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Bridgeport business identity

December 8, 2018

Contrary to perception, things are changing for the City of Bridgeport’s businesses landscape, as developers and officials look to shed its outdated factory business identity for a new one.

Remnants of Bridgeport’s industrial and banking past, which peaked in the 1940s and 1950s, have created opportunities for developers to reinvent the Park City, they said. That adjustment has seen an emphasis on the city’s recreation, residential and entertainment sector with a series of large-scale developments being built or awaiting needed approvals.

“Bridgeport always got tagged — and rightfully so — as the industrial capital and in that era, it was,” said Tom Gill, director of economic development. “We had tremendous companies that invented things and produced products that were used all over the world, but times have changed.”

Assests and Potential

Despite the challenges of a reputation for crime and abandoned buildings, Bridgeport has its share of assets that area observers view as marketable to developers and potential residents.

“Bridgeport has so much opportunity,” said Tom Madden, director of economic development in Stamford. “When you look at the land around the waterfront and where the ferry is and the downtown area, I wish I had some of that land here, so we could continue development.”

Stamford, Fairfield, Westport, Norwalk and Greenwich have recently formed the Fairfield County Five, a group of city and town officials focused on marketing the region to potential businesses and developers.

Though past industries have left over the decades, Bridgeport has continued to benefit from staples like People’s United Financial, with its long-standing presence in the downtown area, Santa and Stand Oil fuel companies and Sikorsky Memorial Airport.

Buildings from defunct banks — Mechanics and Farmers Savings Bank and People’s Savings Bank most notably — have been repurposed for restaurants and entertainment venues

The health care market has also contributed to the area’s stability with Yale New Haven Health and Hartford Health serving as the city’s two largest employers with Bridgeport and St. Vincent’s hospitals, respectively.

Even some of the blighted neighborhoods and brownfield sites throughout the city have been the focus of a number of revitalization projects that include apartments and retail; Bridgeport’s harbor has caught the eye of several developers, including MGM Resorts International, which wants to put a new casino on the outskirts of the East End.

Though a Bridgeport casino is still pending state approval, interest from global companies and developers has become a marketing lure to attract other potential business and projects to the area, the city’s supporters say.

Looking for an identity

Unlike other municipalities in the state, Bridgeport has no singular sector to rally behind, which officials suggest has presented the city with an opportunity — rather than an obstacle — to redefine the city’s business identity.

“The slate has been wiped clean,” said Fairfield’s first selectman Mike Tetreau. “There’s got to be a targeted and strategic plan of going after businesses that can take advantage of what Bridgeport has to offer and it may not be something that every company is ready to step into that.”

Amid large-scale, citywide development, local observers suggest that Bridgeport’s budding business identity should also emphasize small and minority business sustainability.

“We need moves from top to bottom.” said Dr. Noel Sepulveda, owner of Preventative Health Care Solutions. “We need small businesses like mom and pop shops opening with sustainable systems, and we need skyscrapers at Steelepointe so that people don’t look at Bridgeport as inferior in size economy, in growth potential, in self-image.”

Small businesses have a presence in the city, but many owners struggle to sustain themselves there, he said.

While officials and developers opt to bring large developments to the city, Sepulveda said there is also a need for the officials to prioritize ways to maintain small business presence particularly downtown, which has seen a mix of openings and closings.

Along with owning his own chiropractic practice, Sepulveda is a founding member of I Luv Bridgeport, a local organization dedicated to promoting the city and enhancing its reputation. Though Bridgeport has seen proposed and new projects come to the city, Sepulveda said, Bridgeport’s officials could do more for small entrepreneurs who struggle to maintain their businesses.

“The theory of bringing more things to do and more people to do them is great, but implementation is another thing,” Sepulveda said. “If we can effectively increase foot traffic and residents who live by and work here, that’s helpful. But if we are going to bring in 10 residential buildings that are overpriced that only out-of-towners can afford, (that) is not going to boost our economy.”

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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