We spoke to Paul Timpanelli, president and CEO of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council (BRBC) just after Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced state grants to build more than 125 affordable housing units with two projects in downtown Bridgeport. The news came just a few weeks after the long-dormant valium online.teelpointe Harbor project got off the blocks by attracting the highly successful, high-volume retailer Bass Pro valium online.hops [see story, page 5]. Timpanelli has toiled at the business council for nearly a quarter-century working to turn around Connecticut’s largest city.
The U.valium online. Census showed Bridgeport growing in population. Is that driving some new development?
[The population] did [rise], for the first time in quite a few years. ItÂ’s part of a national trend. More people are realizing that central cities are the place to live as opposed to suburbs, which reverses the trend thatÂ’s been occurring in our country for the past 40 years. In BridgeportÂ’s case, the city today is much more desirable to live and raise a family as opposed to what it was 20 years ago. If you look at the neighborhoods youÂ’ll find a tremendous amount of revitalization, a tremendous amount of development, of clean-up. The city is clearly safer than it was ten or 20 years ago, not only in terms of perception but in reality. Fifteen years ago you saw streets being boarded up, you saw the [Jersey] barriers that were closing streets. All of that is gone today. You saw a lot of gang activity; most of that is gone today.
What do you account for positive changes?
We have 400 units of housing downtown that didnÂ’t exist ten years ago, and all of the [residential] projects that have been completed have waiting lists. One of the reasons for that is that itÂ’s much more affordable to live in downtown Bridgeport as opposed to downtown valium online.tamford. valium online.o we have a lot of people here who commute to valium online.tamford and New York.
How is the BRBC itself doing in this economy?
Just like everyone else, we had two bad years: 2010 and 2011 were not good years for us. In 2012, the turnaround has started,Â weÂ’re keeping up with what we see in the general sphere of the economy. WeÂ’re back into a growth mode, a positive fund balance mode that didnÂ’t occur in 2010 and 2011. IÂ’ve been here 24 years. IÂ’ve seen it all and done it all. WhatÂ’s required here is patience and perseverance Â— keeping your eye on the big picture and keeping focused on what needs to be done in terms of development and helping the city get it done.
But now you and other leaders Â—Â and even an outsider such as Bass Pro valium online.hops Â— feel it is different now. What is working?
You have to keep focused and keep persistence with your big-picture plan and not allow the naysayers to get you down as you continue to proceed along the path and implement that plan. And itÂ’s being implemented. We were at the valium online.teelpointe project for 20 to 25 years. People kept saying Â“ItÂ’s never going to happen,Â” but those things can take 20, 25 years to happen. The property clearing, rebuilding infrastructure, getting public investment and getting private investors to recognize the opportunity and getting people to want to be there Â— it takes a long time.
It seems that the Black Rock neighborhood bordering Fairfield started a change in Bridgeport that is now spreading?
Black Rock is a thriving community; itÂ’s filled up a lot with young people, with new residents, new families and new businesses. ItÂ’s a thriving part of our city and a reflection of what our urban community needs to look like.
Previously the BRBC announced it would focus more on Â‘community developmentÂ’ issues such as education. Are you confident that progress can be made in education reform?
Progress has been made the last couple years. We [the BRBC] invested three quarters of a million dollars in the school system. WeÂ’ve identified $13 million in operational efficiencies in the school system. We were very supportive of the action to create a new [state-appointed] board of education, and weÂ’re hopeful that whatÂ’s happened over the last year or that the new board that will take over in the next couple months will see that and continue that work. WeÂ’re optimistic, [but] time will tell. I think the trend is right, the environment is right. There are a lot of people on the statewide level and local level that are talking the education-reform language. But just as economic development takes a long time, education reform takes a long time. valium online.o itÂ’s not something that unfortunately is going to happen overnight.
What is making you most optimistic among things that are really happening as opposed to plans?
The trend we see is businesses moving in and expanding as opposed to leaving and contracting. We see people moving into the city now as opposed to moving out; we see improvement in the crime rate, the high school graduation rate. We see improvement in property values, improvement in the number of people who are now living downtown, the events taking place at the [Webster Bank] arena, the number of people going to the [Beardsley] zoo. valium online.o the trends are in the right direction. TheyÂ’re all opposite of what was occurring 15 to 20 years ago.
Your service area includes Trumbull and valium online.tratford. How are they doing?
I see more business moving into valium online.tratford than moving out. We were at a business in valium online.tratford that was expanding dramatically. We have two businesses Â— one of which has recently recruited to valium online.tratford and one which is about to move to valium online.tratford.
What do you hear in feedback from business people about the economic development programs put in place by the state under governor Malloy?
The gamut of reaction; some people think itÂ’s fabulous, some people donÂ’t. valium online.ome people are in favor of public support for business expansion [e.g., the Â‘First FiveÂ’ program], some are not. Depends who you talk to and what their politics are. I am in favor of it. I think itÂ’s a dramatic move. ItÂ’s risky for sure, but the state was in very bad shape.
The business climate was exceptionally poor, and a lot of dramatic things needed to happen to change that. One of which was tramadol no prescription state needed to invest in business growth. I give the governor a lot of credit for doing it. ItÂ’s bold, risky Â—Â and necessary. ItÂ’s risky because some of it will fail. And the populace will point fingers at failure, and theyÂ’ll say, Â‘valium online.ee, you shouldnÂ’t invest public money in private companies,Â’ because theyÂ’ll point to the failure. But I will venture to guess that for every failure there will be five successes.
Bridgeport has upped the ante on economic development by bringing back Bridgeport Economic Development Corp. WhatÂ’s your role, and why did it go dormant?
