Fairfield County Five looks to take a bite out of the ‘Big Apple’
Published 12:00 am, Sunday, November 19, 2017
NORWALK — Officials from Norwalk and four other Fairfield County communities are eager to showcase their communities to New York City businesses interested in relocating.
“The costs are lower here in every way you look at it,” said Elizabeth Stocker, Norwalk’s director of economic development. “And we have what they need to conduct business here in terms of an infrastructure. That is our goal: to attract some businesses from New York.”
Chief-elected officials from Norwalk, Stamford, Greenwich, Westport and Fairfield pitched their communities during a “Fairfield County Five” event at the Marriott Marquis in Manhattan on Nov. 2. Stocker and Mayor Harry Rilling represented Norwalk at the event.
“The goal is to generate interest in Norwalk and the other four communities in Fairfield County to show that what we have to offer is more affordable and easily accessible,” Rilling said. “With the information that was presented we got a lot of comments from people saying, ‘I didn’t know that.’ I think they’re interested. We whet their appetites, we planted the seed and we’ll see what grows.”
The five communities will learn next month if their pitch was successful. They’ve tentatively set Dec. 8 as the date to give interested companies, or their bidders, a tour of sites within their respective communities.
“We will go ahead and bring anyone who does contact us,” Stocker said. “We expect that the people that were there (Nov. 2) for this presentation will then go back to their folks and talk.”
Stocker said about 60 people attended the presentation and luncheon in Manhattan, including attorneys, representatives of a start-up company, and site finders that help companies find new homes.
Presenters included Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, Rilling from Norwalk, Stamford Mayor David Martin, Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe, Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau and C. Yvonne Hickey, general manager of the Public Sector of Excellence at Xerox.
They cited cost, connectivity, human and financial capital, community and culture as five reasons for companies now based in New York City to pull up their stakes and move to Fairfield County.
The overall cost of living in Fairfield County is 40 percent less than that in Manhattan and Boston. The average asking rent for office space in the five towns is almost half that of Manhattan ($40 versus $73 per square foot), according to Fairfield County Five.
Fairfield County offers easy access to New York City with express train trips as short as 40 minutes. Connecticut is ranked No. 1 nationally for its educated workforce, near the top for employee productivity, and is home to the world’s largest hedge funds, including Bridgewater. The five towns are ranked among the safest in the United States, have a diverse housing stock, a mix urban and suburban living, and offer their residents parks, hiking trails, live theater and music, according to Fairfield County Five.
The chief-elected officials brought their respective economic development directors to the Nov. 2 event.
Stamford Director of Economic Development Thomas Madden cited Sema4 — a spinoff company of Mount Sinai Health System — as one of the most recent companies to relocate to Stamford. He hopes more will follow. The city has developed a new economic development website (www.choosestamford.com) aimed at site selectors, commercial real estate agents, human resources managers and companies “looking to learn more about Stamford and how their company fits into the city,” he said.
At the same time, Madden noted that Stamford is working as part of a team with the four other communities.
“The Fairfield Five is one of the events that we are using as a regional approach to economic development,” Madden said.
In recent years, Fairfield County has made gains but also suffered losses landing or keeping major employers.
Charter Communications, which moved from St. Louis to Stamford in 2012, recently announced that it would stay in Stamford by relocating its headquarters from 400 Atlantic St. to the downtown Gateway Harbor Point complex. The move would double the company’s Connecticut contingent by adding 1,100 jobs.
Last year, General Electric relocated its senior executives to Boston from its Fairfield headquarters, but moved many staff to its Norwalk location.
Fairfield County Five will not give up on its recruiting effort if there are no takers for the December tours. That means more trips to New York City and additional tour dates in Fairfield County, according to Stocker.
“At this point we’re looking at a more likely date of being in April when we do another event,” Stocker said. “Right now, the five of us and the state are continuing to talk and we’re meeting on pretty regular basis.”
Paul Schott and Alex Soule contributed to this story.