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Jason Vincent remembered as visionary, champion, cheerleader for Norwich

Norwich — When Angela Adams sought advice a year ago on how best she could help local businesses as executive director of the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, Jason Vincent offered a vision for her.

Vincent at the time was co-chairman of the chamber’s economic development committee and vice president of the Norwich Community Development Corp.

“He said I am the gatherer,” Adams recalled Wednesday of Vincent’s concept of both their roles. “I bring everyone into a room, and he’s the planner to help find solutions to the problems we have. That’s where he was such a big part. That’s where everyone relied on him.”

Vincent’s vehicle was found parked at the side of the road at the center of the giant New River Gorge Bridge in West Virginia at 11:30 p.m. Dec. 30. A body matching his description was found Monday some five miles downriver at the Hawk’s Nest Dam. No foul play is suspected.

“The Norwich Community Development Corporation regrettably announces the passing of Jason Vincent, President and Executive Director of NCDC,” NCDC Board of Directors Chairman Robert Buckley said in a statement released Wednesday evening after he spoke to a family member. “Our organization extends its deepest sympathies to his family and the many friends of Jason Vincent in the Community. We are greatly saddened by the tremendous loss of his presence, guidance, and inspiration.”

The NCDC board will hold a special meeting at 8 a.m. Thursday with the singular agenda item: “Continuity Plan” for NCDC.

“Despite these trying circumstances, NCDC will continue our mission of steadfastly supporting and guiding the many businesses and organizations within our diverse community,” Buckley’s statement said. “NCDC will continue to be a dedicated source of economic development programs, resources, and expertise.”

Buckley said the NCDC staff remains available and the agency “will continue to support Jason’s vision through thoughtful, creative, and equitable administration of our duties and responsibilities.”

Vincent was named president of NCDC, the city’s economic development agency, last summer upon the retirement of former President Robert Mills. Vincent worked twice as director of planning in Stonington and twice at NCDC. He resigned from Stonington in October 2019 to return to NCDC.

“He certainly was a mentor to me,” Adams said. “It’s a huge loss professionally and personally. He had an imagination and a way of just pulling everybody’s ideas and creating a solution.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Vincent and Adams ran webinars to help businesses decipher Gov. Ned Lamont's executive orders closing and curtailing business operations. Vincent worked with city Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin to create on-street outdoor dining areas.

Adams said one discussion centered on improved lighting to project a positive perception of downtown. Vincent secured funding from the city, Global City Norwich and NCDC for a $30,000 project to install permanent white lights in a zig-zag pattern over lower Broadway and Main Street.

“He doesn’t put things on the back burner when people talk to him,” Adams said. “He’s, ‘Let’s do it now.’ That was his whole thing. What can we do now?”

On Dec. 21, the City Council named NCDC to administer a $219,569 federal grant to assist small businesses with COVID-19 safety protocols. Vincent and community development Supervisor Kathryn Crees designed the program to solicit applications from businesses and appoint a review committee. NCDC also had applied for another $200,000 grant to continue the program.

“I thought of Jason as a partner, an ally and also someone who knew what was important to the eastern Connecticut region,” Crees said Wednesday, “I would say that I’m ever so sad that he is not with us, because we have lot an important voice in the community.”

Crees met Tuesday with Mayor Peter Nystrom and NCDC consultant Devin Schleidt to continue the plan. Nystrom said he will serve on the review panel, along with Schleidt and recently retired Norwich Public Utilities energy efficiency specialist and former NCDC administrator Fawn Walker.

“We’re following what Jason recommended, a minimum of three to five members,” Nystrom said. “We need to continue the work that Jason was involved in right away. That’s really important. People need to know that the doors are still open.”

NCDC’s shared workspace, Foundry 66, has found a new niche in the so-called streetwear scene, with entrepreneurs marketing their custom-made apparel, accessories and artistic designs.

Vincent called them “picro” businesses, since they are even smaller than micro-businesses. NCDC board Chairman Buckley said Vincent was a cheerleader for the Foundry 66 members, “buffeting them up when their confidence was down,” Buckley said.

NCDC officials will meet with the Foundry members on Friday to assure them that Foundry 66 will continue to support them, Buckley said.

Vincent helped graphic designer Heather Pigg and apparel entrepreneur Ashon Avent form Concept Design Group. Pigg designs branding for businesses, and Avent applies those images to shirts and hats. Vincent steered start-up entrepreneurs to Pigg for branding logos.

Vincent encouraged Avent and Pigg set up an entrepreneurial academy to teach young people how to pursue their business ideas. He also secured a grant through Chelsea Groton Bank for the academy and was helping to gain textile manufacturing status for the Concept Design Group's working lab.

Vincent also was a business neighbor in Foundry 66 as a partner in Epicure Brewing at 40 Franklin St. in the complex.

“I’m going to miss him,” Pigg said. “He held the brewery next to us. I’m going to miss him looking in the window, and saying: ‘Hey guys, how’s it going?’”

c.bessette@theday.com

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