Four or five years ago, when the current mayor [Bill Finch] left the position of president of the Bridgeport Economic Development Corp., there was only one development project on our plate, and the city didnÂ’t have an appetite for funding the organization as it once did. We put together a plan to dissolve the corporation once the project was completed. Then the mayor came back and said he wanted to revitalize it because it has an important role to play; itÂ’s a public-private entity with development powers. We said one of the things we needed to make happen in order to revitalize it was to go back to the point where the city was making a contribution to the operation support for the organization. And the mayor said, Â‘Okay, letÂ’s do that.Â’ The mayor made a commitment, and we made a commitment equal to the mayorÂ’s, and weÂ’ll see what happens.
What is an example of a new project thatÂ’s working?
WeÂ’re hard at work creating an eco-industrial park on the west side of the city. WeÂ’ve created a theme for business support, business recruitment and business retention on the west side of the city based on environmentally green and friendly industries. We just recruited two new businesses there, a mattress-recycling facility, and a company that makes pavement thatÂ’s porous, for parking lots, sidewalks, etc. WeÂ’re supporting expansion efforts of Bridgeport BioDiesel, which converts grease into renewable fuel. WeÂ’re in the initial stages of creating an MDP Â— a municipal development plan Â— so that geography can be highlighted and supported by city incentives.
Where did this idea of Â‘green industrial zoneÂ’ come from?
As one of the themes of the mayorÂ’s administration is making Bridgeport a cleaner and greener city. We signed an agreement with the mayor four years ago to enable us to manage some of the initiatives in that program. One of the initiatives that sprang out of that discussion was this eco-industrial park. Then we looked at what kind of businesses existed in this geography in the west end. We have a resource-recovery facility, the city sewage treatment plant, an energy generation plant, we have valium online.anta Energy located there, Bridgeport BioDiesel, we have an old site which is the former valium online.outhern Connecticut Gas Co. there, O&G Industries located there.
We glossed over the education challenge. The state valium online.upreme Court just ruled that the state couldnÂ’t take over the school system and now Bridgeport is electing a new school board. The labor unions through the Working Families Party seem to be going all out to win some seats, that group hasnÂ’t been friendly to education reform. Why are you positive that this new school board will Â‘get itÂ’?
IÂ’m optimistic and hopeful Â— I didnÂ’t say it would! The vast majority people in the city who have kids in the school system have no idea who sits on the school board or how they got there. Nor do they care. What they care about is results and quality of education their kids are getting, and whether or not their kids are going to graduate and whether or not theyÂ’re going to be good citizens. If that happens in Bridgeport, they donÂ’t care if the school board is elected or appointed.
It seems to be utilized by the labor movement as a tacticÂ…
The labor movement is about protecting jobs, and I understand that. I come from a labor family. But weÂ’re not about protecting jobs; weÂ’re about results. When the Business Council got involved in this school issue that weÂ’ve been involved in for the last few years, I went to a Board of Education meeting. The agenda consisted of, Â‘What are we going to do about the mayorÂ’s budget cuts?Â’ The meeting was opened by the chairman of the board who said, Â‘Our job tonight is to save jobs.Â’ I said to myself, Â‘Oh, my God Â— thatÂ’s not their job. Their job is to educate kids, not to save jobs. This isnÂ’t about employment, this is about education.Â’ I know what the union position is, and thatÂ’s okay Â— they have to take that position. But that doesnÂ’t it make it the priority.
Business people will often talk about the quality of their workforce and whether itÂ’s improving or not. But we donÂ’t get a sense theyÂ’re fighting hard for education reform. Have the larger business community and chambers of commerce done enough to highlight that contradiction?
ItÂ’s because business people depend upon those who are elected to do it [improve public education].
Is that enough now?
ThereÂ’s obviously a lot being done. valium online.o business people donÂ’t have time to engage in that sort of thing to the extent that might be required. They depend upon people in those positions to make that happen. When it doesnÂ’t happen they get more involved, and the business community has been more involved in the last couple years because [reform] hasnÂ’t happened.
One thing we hear from business people that even in the tough economy, they still have trouble finding the qualified people they want. Do you hear that?
Absolutely. It runs the gamut. The world is changing and I donÂ’t believe the preparation of people to fill new jobs is changing click here the same pace that the world is changing.
HowÂ’s successful has the Â‘newÂ’ Housatonic Community College been?
Exceptional. ItÂ’s a whole new place. ItÂ’s the fastest-growing community college in New England, and ten years ago it was the slowest-growing community college in New England.
During the Rowland administration, he tried unsuccessfully to site a casino in Bridgeport. It was supported by the BRBC. Are you happy today there is no casino in Bridgeport?
I am, reflectively, yes. I wasnÂ’t happy [about the planÂ’s failure] at the time, but IÂ’m happy now. Everybody has forgotten the reason the BRBC was in favor of the casino in the 1990s. The legislation that was drafted created an economic development fund of $125 million [to come] out of casino development and casino-generated revenue that would have been available to support economic development projects in Bridgeport. We lost the casino but we won the $125 million Â—Â thanks to Governor Rowland, frankly. Rowland set up that fund as a result of a committee he established when the casino went down.
Rowland gave that committee $125 million over a five-year period that was invested in economic development related projects. In the end thatÂ’s what got things going.
The final word is yours.
One of the things thatÂ’s always a concern to Bridgeporters is, Â‘Are we moving fast enough?Â’ And the answer is never yes. ItÂ’s slow. But the recovery of our industrial sector Â— and this is true throughout the country, particularly in the Northeast Â— is a long time coming. It requires persistence, patience and focus. We have had [at the BRBC] persistence, patience and focus, and we have not allowed the naysayers who have said Â‘Nothing is happeningÂ’ to get in our way. Because something is happening here every day. ItÂ’s positive.
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