WESTPORT— Sara Harris, operations director for the town of Westport, spent 16 years living and working in New York City. However, in July, she was named operations director for the town after she and her family decided to relocate to Fairfield County.

“The education system in Fairfield County was the primary reason I wanted to move here,” she said. “The cost of living is less than New York City. If I needed to go back into New York City for culture (I have the train), but still have the quality of life here. Raising my family here was absolutely a no brainer for me.”

Harris’ story is one Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, Westport and Fairfield would like to see across Fairfield County. The five municipalities are hoping there is strength in numbers as they team up as the “Fairfield County Five,” an economic development group to appeal to businesses to move to the area.

“Our goal is pretty simple: to try and attract businesses to Fairfield County, and to Fairfield in particular,” said Mark Barnhart, Fairfield’s Economic Development director. “We believe that we are stronger working together as a group.”

Promoting a town can be a costly endeavor, Fairfield’s first selectman Mike Tetreau said, and tough for one town to do on its own. By having different communities team up, they can appeal to businesses from both an economic and residential standpoint.

“(With) Westport being a single family residential community, even though a business might be attracted to one of larger communities, the employees who own the businesses might find Westport an attractive place to live,” said Westport’s first selectman Jim Marpe.”

“In reality, businesses are typically looking at and comparing metropolitan regions, not individual communities as they begin a search process,” Barnhart added. And as a practical matter, Barnhart said, business recruitment visits “are typically beyond the capacity of many individual towns and cities, but are achievable by pooling our resources.”

Harris said the five communities working together will show prospective businesses that if they can’t find everything they’re looking for in one community, it can be found elsewhere in Fairfield County.

“There’s definitely some value in the coalitions coming together as a regional effort,” she said. “By doing that, Westport is able to work with the other towns and localities and their economic development departments and leverage what they’ve been doing and prepare a collective effort that sort of speaks to the region as a whole aside from just promoting one town or city to a business entity. Maybe you have what they need or don’t have, but if you look at a region as a whole, we’re better able to accommodate businesses.”

Tetreau, Barnhart, Marpe and Harris will take part in the group’s first business recruitment showcase in November in New York City. The showcase is designed to promote lower Fairfield County to businesses looking to relocate or expand.

“While we haven’t finalized the budget for this event, we have discussed an equitable cost-sharing arrangement,” Barnhart said.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and State Economic Development Commissioner Catherine Smith are scheduled to speak at the event where there will be a brief presentation about the member communities’ business and residential attributes, including cost, talent, innovation, transportation and quality of life. Businesses and small start-ups will also be on tap to speak about their experiences in Fairfield County.

But Barnhart said this won’t a be “one-off” event. “We intend to work together to continue to promote this region for business investment and are discussing follow-up events,” he said.

The group plans on arranging “business out reach sessions” highlighting real estate development opportunities, host tours, and educate others about the business and residential environment. The goal of the development group is to attract service, marketing and emerging technology businesses.

"I saw this as an opportunity for Westport to learn (from) our neighboring communities, what they’re doing in terms of local economic development, but also to take advantage of shared resources to participate in this opportunity,” Marpe said.

ekayata@hearstmediact.com; @erin_kayata