Borough talks economic development at forum

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Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation Chief Executive Officer Dave Prendergast, center, addresses the audience during an economic development forum Oct. 24 at the Naugatuck Historical Society, while Garnet Consulting Services President Mark Waterhouse, left, and Tom Hill, owner of Tom Hill Realty & Investment LLC, look on. – LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — The public and private sectors came together last week to discuss the future of Naugatuck.

Mayor Robert Mezzo and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation hosted a community forum on economic development Oct. 24. The theme throughout the forum was the borough is competing on a global scale to try and win the attention of businesses.

Mezzo began the evening by discussing the roll government plays in downtown development.

Mezzo said that it is the private sector, not the public sector, that creates jobs. However, he said, the public sector can help make it easier for the private sector to build and operate businesses in the borough.

Mark Waterhouse, president of Garnet Consulting Services, explained that one of the main questions the borough needs to ask itself is what it is selling.

“You are selling quality of place. The higher quality a place Naugatuck can be the more competitive you will be,” Waterhouse said.

Waterhouse said Naugatuck is not only be competing against all other municipalities in the state, but also across America and the globe.

He pointed out that it is a buyers’ market right now as there are many more sellers, such as Naugatuck, than there are businesses buying up the real estate.

This means, Waterhouse said, that Naugatuck needs to make itself attractive to the variety of companies that would think about building in the borough.

Some of the factors that companies will look into when decided where to build is the labor available to draw from, the real estate available, and the municipality’s ability to make a deal, he said.

Waterhouse also explained that it was crucially important the local government have a system in place to move quickly on zoning permits.

The borough also has to work against some stereotypes to attract business.

“New England is perceived as old, cold, and not very bold,” Waterhouse said.

He went on to explain that Connecticut in particular is perceived as being a high cost state where it is difficult to undertake construction.

Waterhouse said that Naugatuck has to break that stereotype in order to attract the type of businesses it wants.

“The more you can do to be desirable and competitive, the more you do to catch your fair share,” Waterhouse said.

Tom Hill, owner of Tom Hill Realty & Investment LLC, explained that the real estate market is based on being competitive in many factors, including price, access to utilities, and an abundant work force.

It doesn’t just stop there, Hill explained. It also matters that the town is attractive to the business owner.

“Where does the boss want to be,” Hill said.

Hill explained that it was important for the borough to offer incentives and benefits to the businesses these days because that is what all municipalities are doing. So, in not offering any incentives, the borough would put itself at an immediate disadvantage.

The borough is currently considering a proposed ordinance that would offer tax incentives to businesses on three levels.

Businesses investing between $25,000 and $499,999 would get a maximum of 50 percent of their taxes forgiven the first year after they are issued a certificate of occupancy, followed by 25 percent abatements for the next two years.

Those investing between $500,000 and $3 million would get a full abatement the first year and a 50 percent abatement the next year.

Those investing more than $3 million would get a full abatement the first year and then abatement percentage would decrease by 20 each year.

The gathered audience at the forum voiced concerns about the future development of Naugatuck. One of the biggest concerns was that the borough had backed itself into a corner by signing an exclusive contract with Alex Conroy for the now defunct Renaissance Place project.

NEDC Chairman Jay Carlson said at the time of signing that contract the economy was still booming and it was the correct thing to do.

Carlson explained that any movement made on the downtown area from here on, however, will be taken with the current economic climate in mind.