Erin K. Flynn is the new president and CEO of The Business Council of Fairfield County, succeeding Chris Bruhl, who held that position for 30 years.
Bruhl, 72, is retiring at the end of January.
“A lot of the focus areas of the business council are the same ones where I have extensive experience,” Flynn said from her current home in Portland, Oregon. “Workforce development, transportation, urban redevelopment — they’re all in my wheelhouse.”
Flynn’s experience in economic and community development includes four years as urban development director at the Portland Development Commission; seven years as associate vice president, strategic partnerships at Portland State University; four years as board chair of the Oregon Innovation Council; and, most recently, founding board chair and interim executive director of the two-year-old Portland Innovation Quadrant.
The latter is a public-private partnership aimed at growing Portland and Oregon’s innovation economy. It is considered a key component of the city of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan, designed to guide how and where land is developed and infrastructure projects are built to prepare for and respond to population and job growth.
Prior to Portland, Flynn spent a decade working as a national consultant and was vice president of FutureWorks, a consulting firm based in Boston. At FutureWorks she served clients throughout the nation with a particular focus on the role of business-civic leadership organizations in regional growth and development.
Despite her fondness for Portland, which she called “a wonderful place to live — everybody loves Portland” — Flynn said she was ready for a return to the East Coast where she’d spent 20 years.
“I was ready for a new opportunity,” she said. “I’m really proud of the work I’ve done here, but I think the East Coast is more simpatico for me intellectually.”
Darrell Harvey, co-chair of the business council’s search committee and co-CEO of The Ashforth Co., said the process of transitioning from Bruhl had begun last summer.
Harvey said Flynn’s name had come up during the process by both an independent consultant and management consulting firm Korn Ferry. Her experience, as well as her familiarity with the Northeast, made her a top choice, he said.
Harvey estimated that the business council’s initial round of interviews involved about 35 candidates from around the country.
Having met with Bruhl several times during the interview process, Flynn said she “know(s) I’m stepping into some big shoes. We will be working together through February as he transitions a lot of his knowledge to me. I’ve gotten a sense from everybody I’ve met that they’re excited to have a new leader come in.”
Flynn mentioned addressing the “high inequality that exists in Fairfield County. You have some pretty extreme conditions within the county, from Greenwich to Bridgeport. That’s not good for social dynamics and economic growth.”
She added, “I’d like to see the prosperity that characterizes Fairfield County as the driver of the state’s economy to extend to the rest of the state.”
She added that, prior to the interviewing process, she had not been aware of the state’s lackluster economic and jobs growth.
Flynn also commented on the upending of long-held patterns of young people wanting to work in New York City.
“How we can urbanize Fairfield County and make it an attractive place for millennials is a very real issue,” she said. “I know it’s happening in Stamford, but we need to see if we can capture more of the next generation’s talent base in places like Norwalk and Bridgeport as well.”
Flynn said she would probably live in temporary housing here while her husband tends to the needs of their two sons, both in their early 20s.
“I still need to get to know the area — there are so many beautiful towns,” she said. “But it will probably be a year before we end up buying a house.”