New success model emerges in Norwich

Foundry 66 is adding much-needed vitality along with an economic boost to downtown Norwich, both facts that are nothing but good news for the Rose City. Not only has the shared workspace center injected pizzazz with a beautiful makeover of the downtrodden former Norwich Bulletin building on Franklin Street, but it now boasts full occupation of its first phase as it also just marked its first anniversary.

With 23 diverse businesses operating out of the space, all desks and offices occupied and plenty of construction portending the promise of much more, Foundry 66 is a bright spot indeed in a city where empty storefronts and crumbling tenements are common. With a sound business plan and a solid sense of what small businesses and entrepreneurs both need and want, Foundry 66 has found the right formula for success: diversity, collaboration, community support, professional development and even a healthy dose of fun.

The formula brings together nonprofit organizations, a gym, yoga studio, artists, real estate professionals, an attorney and others to share basic office equipment and supplies and conference rooms, along with individual expertise and some fun features such as trivia nights, Wednesday evening socials and even an office dog.

The Norwich Community Development Corp., which invested some $320,000 in the project, the administration of former Mayor Deberey Hinchey and those who oversee operations at Foundry 66 deserve congratulations for their efforts and sound planning. Foundry 66 not only filled a need for the many small businesses seeking the collaborative, flexible and mutually supportive environment the space provides, but could mark a turning point for a long struggling city. In just one year, Foundry 66 members and patrons spent an estimated $326,000 in the local community.

Also worthy of note: despite a fire that caused $110,000 worth of damages just a day after the facility’s grand opening celebration in October 2016, the operation expects to be financially in the black by the middle of this year.

This is just the beginning. A second floor of offices and shared work space will soon double the size of Foundry 66 and within about 18 months the operation will add a sidewalk-level retail mall, community event space, and amenities such as bicycle sharing and a hydroponic garden for its members.

Jill Fritzsche, Foundry 66 community manager, said she now spends some of her work time consulting with those from other cities who are considering setting up similar space and are eager to enjoy the type of operational success. “We are considered a gold standard,” she said.

This well-deserved status was earned through planning and sound business sense, along with the hefty amount of NCDC financial support. Foundry 66 seeks to attract a specific mix of types of businesses to ensure overall diversity and mutual benefits among its membership, for example. The process of seeking grants is also not a one and done proposition, but a constant pursuit.

Others such as New London’s Spark Makerspace, which has struggled financially and is in the process of moving and downsizing, might benefit from at least some of the lessons those at Foundry 66 can teach. Spark’s emphasis on creating and inventing, for example, appears to be less in demand than its planners originally thought. Perhaps it could also encompass the flexible work lifestyle model in place at the likes of Foundry 66 and Groton’s CURE Innovation Commons.

With no shortage of empty downtown buildings in New London − and a new wave of younger residents, a demographic attuned to a flexible, shared workplace in which they can collaborate and build businesses − the Whaling City should look to adapt Foundry 66’s success to meet its unique needs and vision. 

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.


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