Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself and how you got started in economic development.
A: I was born in Plainfield, CT. I’m a city planner by training. I’ve worked that community, for the town of Stonington and around the state of Connecticut, as a consultant. In a nutshell, planning is about trying to imagine a future condition a community would like to achieve and then helping them get to that place. What I’ve learned is that the planning role is really about economic development. It’s about trying to attract wealth to a community and retain that wealth. To do that at its highest level is to work with the business community and understand what stresses they have and what’s preventing them from investing. My first exposure to practical economic development arose when I had the chance to work with NCDC years ago. I was able to work with business people and understand why they make the decisions they’re making, and how to evaluate the value of an investment. If you understand those decisions, and market forces, you can then help attract new growth to a community.
Q: When did you first become involved with NCDC?
A: I first joined NCDC in the summer of 2012. I quickly learned that we needed to help businesses communicate their value. Many had plans, but not the sort that a bank or state agency is looking to see. I had previously never run a business, so I didn’t know how to get a business off the ground. By working with NCDC from 2012 to 2016, I was helping other business people succeed at developing their plans. I knew how to read profit & loss and cash flow sheets from having been on non-profit boards, but I didn’t know some of the missing pieces – like understanding the customer dynamics and the market forces that go into a business. Working with business owners taught me how to open a business, which in turn helps me teach entrepreneurs how to open their own business.
Q: What do you love most about working in economic development in Southeastern CT?
A: I love helping small business owners achieve what their vision and goals are—any opportunity you can help them take their idea and implement it is an exciting process. Whether it’s government, an individual, or a corporation, I find that helping people get through a process that they might not necessarily know how to navigate is the most exciting part of the job.
Q: What would you consider your proudest accomplishment in your career thus far?
A: Uncle D’s Blazin’ BBQ. They were a food truck looking to create a brick and mortar, and we tried to recruit them to several different locations in the city until they finally found a place that made sense for them. We helped them develop a business plan so they could effectively communicate what they were trying to accomplish. And now for 3 years, they’ve been operating as both a brick and mortar and a food truck. It’s really exciting to me to see that type of project happen.
Q: If someone came to you looking to start up their own business, what would be your first piece of advice?
A: Find out what the unknowns are. Every project fails because of unknown unknowns, essentially risk. There are some “unknowns” that you kind of know you don’t know, like what your electric bill will be every month, and then there are some things called contingencies in most projects. The more things you know and the more you can discover in a project – before you start, the more you can reduce the unknowns. So I recommend doing your homework. Opening your business without doing your homework is one of the things that makes you vulnerable to things you didn’t know or expect to happen. It takes a lot of patience to do your homework, but it’s absolutely necessary.
Q: How does NCDC help people get their business off the ground?
A: We offer a lot of business training programs in partnership with local banks and the Greater Norwich Chamber of Commerce. We’re connecting people to banks and helping to teach them everything from how to write business plans, how to do a market analysis to understand their customers, and how to think about the experience that they’re going to provide. NCDC are here to provide mentoring in the long-term.
Q: What do you love most about Norwich?
A: The history of this community is amazing. You can see remnants of history throughout the city, with Norwichtown being a Revolutionary War-era neighbrohood and Taftville, Greenville and Downtown being this Industrial Revolution/Civil War neighborhood. You see all of American history here to some degree. Norwich is also an origin story for so many people. Their families may have moved here maybe as first-generation immigrants, and this is a place they consider their home even if they don’t live here today. Those are just a few of the things I love about this place.
Q: What are you most looking forward to in 2020?
A: We have a couple great ideas on how to generate new business opportunities in the city. I’m really looking forward to developing those plans to address brownfields and vanilla-boxing some spaces to try and create additional places for entrepreneurs. There have been 22 net businesses which have opened in Downtown since 2015 and that’s exciting. I believe we’re going to be able to build upon that success because the regional economy is strong at this moment and Norwich is well-positioned to capitalize on it.