Survey Seeks to Understand How Connecticut’s Communities Invest in Economic Development
Do you have a hand in economic development for your community or region? This month economic developers across the state will have the opportunity to participate in the first Connecticut Local Economic Survey coordinated by the University of Connecticut (UConn) Extension in partnership with the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC), the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS) and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities (CCM). The purpose of the survey is to understand who is involved in economic development activities in Connecticut and how economic development strategies are conducted at the local level over time. Anyone participating in economic development activities at the local, regional or state level is encouraged to participate by visiting the online survey available at http://s.uconn.edu/ledo
According to the developer of the survey, Laura Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator with UConn Extension, the results will be used to help municipalities and organizations identify opportunities to coordinate on regional strategies, make comparable investments in economic development, and implement strategies that are most effective. “This study will help communities see where they stand compared to others in and outside of Connecticut.” The survey includes some questions that are also conducted as part of a national survey implemented by the International City County Management Association every five years.
The results of the study will be made public in Spring 2018, and participants may opt to have the results sent to them as soon as they are available. The survey asks about structure and organization of economic development functions in organizations and municipalities, investments being made in economic development, strategies being implemented and how are they evaluated, and demographic information about economic development staff.
For more information about this survey please contact Laura Brown, Community & Economic Development Educator, UConn Extension, email@example.com, 203-207-0063.
Answering growing demand for alternatives to car based transportation and potential improvements to public health and quality of life, Connecticut has vowed to invest billions of dollars in new transportation infrastructure, including $100 million on pedestrian and bicycle paths. While interest in multi-use trails is growing, they can be expensive to build (estimated $1,000,000 per mile) and community leaders are often asked to quantify the health and quality of life benefits. This was the case for a group of community leaders along the Naugatuck River Greenway (NRG), a proposed 44-mile multi-use trail that will run through eleven communities from Derby to Torrington when fully built. Committee members wanted to know: Who uses trails? How and when do people use trails? How much are people spending when they use the trail? What are other potential economic, public health, and quality of life impacts? What can we learn from other trails in our region? How can the trail support brownfield remediation?
In 2016, UConn Extension Educator Laura Brown partnered with the UConn School of Business Center for Community Economic Analysis, the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and the Naugatuck River Greenways Council on a multi-year research project to quantify the potential economic impacts of constructing the NRG, and provide recommendations to municipalities on how to maximize impacts during and after trail construction.
The study involved a literature review, collecting trail count data using infrared counters, a trail user intercept survey on five existing sections of the trail, three focus groups with trail administrators, local business owners, public health professionals along a similar fully built trail, and deployment of a Regional Economic Impact Model (REMI) analysis to estimate total economic impacts of the proposed trail. The analysis included estimates of construction costs, operating expenditures, user amenity benefits, user expenditures, as well as potential impacts on population, employment, income, and fiscal impacts. Reports from the study can be found at http://s.uconn.edu/nrg
The findings of the study showed that this trail, when fully constructed, could have a significant and positive impact on communities in the region. But, those impacts aren’t inevitable even if the trail is built. Trails have to be used, promoted, maintained, and the community, both residents and businesses must be engaged in using and developing the trail. The greatest potential economic impact would result from increased consumer spending by users as well as costs of construction, expansion and maintenance. Currently trail users are spending about $5.8 million annually on items related to trail use (including gear, rentals, clothes, and food) and this could rise to about $85.2 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built. Direct construction expenditures may reach $77.2 million by the year 2030.
Consumer surplus and health benefits also accrued significant economic value over time, including benefits to residents who don’t even use the trail or live in the same zip code as a trailhead. Consumer surplus describes the difference between how much people might be willing to pay to use the trail and how much they actually pay. This includes costs that are avoided like paying for gas to drive to a trailhead or for medical care as a result of health problems. Residents within closest proximity to trailheads and those nearby are expected to realize a combined annual consumer surplus of $13.8 million. That would be expected to rise to about $90.7 million by 2030 when the trail is fully built.
The more people that use the trail, the greater the economic benefit will be. Many users walk or bike on the trail often enough to realize health benefits by reducing incidents of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer. The net present monetized value of health-related benefits would be expected to increase from about $10.4 million currently to $71.1 million in 2030.
The study has yielded other benefits beyond the impact numbers. As a result of the project, many other trail groups expressed interest in gathering data on their own trails to better understand their users and make better investments. UConn Extension partnered with the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and received a $62,000 recreational trails grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to expand the study to 15 other trails around the state, a project called the CT Trail Census.
 LetsGoCT. Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future. (2015). Retrieved November 15, 2016 at http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/lib/malloy/2015.02.18_CTDOT_30_YR_Vision.pdf
Thursday, February 16, 2017
11:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
Workforce development is one of the foundations of successful local and regional economic development strategies. Local, new and emerging businesses need a well-trained and accessible labor force. In light of recent industry location decisions in the state, more than ever, communities are recognizing the importance of talent in keeping and attracting business in a global economy.Attend this webinar to learn more about the key factors affecting Connecticut’s workforce and examples of how communities are innovating to build on existing assets.
Brownfield redevelopment has become a hot topic of late. The issue can be examined through a number of different lens. A project in Middletown, Connecticut will focus on the health outcomes of brownfield conversion in inner-city neighborhoods. Middletown’s Department of Planning, Conservation and Development has been awarded a grant from the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), a division of the Center for Disease Control. One of the aims of this initiative is to increase recreational opportunities on unused brownfield properties in order to address health disparities including childhood obesity and associated illnesses in several of Middletown’s urban areas. This is a very interesting take on the subject, and the process of creating playgrounds from brownfields can serve as a powerful symbol of neighborhood revitalization. The Middletown initiative also seeks to educate community residents about the potential hazards posed by contaminated buildings and land. This latter task is also being done in Waterbury through the Waterbury Environmental Health Fund.
