Letter: Aspect of new development needs perspective

To the editor,

After reading the rough outline for revitalization of downtown parcels A, B, and C related to the GDC complex (ref. “Anticipation Builds for Development” by Paul Singley, Republican-American Oct. 16, 2015) I wanted to bring perspective to one aspect of new development that may require clarification. The excitement generated by artistic renderings owe to imaginative visual concepts. Filling the void of an empty lot and adapting the GDC “warehouse” with a well architected plan will be welcome indeed. What’s missing from the re-development sketch is an estimated number of “permanent” new jobs to be created. Going back some years to a period in the town’s history when Uniroyal et al. closed down operations might help.

In May 1985 Chuck Johnson then CEO of General DataComm announced his vision in the New York Times. Johnson told Times reporter James Brooke that GDC would open a new factory on the site of the Uniroyal complex by the end of the year.

“This was a steel and rubber town,” Chuck Johnson said. “We would like to see Naugatuck converted to a high technology town.”

James Noonan, the Naugatuck town attorney at the time, added that GDC’s plans were “the biggest and most exciting thing that has happened to Naugatuck in 20 years.”

Chuck Johnson built a world class factory employing up to a 1,000 people in Naugatuck in manufacturing as well as technical support services. In Middlebury, GDC opened a corporate office and a home for engineers on the Timex campus. That created an additional 1,000 jobs as well. In 1985 GDC had been in existence in Connecticut for 15 years so there was a proven track record.

Johnson’s prophecy that GDC would be the incubator for high tech companies proved true. Many startups were founded by ex-GDC employees. Some were spectacularly successful such as Sahara Networks in Cheshire and Sirocco Systems in Wallingford, which sold for $212 million (1997) and $2.9 billion (2000), respectively. Vbrick Systems in Wallingford is thriving although Vbrick’s corporate headquarters moved to Herndon Virginia. Kenetec was founded in Naugatuck but it along with other ex-GDC founder startups (Merlot in Bethany, Entrata in Southbury, Mangrove Systems in Wallingford and Mariposa in California), had difficulty surviving the telecom bust.

Chuck Johnson died shortly after GDC filed for bankruptcy in September 2001. GDC emerged from bankruptcy in 2003. Today it is under new management and is still in operation in Naugatuck after 30 years.

A new startup in Cheshire called Fiber Mountain may prove to be a very successful ex-GDC employee startup. Many of the best and brightest from GDC are employed there.

A challenge for planners is to validate that sustainable job growth will result from the plan’s implementation. Pictures of attractive buildings do not by themselves create jobs. Business friendly environments do help. The precedent of St. Mary’s and a restaurant is a start but it will not be sufficient for the town’s economic growth. If a medical theme works as a means to allure investors can companies in genome research, manufacture of medical devices, or next generation medical therapies, be attracted? Perhaps food marketing? Naugatuck shoppers consume a lot of food but perhaps research companies exploring a new wave for food consumption would complement the expanse of restaurants in town.

As in 1985 when Terry Buckmiller succeeded Bill Rado as mayor, Naugatuck faces another turning point. The town should reinvent itself. The borough government is the biggest “business” around town. This trend of government growth without a parallel expansion of business growth is unsustainable.

Entrepreneurship is the key to the town’s future. Inviting entrepreneurs to round table discussions of what Naugatuck can do to attract businesses may help. Young people should be encouraged to create business ideas. Fostering a transformation of young aptitudes from consumer only awareness, to enterprise awareness is essential for changing the town’s future. Bringing in venture capital or banker speakers to Naugatuck high as well as founders of startups can possibly inspire youngsters to approach business as exciting.

We may even convince young adults to stay in Naugatuck if they see a path to success.

John Wood

Naugatuck

The writer is a retired director of General DataComm marketing.