North Stonington, Norwich and Groton cited for economic growth
Groton, Norwich and North Stonington are among the top cities and towns in the state for economic growth, according to the 2017 Connecticut Town Economic Indexes, which the state Department of Labor released this week.
The index for each town is a score based on number of businesses, annual average wages, employment, and the unemployment rate. This is the fourth year the state released the indexes and the third in which North Stonington ranked the highest of all 169 cities and towns in the state.
In discussing the indexes in the monthly Connecticut Economic Digest, Department of Labor employees Jungmin Charles Joo and Dana Placzek said that North Stonington and Canaan experienced the fastest economic growth between 2010 and 2017 among towns with a population below 25,000.
For towns with a population between 25,000 and 100,000, Groton and Glastonbury had the fastest growing economies from 2010 to 2017, while Norwich and Mansfield had the fastest economic growth from 2016 to 2017.
According to state data, the unemployment rate last year was 3.8 percent in North Stonington and 4 percent in Groton, compared to 4.5 percent statewide. The Norwich unemployment rate was 5 percent, down from 6 percent the year before.
Statewide, the total number of business establishments grew by 2 percent from 2016 to 2017, compared to 0.9 percent the year before. This figure was 24.6 percent in North Stonington, 4.6 percent in Norwich and 3 percent in Groton.
North Stonington Planning, Development and Zoning Official Juliet Hodge noted that the town went through some big changes after the Great Recession, between adding full-time staff instead of a contractor planner and revising outdated regulations.
The town eliminated most special permits, allowing developers to get administrative approval rather than going through a public hearing. It consolidated the commercial zones around the rotary into one economic development district.
It streamlined the application process, making forms easier to decipher and fill out. It consolidated the building department into the land use department, making administrative staff more available to applicants. It added farm brewery regulations, which Hodge said facilitated Trillium Brewing Company’s purchase of land in town.
Hodge noted that Farmtrue opened in the new district around the rotary, and Quinlan Enterprises took advantage of commercial and industrial mixed use, which hadn’t been previously allowed on the property.
“We’re trying to just find ways to not be so restrictive on certain uses, just for the sake of being restrictive,” Hodge said.
Paige Bronk, economic and community development manager in Groton, said the town has been and will continue to be a net producer of jobs, with roughly 25,000 jobs in a town with a population just under 40,000 – a high ratio.
Growth comes both directly from ramped-up hiring at Electric Boat and indirectly from people who are “looking at properties for development and anticipating the hires at Electric Boat,” he said, which impacts housing, shopping, dining and entertainment.
Except for on Thames Street, vacancies townwide are comparatively low, and there’s redevelopment happening on routes 1 and 12.
Bronk said the largest area for rapid growth has been the Airport Industrial Park on Leonard Drive; the defense startup ThayerMahan opened there last fall, and Beer’d Brewing and Mystic Cheese are scheduled to open their new facility this fall.
Norwich Community Development Corporation President Bob Mills cited the redevelopment of the formerly vacant Ponemah Mill as the primary factor in the city’s economic growth.
There’s also the growth of The Hills at River View, an apartment complex across the street, and Mills noted that higher income residents are moving in here.
Mills also cited the city’s 7-year, $1.5 million program to revitalize the downtown, along with the growth of businesses such as US Foods, Backus Hospital, and United Community and Family Services.