Unlike many of the bustling towns surrounding it, Woodbridge has never had an economic development director to help coordinate, network or make a pitch for the business community. The only representation it had was through the Economic Development Commission, a group of often enthusiastic business owners who are appointed by the Board of Selectmen and work on ways to promote their community.
Now First Selectman Beth Heller, who considers economic development an important piece of her mission to move Woodbridge forward, has appointed Assistant Administrative Officer Betsy Yagla to be the contact point for the business community at Town Hall. Yagla started by personally reaching out to business owners over the course of the year, going face-to-face and engaging them in a conversation about how the town can be of assistance.
“Generally speaking, people were really happy that Town Hall was reaching out to them,” she said. The topics that came up were as varied as the businesses themselves, ranging from recommendations on marketing to helping them find a trash hauling service.
Overall, business owners feel very safe here, Yagla said, when asked about the response she got from the businesses she talked to. Woodbridge as a business location allows direct access to Route 15, which is desirable, but traffic itself is a perennial problem. She said businesses in the town’s commercial district are looking for expansion of sidewalks.
Woodbridge’s business district is limited in size. Some expansion is feasible on a few undeveloped lots, but with an estimated 88% occupancy rate of existing buildings, there is not a lot of opportunities. One of the biggest spaces available are the laboratories Bayer built at 4 Research Drive, before the conglomerate downsized and closed its operations here and in Orange. Part of the building is occupied, she said.
Yagla also helps coordinate the work of the Economic Development Commission, which is now chaired by Jeremy Rosner, a Realtor. The commission has seen a large turnover with the start of the new term. Newly appointed are Debbie Brander, the director of Member and Community Engagement at the JCC; Clio Nicolakis, executive director of the New Haven Science Park Development Corporation; Tobi Nwangwu, a budding consultant with a degree in Economics and Business Administration; and Shawn Flynn, a data analyst with Yale University’s Alumni Affairs. Also serving on the committee are Brooks Dougherty, Michael Holland and Evan Trachten. The commission meets on the third Thursday of every month.
“They’re excited, there is new energy,” the first selectman said. Their work in the first two meetings consisted of creating a new mission statement, which in its draft form charges the commission to “enhance and diversify the economic base of our community.”
The commission has come up with a list of potential projects to focus on, namely:
- a survey to find out what new services/businesses residents would welcome;
- grants such as for sidewalks or building improvements;
- a meeting with commercial property owners;
- a beautification plan; and
- tax abatements.
The plan is to prioritize among these projects, Chairman Rosner said.
Yagla has helped facilitate several networking sessions for businesses with shared interests. The restaurant, retail and service sector will be meeting the third Wednesday of the month at 9 am at Coachman Square. Any Woodbridge business in that sector is welcome to join. They have brainstormed what could help drive business. Instead of the Fallapalooza, which required a good deal of coordination, they decided it would be better to plan an event in February, when business is slow.
The wellness business sector will meet on Wednesday, October 9 at 9 a.m. at 88 Bradley Road. The question whether you belong into one group or the other is really up to the individual business owner, Yagla said. This particular meeting for instance is hosted by an attorney, who moved into town and is looking to introduce himself.
“I am creating a forum where people can talk and support each other,” she said. Similarly, she met with representatives of the local banks and introduced them to a small business developer as an important resource.
The town website has a comprehensive alphabetical listing of all local businesses at https://woodbridgect.org/BusinessDirectoryii.aspx. There are some 459 listed there, ranging from accounting services to wedding services. Many of them are home-based.
To join any of those meetings or to get on the Town’s business e-newsletter list, contact Betsy Yagla at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many of the locally owned businesses are owned by Woodbridge residents, said First Selectman Beth Heller. To see them prosper is not only beneficial to them, but to the community at large. “It’s a quality of life issue,” she said.
By Bettina Thiel – Woodbridge Town News Correspondent