About a year into its existence, the Fairfield County Five — a regional marketing initiative consisting of the mayors or first selectmen and the economic development heads of Fairfield, Greenwich, Norwalk, Stamford and Westport — is getting its act together and once again taking it on the road.
Previously operating under an ad hoc structure, the F5 selected Stamford Mayor David Martin as its acting chairman on July 23. “We’re not an official body,” Stamford Director of Economic Development Thomas Madden said. “When we launched last year it was as a pilot project — ‘Can we work together and pull something off?’ Now we’re looking at how to govern and talk to each other, schedule meetings and events. We’re laying the groundwork for something bigger.”
“We didn’t want to lose momentum,” Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said. “So we’re putting together a structure and will begin to meet on a regular basis, probably every other month. We’re all more than willing to work at making this kind of thing a success.”
The F5’s mission is to combine its resources to lure companies from New York City to the area — either through opening satellite offices or relocating wholesale. Last November, the group hosted about 60 businessmen and real estate brokers at a lunchtime event at the Marriott Marquis to explain the attractions of Fairfield County in terms of available office space, real estate costs and a less-frenzied business environment.
“It was a ‘get to know us’ effort,” said Fairfield’s Director of Community and Economic Development Mark Barnhart. “We want to create awareness of what Fairfield County has going for it. From our standpoint it was a success in that we were able to work together. There’s a lot of commonality in the group, as well as a shared vision.”
The F5 will go on the road again on Sept. 13, hosting an after-hours session on the roof of Stamford-based Indeed.com’s midtown building from 5:30 to 8 p.m. Some 500 companies have been invited, Madden said, primarily small and midsize tech firms. The number of venture capital firms in the five municipalities should be a plus to that group, he said.
“That’s one of the growing sectors that we feel we’re in a great position to accommodate,” Westport Operations Director Sara Harris said. “We’ve done our research on which startups or established companies are looking to grow or relocate and intend to show them how diverse our area is.” Harris said that by its nature the September meeting will be “more fluid” than the formal presentation given last fall.
Rilling noted that the F5 is also supported by the state, with Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith a part of last year’s event. “We’re collaborating and doing some lobbying at the state level to recognize the impact that we have — and could have — on the entire state of Connecticut,” he said.
According to Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau, the F5 municipalities contribute 22 percent of the total income tax revenue to the state, while the county overall contributes 42 percent.
The seed of the idea for the F5 came from Madden, who said he initially wanted to just pitch Stamford to New York companies. “When I presented it to Mayor Martin, he said a greater case could be made for the five largest municipalities in our area with the most amount of office space,” Madden said. Soon after, the Stamford duo began contacting their peers in the other four locations.
“All of us quickly signed on,” Barnhart said. “We all thought it was a great idea to work as a group, that there really can be strength in numbers.” With Connecticut one of the few states without county governments, he said, the need to work as a unit is even more obvious.
“Most businesses are not focused on an individual town” when considering location, he said. “They tend to look at a metro region. Even though we’re all different as individual towns and cities, we’re all triple-A rated by the credit agencies and are well managed. Plus, we all have the kinds of parks and other attractions that you’re not necessarily going to find in New York City.”
Madden said that should an F5 effort result in a company choosing, say, Greenwich rather than Stamford, there would be no ill feelings. “That’s a win not just for us but for Connecticut,” he said. “For too long there’s been a situation where cities have been fighting with each other over attracting a company.”
He noted that Stamford’s proposal to land Amazon’s second headquarters was partly predicated on the attractions of the region, not just the city itself.
A number of local companies have approached the F5 since last year’s event, offering their support and sponsorship of future endeavors, Madden said. He further noted that the group has been in contact with the British, Israeli and Indian consulates about exploring the possible relocation of companies from those nations to the county.
Despite the united front of the Fairfield Five, Harris said there are no plans to add other municipalities — and not just because it would necessitate a name change.
“I think there’s a value to keeping what we’re doing to a small number,” she said. “Plus we’re still figuring out how to do what we want to do. We need to perfect that first.”
Madden agreed, though he said he believes the F5 model can be replicated by other municipalities.
“The whole Hartford-East Hartford-West Hartford area could go to companies in Boston and do the same thing,” he said. “The Groton area could go to Providence, Rhode Island. We’re trying to work out the kinks for everybody, so they can see where we’ve been successful — as well as less-than-successful — and learn from it.”