Strength in networking

Prospect business community comes together to start group

Prospect business owners fill the meeting room in Town Hall on Feb. 28 during a meeting to discuss starting a new business group. –LUKE MARSHALL

Prospect business owners fill the meeting room in Town Hall on Feb. 28 during a meeting to discuss starting a new business group. –LUKE MARSHALL

PROSPECT — The idea of starting a new business group in town drew significant interest as more than 80 business owners turned out for the first meeting of the fledgling organization.

“There’s definitely strength in numbers. Something should be done. One voice is just one voice, a group is a group,” said Robert Skrip, owner of Skrip’s Auto Body, who was among the business owners at the Feb. 28 meeting in Town Hall.

The meeting was organized by Mayor Robert Chatfield, who said he’s been working on an idea for the group for a number of years.

The town’s business community was previously served for 50 years by the Prospect Chamber of Commerce, which disbanded in the fall of 2008. At the time, the chamber had 130 members.

Chatfield said he hopes the organization will help reinvigorate the town’s Economic Development Commission.

Peter Hughes, a member of the commission, said in order to help the businesses in town, the commission needs to hear from them.

“We need guidance from you as business people here. We need you to tell us what you want,” Hughes said.

Chatfield offered Town Hall’s address, 36 Center St., as well as a phone line in the building to help get the group off its feet.

However, this will not be a town organization, Chatfield said. The organization will be autonomous from the governing body of the town.

“You’re going to be your organization, do what you want to do, call yourself what you want to call yourself and grow the way you’d like,” Chatfield said.

Matt Buonaiuto, of Matt’s Handyman Services, Inc., felt the organization should do its best to not use the town’s resources.

“We don’t want to have too much association with the town government here. We want to be completely independent so we have a voice,” Buonaiuto said.

Skrip said the key to ensuring the group becomes viable is finding volunteers.

“Volunteerism is key. You’re not going to get paid for this. The only pay you get is in the networking that you do,” Skrip said.

Skrip said volunteering for organizations such as this one can be difficult, but at the end of the day it is very rewarding.

Hughes said one of the reasons the chamber of commerce disbanded was due to a lack of volunteers.

“You have to volunteer. You can’t just dump it on a handful of people and say you’re in charge of taking care of it. That’s not the way it works in the real world,” Hughes said.

Some of those in attendance questioned what having an organization like this would accomplish.

Buonaiuto said the organization, along with the other town organizations he has served on, is his way of giving back to the town.

“We’re hoping this will help the community, by doing community events, and it would help the businesses advertise also,” Buonaiuto said.

One of the suggestions was the organization can aid businesses by hosting events, such as open houses.

John Leach of Flooring America said a recent open house for his business drew 110 people.

Leach is a member of the Waterbury Regional Chamber of Commerce’s Professional Networking Partners (ProfNet), a networking organization. He said the Prospect group would only really thrive if its members invested their time in it and other business organizations.

“Basically, what you put in is what you get out. If you don’t put anything in, you don’t get anything out,” Leach said. “It’s the networking that makes a business organization successful.”

Buonaiuto said the organization may not mean much to consumers right away, but as more businesses join and its credibility increases, people will start trusting it.

“I think it’s going to take a while. We are not the chamber. We do not have that name —  chamber of commerce — that people look for. What I’m hoping is that, as the businesses start using this and becoming involved, that our credibility will go up,” Buonaiuto said. “We’re going to be the ones that make it that way.”

As the meeting concluded there was a positive feeling about the new organization.

“I think this is an organization that needs to be done in town. I really do think that there is power in numbers and we need a group or alliance,” Giggle-N-Grow Development Group owner Clarisa Rek said. “Prospect is a tight-knit town that likes to stick together and support each other, and I think it could be very helpful to businesses.”

Ann Stein, owner of the professional gardening service Annscapes, echoed Rek’s comments, saying the businesses need to come together.

“It’s nice to see the business climate of Prospect starting to come back and be utilized by the town,” Stein said. “We need to unite our businesses. That is where our strength is.”

The next meeting is scheduled for March 21 at 10 a.m. at the Prospect firehouse, 26 New Haven Road, when the group is expected to choose a chairman and a name.

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