So the state Department of Economic and Community Development has declared that Norwich is no longer an economically distressed community, but Groton again is. Does that make sense to anyone? It certainly doesn't to us, either.
By any reasonable measure Norwich remains a distressed, struggling community. The per capita income is among the lowest in Connecticut at $26,702. About 14.4 percent of the Norwich population lives at or below the federal poverty level, double the number in Groton. Norwich has an old housing stock, with about four in 10 homes a half-century old or older.
The state DECD points to Norwich's population growth, a 12 percent increase over the decade that ended with the 2010 census. With 40,493 residents counted in that census, the city jumped over Groton as the most populace in the region. And while such a population boost, particularly in a state with a near stagnant population, would normally be a sign of a growing economy, that extrapolation does not make sense in this case.
Norwich's population grew in large measure over the decade because of the expansion of the region's two tribal casinos. The city's abundance of affordable, multifamily housing made it a natural destination for those employed in the relatively low-paying service jobs at the casinos. But that population growth arguably caused more "distress" than it eliminated, adding to the burden on city services, and particularly on education with more foreign speaking students entering city schools.
Since 2008 the casinos have reduced workforce, assuredly leaving the city with people drawn to Norwich by jobs they no longer have.
Conversely, we have trouble seeing Groton as a distressed community, particularly a community more distressed than Norwich. While Groton has struggled with the loss of jobs and a reduction in the size of the Pfizer campus, the other big employer, Electric Boat, remains strong. And though there are pockets of poverty in Groton, there are also large sections of affluence.
As for employment, from 2001 to 2011 Groton saw the number of non-farm jobs decrease by 4.27 percent, down to 25,581 from 26,721. Norwich, conversely, saw a jobs' decrease of 9.42 percent, from 17,790 to 16,115, according to the Connecticut Department of Labor.
While no community may want the label "distressed," it is important that the right communities are properly designated as such so they can attract state and federal aid and qualify for special tax policies intended to generate development and revenues. The DECD reports that even with the change, the state will treat Norwich as a distressed community for five years to provide time for transition. While that may reassure city officials, we think it is also important for the DECD to take a harder look as to whether the Norwich and Groton designations should change at all.