Naugatuck, Waterbury launch regional development agency

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From left, Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren ‘Pete’ Hess, Naugatuck attorney Carlos Santos and Waterbury Regional Chamber President Lynn Ward participate in the first meeting of the Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corp. Board of Directors Jan. 29 in Waterbury. -MICHAEL PUFFER/REPUBLICAN-AMERICAN

WATERBURY — Waterbury and Naugatuck launched a new regional development agency Wednesday, with about $2.5 million in assets and a leadership board stocked with local heavy hitters.

The Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corp. will be responsible for drafting and pushing large-scale economic development efforts with multitown benefits and involvement. It’s built on the skeleton of the Naugatuck Valley Development Corp., a nonprofit that had, until 2005, served as Waterbury’s development agency.

The new agency was birthed with the adoption of a new board and new set of bylaws in a brief meeting Jan. 29. Local officials have been working toward this moment for about a year; the leading municipal boards of Waterbury and Naugatuck signed off last spring.

Waterbury Mayor Neil M. O’Leary said the agency fits state leaders’ growing appetite for cooperative development. The agency is intended to be modeled after the Capital Region Development Authority.

The Hartford-area development agency, formed by the state legislature, got a $6.2 million state operating subsidy last year and has $394.6 million in capital assets, including the Connecticut Convention Center and the Pratt & Whitney Stadium, among others.

The head of the state’s development agency and the governor’s budget agency both sit on the CRDA board.

O’Leary said he’ll eventually seek state funding for the NVRDC, though he’s not certain when that request will be put to state lawmakers.

The board of the new NVRDC is stocked with top local business leaders and officials, including O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess.

There’s also John Zinno, a partner with accounting firm BlumShapiro; Naugatuck lawyer and businessman Carlos Santos; Ion Bank President David Rotatori; Catherine Awwad, executive director of the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board; Jonathan Albert of Albert Bros.; James Gatling, CEO of antipoverty agency New Opportunities Inc.; Belinda Arce-Lopez, program director for the Center for Human Development, a provider of addiction treatment and counseling services; Ideal Fish President Eric Pederson; and Lynn Ward, president of the Waterbury Regional Chamber.

This board has a lot to work out, including the drafting of a mission statement, the hiring of a director and the setting of a budget. It has inherited the NVDC’s assets, including the former Timexpo Museum building at the Brass Mill Commons along Union Street on the edge of Waterbury’s downtown.

Michael O’Connor, a regional president with Webster Bank, has served as volunteer CEO of NVDC since 2005. He was voted in to continue that role until the new agency hires a permanent head. O’Connor said he’s negotiating with a tenant for the Timexpo building, and expects to have it occupied by next year.

The new development agency will only hire a CEO to start, O’Leary said. It will be housed in the Waterbury Development Corp.’s downtown Waterbury headquarter, and use that agency’s staff.

Hess said the NVRDC is eager to accept participation from other nearby municipalities, including the other 17 members of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments.

“In the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments we have a great relationship with all the surrounding towns,” Hess said. “I think we will initially focus on Waterbury and Naugatuck and then expand.”