Smart Investment: Economic Development
The entrepreneurial spirit has been strong in the Naugatuck Valley since its early days and the recent flurry of business activity in the region is proving this spirit to be alive and well. From the redevelopment of old industrial sites and large-scale groundbreakings to small business startups, the Valley is abuzz with economic success.
While Shelton’s corporate corridor along Bridgeport Avenue has been an economic engine for a generation, an exciting transformation has been happening to the formerly blighted industrial area downtown. Abandoned factory buildings and an old asphalt plant along the riverfront have been converted into a mix of attractive public spaces, residences and office space. Though much of the construction is recent, the redevelopment is rooted in the long-term planning that goes back decades.
Following the devastating Sponge Rubber Factory fire in 1975, a collaborative of stakeholders began the process of developing a vision for rehabilitating the "Rather than dig up greenfields, we are taking properties that have lain fallow for years and putting them back to work,” said Shelton Economic Development Corporation President Jimmy Ryan. “The whole community made a commitment.”
Brownfields redevelopment is also happening in Ansonia, with the demolition of unused buildings at Ansonia Copper & Brass. Meanwhile, local developer Bob Scinto of R.D. Scinto Inc. has restarted development of Ansonia’s Fountain Lake Park, where a 60,000 square-foot facility is being planned for the relocation of Farrel Pomini from its longtime Main Street location.
Even more brownfields redevelopment in the Valley is anticipated since the formation of the Connecticut Brownfields Land Bank (CTBLB). Funded in part by a three-year grant from the Valley Community Foundation, CTBLB will aggregate resources on behalf of municipalities that lack the capacity to manage these complicated land deals.
“There is an awful lot going on,” said Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce Director Bill Purcell. “Consumer confidence is up. Credit is available for small business. I think we are entering a period of optimism.”
In another success, the federal designation of the Naugatuck Valley Corridor as an Economic Development District in 2013 has opened up infrastructure grants to local municipalities. Derby received a $445,000 grant in early 2015 to develop a comprehensive plan for a redevelopment zone spanning from the Derby-Shelton Bridge to the Route 8 south entrance ramp, which would likely include proposals to widen Route 34. This plan, combined with another $50,000 grant to analyze how tax credits could be used to redevelop Elizabeth Street’s historic properties, are a step towards revitalizing the downtown area, attracting new businesses and significantly improving the city’s infrastructure.
The Waterbury-Oxford Airport, located in Oxford, additionally attracted new businesses when the Connecticut Airport Authority unanimously approved a business enterprise zone with tax incentives to foster economic development.
Further cause for optimism is a federal proposal to designate the Naugatuck River Valley as a National Heritage Area. The proposal, which requires approval from Congress, would give local communities access to federal funds for 10 years to increase employment, boost tourism and improve the local economy if approved. Thanks to the many collaborative efforts of Valley businesses, organizations and governments, local indicators are moving in the right direction.