North Stonington, Groton again top Connecticut list for economic growth

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North Stonington and Groton saw the fastest economic growth from 2010 to 2018 in their respective size categories, according to the recently updated Connecticut Town Economic Indexes from the state Department of Labor.

North Stonington saw the fastest growth among towns with a population under 25,000, the department said, while Groton saw the fastest growth among towns with a population between 25,000 and 100,000. The same was true when the index for 2010 to 2017 came out last year.

"Connecticut's overall economy bounced back strongly in 2018 after having slowed down in 2016 and 2017, based on the index performances of cities and towns," Department of Labor researchers Jungmin Charles Joo and Dana Placzek wrote in their October Economic Digest.

As indicators, the state uses total business establishments, total employment, inflation-adjusted annual wages and the unemployment rate, with each factor given a 25 percent weight.

The index scores for 2018 ranged from 114.7 in Colebrook to 161 in North Stonington. The base year of 2010 has a score of 100, meaning every municipality has seen economic growth since then, by these metrics.

North Stonington Planning, Development and Zoning Official Juliet Hodge attributes the town's success to "some radical changes to the zoning regulations." She said that includes creating two new zones and redrawing the map of the historic village district to include more properties.

Hodge said that 90 percent of uses that have been approved just need a site plan or administrative approval, whereas before, applicants would've needed special permits.

"We've really worked hard with the Realtors and developers to find tenants for some of the vacant buildings, and it's actually hard to find spots for people now," she said. Hodge added that the town is now trying to get water and sewer down Frontage Road and up to the KOA campground, to support business growth.

Groton economic development officials have a different explanation for their town's growth from 2010 to 2018, considering new zoning regulations just went into effect Oct. 1.

Planning Director Jonathan Reiner and Economic and Community Development Manager Paige Bronk point mostly to growth at Electric Boat. Among the four indicators, Bronk thinks Groton is seeing the most growth from employment and wages.

Other businesses are "attracted as a result of the growth in our anchors, like Electric Boat and Pfizer," Bronk said, noting that it's the job of the town's economic development team to tell the story of the "positive spinoff benefits." That has included launching a website and traveling outside of Connecticut.

Reiner also pointed to "due diligence" on expanding multifamily housing and to marketing excess town property.

New London, meanwhile, ranked as the sixth lowest out of all 169 municipalities in Connecticut. Felix Reyes, director of the city's Office of Development and Planning, commented that since the low incomes and wages make it difficult for New London to compete, the city focuses on progress.

"How we look at things is growth over time," Reyes said, later noting that New London's index rose from about 105 in 2015 to 122 in 2018. He added that low numbers have not prohibited the city's ability to attract investment, and therefore new businesses and developments.

He pointed to the importance of skilled labor and union work to grow wages, especially in an area where most of the population doesn't have a bachelor's degree.

Among municipalities in southeastern Connecticut, the ranking of growth from 2010 to 2018 was North Stonington, Groton, Ledyard, Norwich, Preston, Stonington, Waterford, Montville, Old Lyme, Lyme, East Lyme and then New London.

e.moser@theday.com

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