A Sit Down with Jason Vincent

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.

Videos promoting Norwich shown to council, public

THE DAY (June 19, 2019) — The city’s plans to bring new residents and business by marketing itself were presented Monday to the City Council and public.

Highlights of the half-hour presentation was the showing of four short videos produced this year by Miranda Creative, a Norwich brand marketing firm.

Maria Miranda, the firm’s owner and creative director, presented them as part of an overall marketing strategy funded by $25,000 in the city’s budget last year and this year.

The theme of all four videos is “City on the Rise,” she said.

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Departing Stonington planning director Jason Vincent returning to NCDC in Norwich

THE DAY (October 11, 2019) — Jason Vincent’s planning career will take another U-turn along Route 2 next week, when he returns to the Norwich Community Development Corp., days after his resignation as Stonington planning director.

NCDC President Robert Mills announced Friday that Vincent has been hired as senior vice president at NCDC, rejoining the Norwich economic development agency he left in January 2016 to become director of planning in Stonington. Vincent is a professional planner with more than two decades of experience in the public and private sectors, including four years at NCDC previously. He starts in the new position on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

“Many of us in Norwich always hoped that Jason’s career path would return him to our community,” Mills said in a news release announcing Vincent’s hiring. “Without a doubt, Jason has a personal, vested interest in the future of Norwich and we fully expect him to bring his array of exceptional skills and incredible passion to this position.”

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Mills sees potential for Norwich in State Pier ideas

THE DAY (October 2, 2019) — At the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce’s Business Breakfast on Wednesday, Robert Mills, the president of the Norwich Community Development Corporation, expressed interest in the Connecticut Port Authority’s (CPA) plan for expansion on the deepwater port in New London, and he wanted to see if any of those insights are applicable to Norwich.

Mills is interested in development of land along the Thames River basin, including land in Norwich.

The speaker at the breakfast was David Kooris, acting chair of the CPA and the deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). The focus of the CPA portion of the talk was the State Pier in New London, and how they plan to make New London a hub for assembling, and eventually manufacturing, offshore wind turbines.

Mills said that the land will “remain underutilized until the issues you’re addressing at the pier can be applied elsewhere.”

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Ponemah Mills nears completion of its second phase

THE DAY (September 26, 2019) — The Lofts at Ponemah Mills, located in the Taftville section of Norwich, is finishing the second phase of construction, to be completed sometime in October. It will make 121 more units available for leasing.

Richard Perez, property manager at Ponemah, saidthe units will include 1, 2, or 3 bedrooms. Some of the new apartments will be affordable housing. Perez said that a lot of interest in the space comes from people who drive by the property.

“We’re expecting a lot of leases,” Perez said. “we’re expecting to move in a lot of people in October.”

Perez said the apartments are “gorgeous”. They feature vaulted ceilings and new appliances.

Robert Mills, president of the Norwich Community Development Corporation (NCDC), likes that the developer of the project is able to keep the historic character of the building.

“The artistic value is far superior to the buildings you can get today,” he said, referring to Ponemah Mills’ vaulted ceilings.

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Norwich officials discuss successes, challenges and plans at Chamber event

THE DAY (September 20, 2019) — Breakfast and coffee were provided by two of the recent new downtown Norwich businesses at Friday morning’s State of Norwich presentation by the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce, proving one point on the session’s theme: that creative entrepreneurs bring vibrancy to the city.

About 70 business representatives, residents and city employees gathered at City Hall to hear updates from Mayor Peter Nystrom, schools Superintendent Kristen Stringfellow and Norwich Community Development Corp. President Robert Mills on the successes, challenges and future plans for the city.

Mills called the current times “the Age of Disruption,” picking up his cellphone to demonstrate the main driver. For example, he said, Norwich has more than 100 AirBnB unregulated room rentals that have hurt local hotel business while not contributing to the city services they might require. Manufacturing jobs nationwide have plummeted in the past 20 years, with the use of robots up 35 percent. Workers find themselves in “co-bot” situations, essentially overseeing the robots doing the more repetitive tasks.

