but I have heard enough where it does take on, to me, some reality,” he said.
Streamlining might include being able to apply online for permits, he said.
“The issue of business development is so important to the city of Norwalk,” Rilling said. “I think we’re really poised for greatness once again, where we can get some of these people to invest in Norwalk. … I think we can take better advantage of our natural resources, our great community. I have heard so many people say that when they finally moved to Norwalk, they realized what an absolutely amazing community it is. We have to market it properly. We have to whet people’s appetites not only to move here, but to invest here, to work here send their children to our schools. Those are the things we we will be looking at. How do we accomplish that? How to make Norwalk desirable to people and businesses.”