Mezzo addresses business owners at luncheon

NAUGATUCK — Mayor Bob Mezzo assured the Chamber of Commerce and business owners Tuesday that the Renaissance Place development project is “alive and well,” quipping that the project has been hampered by “that little problem of the collapse of the local economy.”

Mezzo spoke at a Chamber of Commerce luncheon at Leary’s Crystal Room, sponsored by Naugatuck Ambulance and Where the Heart Is. He outlined some of his achievements as mayor, especially those relevant to the interests of entrepreneurs and business owners.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, pictured here at his inauguration in May, spoke to the Chamber of Commerce and borough business owners about the future of commerce in Naugatuck Tuesday.

Mayor Bob Mezzo, pictured here at his inauguration in May, spoke to the Chamber of Commerce and borough business owners about the future of commerce in Naugatuck Tuesday.

Mezzo said even though the Renaissance Place project hasn’t found its financial footing as wary investors aren’t yet ready to dive into a potentially risky new venture, “behind the scenes” work is ongoing.

“Is it easy?” Mezzo asked rhetorically. “Absolutely not. [Renaissance Place] has been one of the most complicated events since we learned to vulcanize rubber in the borough.”

Mezzo also indicated his approval of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation (NEDC). Before the NEDC, he said, the borough lacked the “central focus” for economic development that would attract new business, and in turn tax revenue and more local jobs.

“When it comes to economic development,” Mezzo said, “we’re going to speak with one voice.” The NEDC has survived four different mayors across both parties. The non-partisan, quasi-public organization is “exactly what Naugatuck needs,” he said.

He commended the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce for its efforts to similarly provide a sense of unity for local businesses.

Though various merchants’ associations have sprung up throughout the years, the Chamber, Mezzo said, has the resources and know-how to organize these loosely-knit cells into a cohesive unit.

“There’s a perception that the Chamber doesn’t care about some businesses,” Mezzo said. Some people might think “all they’ll do is hold a lunch for me.” But Mezzo, who was a member of the Chamber for years, said that isn’t the case at all.

It seems no recent municipal function would be complete without some mention of the Board of Education; in his opening comments, Mezzo reiterated his proposal to arrange quarterly tri-board meetings to facilitate oversight between the branches of government. Pinpointing the business community, Mezzo mentioned that the quality of education directly affects property values and the future worth of the local workforce.

He glossed over some other points of his career as chief executive so far, such as a push to streamline public works operations, an effort to revise the decades-old code of ethics, and the newly-formed Blight and Beautification Committee.

Once Mezzo opened the floor for questions, attendees speculated about the possibility of a second industrial park in the borough. Mezzo and NEDC CEO Dave Prendergast said development has been discussed and will be looked into further once the economy turns around.

Former Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland, who attended the event, asked Mezzo if manufacturing in Naugatuck could diversify to adjust to a growing trend toward green industries—“can we go from bending steel to making solar panels?” he asked—and Mezzo said he thinks “adaptation is needed … it’s very difficult to do business in manufacturing in this state and even in New England,” he said, adding that if manufacturers adapt to changing markets and economic needs, they will have an easier time doing business.