But Norwich has benefited from the recent economic upswing, and Nystrom pointed to the breakfast table in the City Hall meeting room as proof. Breakfast by the new Café Otis, located across from City Hall in the former Norwich Human Services office building, and coffee by neighbor Craftsman Cliff’s Roasters on lower Broadway, graced the table.

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City leaders cite need for partnerships, marketing to stimulate growth

THE BULLETIN (September 20, 2019) The city and schools are starting to do more to tell others about good things happening here and to work with others to make improvements.

Mayor Peter Nystrom, Superintendent of Schools Kristen Stringfellow and Norwich Community Development Corp. President Robert Mills addressed about 50 residents at a City Hall gathering Friday morning hosted by the Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce.

A key part of Stringfellow’s plan is to “communicate the great work of our schools.” Without money to pay for marketing, she said, instead “we’ve taken to Twitter,” with an increase of accounts belonging to teachers and administrators growing from two to 200.

A second key is to “strengthen the partnership with the City of Norwich and NFA.” Stringfellow, Nystrom and Norwich Free Academy Head of School David Klein are meeting monthly, Nystrom said.

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Developer has plans for vacant pair of downtown Norwich buildings

THE BULLETIN (September 8, 2019) — Two long-vacant Main Street buildings will be back in business within six months if all goes according to local developer Asaf Cohen’s plan.

Cohen in August purchased the circa 1847 Main Street Fire Station as well as a two-story neo-classical building next door that had its start as Merchant’s National Bank in 1924. Assessor’s records show he picked up the buildings for $335,000 each from Wang’s Investment Corp., of Stamford, which had owned them since 2002.

The two buildings are part of the Downtown Norwich Historic District, according to National Register of Historic Places documents.

Norwich Community Development Corp. Vice President Jill Fritzsche said the early 20th century building at 65-69 Main St. had been empty for “well over 10 years” following the departure of City Perk coffee shop. The former fire station at 71 Main St. was being used as an artisan’s cooperative before it went dark two years ago.

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Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz gives thumbs-up to Norwich business growth

THE DAY (August 21, 2019) — Norwich — Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz gave frequent thumbs-up Wednesday during an hourlong visit to downtown businesses, delighted to hear from young professional business owners opening new stores and restaurants in their hometown or home state.

She followed that walk during a warm, muggy afternoon with a tour of the Atlantic City Linen Supply, a large commercial laundry facility in the Stanley Israelite Norwich Business Park. ACLS Norwich handles laundry for both the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods Resort casinos, numerous hotels and resorts throughout Connecticut and Rhode Island, and some as far away as Boston.

Facility founder and Chief Administrative Officer Dan Goldberg said the New Jersey-based company chose Norwich after a joint deal with the two tribal casinos, who co-signed a loan and became its “anchor” customers. The facility brings in bundles of laundry — sheets, pillowcases, towels and table linens — from customers in bar-coded bins. The items are sorted by size and type, dumped into large coded canvas bags hanging from overhead conveyors, each bag weighing about 150 pounds.

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Norwich downtown ‘has turned a tremendous corner’

NORWICH BULLETIN (June 19, 2019) — At a conference Wednesday in the city’s downtown, Chelsea Groton Bank President and CEO Michael Rauh explained that redevelopment efforts often have been stymied by a Catch-22.

Businesses are reluctant to open here because there aren’t enough customers, and customers are reluctant to shop here because there aren’t enough businesses.

Then the problem is compounded by a supply of old deteriorated buildings that may need expensive renovation work that can’t be profitably paid for.

“We knew the building owners were struggling,” Norwich Community Development Corp. President Robert Mills told about 80 people at the conference held in the ballroom of the Wauregan. “We recognized part of this market’s weakness is lack of feet on the street.”

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