New Milford, Connecticut
For people and business
Business View Magazine interviews Karen Pollard, Director of Economic Development in New Milford, Connecticut, as part of our focus on best practices of American cities.
New Milford, Connecticut is a picturesque New England town in Litchfield County, Connecticut with a lovely Downtown and a historic Town Green and gazebo. The town is located just 90 miles northeast of Manhattan in the Housatonic River Valley. At nearly 62 square miles, it is also the largest town in Connecticut in terms of land area and is home to Candlewood Lake, Connecticut’s largest lake. New Milford has been and continues to be a destination for recreation and outdoor adventures and has maintained a certain rural character even while growing as a regional hub for business and industry.
New Milford, Connecticut is known for its mix of quintessential New England charm and vibrant downtown atmosphere. “We have developed a new strategy for continued growth based on attraction of new businesses and residents coming into the area,” says Karen Pollard, Director of Economic Development. With a current population of 27,000, New Milford is also a tourist-friendly town with several bed-and-breakfasts, shops and boutiques, and restaurants. “New Milford has an amazing quality of life,” adds Pollard. “And people from New York City and New York State, as well as the rest of Connecticut, come to town to enjoy the Candlewood Lake, stay in our bed-and-breakfasts, visit our farmers markets, and enjoy the charming amenities you get in this part of the state.”
Bank Street and Main Street are excellent shopping streets with a first run movie theater, multiple restaurants, clothing stores, boutiques, an olive oil store, and an ice cream parlor. Many of the restaurants have added outdoor dining, so it’s a great place to come for lunch or dinner and enjoy the atmosphere. New Milford, Connecticut has a great appeal to visitors and they are working on a hotel market study to add to the amenities that made the community recognizable in the movie Mr. Deeds starring Adam Sandler and the TV series Gilmore Girls. New Milford is the starting point of the Litchfield County Antiques Trail and Elephant’s Trunk Flea Market taking place every Sunday during the season has been featured in Flea Market Flip.
In addition to attracting more visitors to New Milford, Pollard is also intent on attracting more permanent residents by bringing in smaller businesses that are looking for up to 20,000 square feet of space and have under a hundred employees. Pollard reports, “Currently many people commute to New York City, New Haven, and Hartford, and they would certainly benefit from businesses locating here so that those commutes could be reduced. I think people who like this area and enjoy the quality of life here, would rather work closer to home.”
New Milford, Connecticut’s largest manufacturer is the Kimberly-Clark Corporation, a producer of paper-based consumer products. “They have quite a large campus,” says Pollard. “It’s a major regional hub of activity for them.” The community also has a host of small independent manufacturers in a variety of industries – metalworking, assembly, chemicals. MedInstill with 40 employees is in a high growth segment, bioscience. The community will be partnering with Naugatuck Community College and the Northwest Regional Workforce Investment Board on a training program for new entrants into bioscience careers. The Corporation for New Milford Economic Development is seeking to create a bioscience cluster of small firms in a former Nestle lab space. This effort is viewed by Pollard to have significant potential for quality job growth and associated business attraction.
New Milford Hospital is another major employer which is a key part of the Western Connecticut Health Network. In addition to providing excellent medical care to area residents, the hospital spins off a lot of other activity such as medical offices, and research and development for drugs and medications.
At present, the town is working on a major brownfield remediation project that will open up some prime land for new business activity. “It’s a 67-acre site that was the former home of Century Brass,” Pollard notes. “The remediation is nearing completion, so we’re beginning the process to look for a new user for that site. It’s zoned industrial, so it could be a campus, or regional headquarters, or it could be a manufacturer of some kind. It has active rail, natural gas, water, sewer, broadband – it’s a great site for multiple types of businesses and it’s just outside of our downtown. It abuts the Housatonic River. It’s actually on our riverfront walk, a multi-mile bike and hiking trail. So that’s another great amenity for any business that wants to locate on that site.”
Pollard adds that both the town and the state offer some very attractive incentives for new business development. “Locally, we offer property tax abatement,” she explains. “The state offers sales tax abatement. That tax abatement piece is very important to businesses that are going to locate in our community, because the equipment and the materials they buy can have the sales tax waived, in addition to waiving the property tax on a new construction. The maximum property tax abatement is seven years.” The Town also manages a small business loan fund and a façade grant program, and partners with other development agencies to offer larger loans. Other incentives available through the state Department of Economic Development include venture capital, bonding and loan programs and tax abatement programs. There are matching funds for workforce training through the regional Workforce Investment Board.
In order to ensure an adequate workforce for the town’s growing commercial and industrial base, New Milford has recently seen the completion of a new downtown housing project and hopes to attract more investment into housing. “We do have buildings that have upper floors that are apartments, but the community really needed to have more housing downtown,” Pollard says. “That development has attracted Millennials and empty-nesters and because we do have such an attractive downtown with many amenities, Millennials are one of the categories of residents that is growing rapidly.”
“We have already updated our zoning to be very supportive of new business attraction,” she adds. “We have ‘village commercial’ zoning that covers the downtown and it is very flexible for both businesses and investors to be able to do mixed-use projects. We have very creative staff people onboard who can help figure out how to make projects work even in a tight site. We just looked at one recently – a new four-story building with a coffee bar on the main floor and eight apartments above. We have numerous public parking lots so that developments can have parking requirements waived; there’s more than enough available public parking. New Milford, Connecticut has already adopted Complete Streets and widened the sidewalks, so a lot of restaurants have beautiful outdoor patios with outdoor dining.”
New Milford, Connecticut is also a hub for national retail chain investment in the Route 7 Corridor with more than 2 million square feet of development in centers like Litchfield Crossing and Fairfield Plaza. There is a 2.5% vacancy rate and most of that is new construction. There is an additional 100,000 square feet approved but not yet built. Market data suggests that additional restaurants, clothing stores and specialty retail would be a great fit in the New Milford trade area. The town draws from the east, north and west into New York State for the population of 66,000 shoppers and 25,500 households. The median household income is $90,309 with plenty of disposable income to enjoy the region’s culture and arts scene.
Pollard believes that New Milford, Connecticut is a very progressive community with a great quality of life for both businesses and residents, and that the two are mutually beneficial. “Because of the high quality of life New Milford has got a great available workforce,” she exclaims, “well-educated, very productive, and very eager to see new opportunities come into town. We are actively seeking business and industry that will fit well into our great environment.”
AT A GLANCE
WHO: New Milford, Connecticut
WHAT: A town of 27,000
WHERE: Litchfield County in the Housatonic River Valley