OLD LYME — With the results of last year’s two economic development workshops and a town-wide survey in hand Wednesday, the Economic Development Commission began to plan how the information can be disseminated effectively to the town’s other boards and commissions as well to the public.
At the meeting, the commission unanimously approved the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) Analysis Results report from AdvanceCT, formerly known as the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, or CERC. The report covers data collected at workshops on August 14 and Sept. 21 that were each attended by 25-30 residents and business owners who shared their thoughts, ideas and concerns about the town’s current and future economy.
The commission also approved AdvanceCT’s “Business and Resident Survey Results” report from a town-wide online survey in August and September last year.
The AdvanceCT “Business and Resident Survey Results” report is a 116-page document, with an executive summary, broken into categories including quality of life, residential development, commercial development, town government and business needs. The report includes 70 pages of open-ended responses to survey questions asking a broad range of questions, including, “What Old Lyme is known for?” and “How would define the character of Old Lyme?” to “What kind of additional housing development would you like to see in Old Lyme, if any?” and “What types of retail stores are missing from Old Lyme, if any?”
The survey received responses from 680 residents and 110 “representatives,” which represented 11 percent of the resident adult population and 21 percent of the businesses with employees in Old Lyme.
“I think the first thing we can do is take the files and put them on the EDC website,” said commission co-chair Justin Fuller. “And then we should draft a very short summary for a town announcement that says what this is, why we’re doing it and where it’s located, and that will get it on social media and get it out to that whole listserv.”
Fuller said the next step was to provide digital copies to all of the town’s boards and commissions. Hard copies will also be available.
In May 2019, the town’s Board of Finance approved approximately $52,000 to hire the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, now AdvanceCT, to help the commission develop the survey.
Part of AdvanceCT’s contract, which expires at the end of June, included following up on the results of the survey and SWOT sessions with a feasibility study analyzing regional population trends, worker transportation patterns and possibilities for successful retail businesses in Old Lyme.
At Wednesday’s meeting, the commission critiqued the current version of the feasibility study, especially charts and graphs which members said were hard to interpret. AdvanceCT Vice President of Partnerships, Courtney Hendricson, who attended the meeting, said her group would make the changes and return the report to the commission for its April 1 meeting.
Co-chair Howard Margules said the commission needed a plan for publicizing the reports and for receiving feedback.
“I think the goal should be to find opportunities for the public to see these and be able to respond in some way. I also think it’s really essential for the other boards and commissions not just to see it, but how does this impact what we’re doing going forward,” he said. “When we went to the Board of Finance for funds for this whole project they told us that we’ll give it to you, but we don’t want to just see reports, we want results and I agree with them and we committed to that. So, I think there needs to be a plan and process going forward about how this all gets utilized.”
For example, Margules said, the information could help the Planning Commission, which is working on an update to the Old Lyme Plan of Conservation and Development, required every ten years by the state.
“There could be information here that could be really valuable to them,” he said.
Commission member Gregory Symon said it was important to circulate the reports to all of the town’s departments, boards and commissions.
“I think your point is we need to socialize it. This is a lot of information that could save the Planning Commission a lot of time and energy,” he said. “I think we socialize it among a lot of the boards, zoning, ZBA, the building department — there different groups would benefit.”
The commission plans to recommend an economic development strategy to the Board of Selectmen, base on the analysis.
Hendricsen said part of the AdvanceCT contract included a followup presentation, which could be made to the Board of Selectmen if the Economic Development Commission chose.
Fuller said after the feasibility study is approved and the presentation is made to the selectmen, the commission will work on how to implement the information in the reports to benefit the town’s economic outlook.
“After that we’ll work on the economic development plan for Old Lyme and that takes us through the end of 2020,” he said.