As Hugh Bailey, a journalist for Hearst Media and urban planner who has researched brownfield revitalization in many communities across the nation and in Germany, points out, a paradigm shift is necessary when dealing with brownfields. It is not enough to see them in economic terms, but in how they can be redeveloped for the benefit of their communities. In his presentation, “Ruins Reborn”, developed from the short film and series of articles that were the product of his research, Mr. Bailey described the difference in how the Germans approach the issues of brownfields. The Germans have a more holistic view of the problem, unlike the case-by-case assessment typical of American brownfield redevelopment. Mr. Bailey discussed Landschaft Park in Duisburg, the focal point of a network of greenways and revitalized brownfields in the Ruhr Valley. This re-appropriation of the post-industrial environment is notable for its aesthetic and cultural significance. The Germans have taken what was once one of the most heavily industrialized regions of Europe, nearly rendered a wasteland by the departure of the manufacturing base, and transformed it into an area with a strong sense of place and community. This was achieved by tapping into the industrial heritage of the Ruhr Valley, which was not seen as a liability, but an important component of the region’s identity. The Germans were able to keep many buildings intact but gave them new purposes, ones that serve the greater good of the community and environment. Mr. Bailey noted that preserving buildings in place is a better solution than demolition, which releases large amounts of toxins into the atmosphere.
Mr. Bailey proposes something similar for the Route 8 corridor, and spoke of Knowlton Park in Bridgeport as a beachhead on that city’s beleaguered waterfront. He stressed the importance of connectivity, a theme frequently invoked at the Let’s Talk Trails event. If all the elements of the project are not united by a single vision or master plan, the prospect for success and overall effect of redevelopment will be much lower. Mr. Bailey brought up the necessity of using available state and federal funding to leverage private monies, but acknowledged that in-demand locations such as Boston and New York are seen as lower risk to developers than communities like Bridgeport, despite the latter city’s harbor and transportation access. Towns like Ansonia and Waterbury are considered even riskier, and the issue of connectivity is of great importance in this regard. Mr. Bailey spoke of the catalytic effect, the process by which one successfully redeveloped property changes the complexion of the surrounding neighborhood and spurs further revitalization, and hoped that Knowlton Park and O’Sullivan’s Island in Derby, in conjunction with the Naugatuck River Greenway, would have this effect in starting the transformation of the post-industrial landscape in the Route 8 corridor.
Anyone who’s been in this field will attest that community development takes grit. Sometimes the day-to-day work is monotonous, exhausting, and trying. We’re challenged by conflicting personalities, politics and bureaucracies and given the charge of changing the status quo when the tides seem turned against us. That’s why a couple of times a year I make it a point to get together with colleagues, to reflect, and zoom out of my work and world and learn about amazing things happening around the state and beyond. Almost without fail when I make the effort to get out of my routine, I find myself utterly in awe, humbled, and reinvigorated. The Southern New England American Planning Association Conference held in Hartford last week did that for me, even if my time there was short.
The Thursday keynote speaker at the Southern New England APA Conference in September, Peter Kageyama has written several books about community place-making. I haven’t read any of them but we got a good feel for his approach to place-making through the bits of advice he shared using examples from cities like Detroit, Michigan and Greenville, South Carolina. Not having read the book I can’t say how much of this advice is based on actual research versus anecdotes but the stories from communities across the country were compelling and inspiring. I’ve always found this kind of storytelling, viral education, between communities to be one of the most effective ways to share community development. Here are a few of the tidbits I took away:
We should ask ourselves are we asking more from our cities other than to be safe and functional? We should be aspiring for cities that are safe and functional but also interesting and comfortable.
Cities will give us back what we put it- we can think of these as “love letters”
Sometimes you have tho break the rules to get where you want to be. Rule challengers can help us think in new ways and explore what might be if things were different. Peter gave the example of a spectacular lantern release in Grand Rapids that involved thousands more lanterns than were approved originally by the city.
Think easy- garden hose solutions work. Some times I think we tend to overthink the issues we face in our communities- assuming that we need big complicated solutions to simple problems. Simple solutions, like a garden hose sprinkler in a park, can make our communities better places to live and work, even if they don’t require thousands of dollars to implement.
We cant look at everything through the lens of cost- Those of us with a bit more analytical than creative brain love to crunch numbers. While there is certainly a financial realty to every project Peter inspired the audience to consider “what is the cost of ugly and boring cities?” My artist husband has taught me that there is immense value in beauty and inspiration- if only that it makes the heart sing.
We usually get the big stuff right- we need to focus on the small stuff– In my mind this meant really engaging change makers; new people, unique minds, in thinking about our communities and the issues we face.
We want to take this opportunity to welcome Laura Brown to UConn Extension as our new Extension Educator for Community Development. Laura has wonderful experience here in Connecticut where she worked with the Hartford Food System as their Director of Education and Community Outreach and then as a statewide Community Development Specialist at University of WI – Madison. Prior to coming back to Connecticut, Laura worked with partners including the WI Extension Environmental and Community Development Association, American Planning Association, WI Economic Development Association and the Community Development Society. Laura will be based in the Fairfield County Extension office but will work statewide with a focus on urban communities. Welcome Laura!