Economic growth plan for Lower Connecticut River Valley underway

Residents, employees and business owners in the Lower Connecticut River Valley will have a chance to weigh in on how to spur economic growth, while retaining the region's character with its small towns and cities, forests and marinas.

The Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, a planning agency that represents 17 towns, including Lyme and Old Lyme, is seeking to create a larger vision for economic development in the region.

Planners said the project, called GrowSMART, aims to develop a strategy for economic growth that will link the towns and bolster each community.

“The goal is to try to match the yin and yang of conservation with economic development,” said Jean Davies, the principal planner and deputy director of the Lower Connecticut River Valley Council of Governments, in an interview last week.

That will mean tackling how to maintain the region's sense of identity and community with the need to fill jobs and draw younger people to the area, she said. Residents will be asked for comments on what the region needs, whether that entails bike routes or more transit options, or keeping property tax rates low.

A regional summit, the first in a series of workshops for residents to provide comments, will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22 at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. Davies encouraged residents to stop by, even for just 10 minutes, to share their thoughts, participate in brainstorming exercises, and learn about the project.

"This is the introduction to the public for this project," said Associate Planner Erin A. Bogan, adding that the hope is for the public to continue to return as the strategy develops.

Postcards and signs placed around the involved towns ask residents questions related to the project: What can we do with that old factory? Is it time to create your own job? Will they ever be able to move out of your basement?

The initiative, which began in June and is slated to end in December will consider demographics, attainable housing, tourism, the labor market, existing infrastructure, and business trends, among other factors.

The council is working with a committee of representatives from local businesses, educational institutions, and towns and cities, as well as consultants from Ninigret Partners and Fitzgerald and Halliday, according to the project's website.

A group of young professionals will also share why they chose the Lower Connecticut River Valley region as their home.

Ultimately, the results of the project will be shared with the public and an implementation plan will be developed, said Davies.

Samuel S. Gold, the council's executive director, said the strategy will also serve as a foundation as the council develops a regional plan of conservation development next year.

The strategy could also come in handy if the council pursues becoming a federally designated economic district.

"It’s the first step towards creating a federally designated economic development district, which would allow the 17 towns and businesses in them to access federal grants," said Gold. The process would also entail crafting a comprehensive economic development plan.

The council of governments is a forum for the chief elected officials of the 17 towns with responsibilities that include regional land use planning, prioritizing how transportation dollars are spent, and preparedness for emergencies and disasters.

The 17 towns represented by the council of governments are Chester, Clinton, Cromwell, Deep River, Durham, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Lyme, Middlefield, Middletown, Old Lyme, Old Saybrook, Portland and Westbrook.

The project will serve to provide the towns with tools they can use individually or to find common efficiencies.

"There are things we can do in this region to really raise the bar so that people take notice of the development potential in the region and the community character and why they might want to locate in this region, either as a worker or as a business," said Davies.

More information is available at http://growSMARTregion.org

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich 

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