After serving 10 years on Greenburgh, N.Y.’s Department of Community Development and Conservation as deputy commissioner and commissioner, Thomas Madden assumes the role of Stamford’s economic development director in July. The Fairfield County Business Journal asked him about his goals and expectations.
You are stepping into a city that has seen tremendous growth. Which is more important: maintaining current momentum or striking out boldly for new developments?
Madden: “It is a combination of both. You need to make sure that Stamford’s existing economic base remains strong and diverse while looking for companies and development opportunities that will help enhance and strengthen this base. It is important to make sure that each development works as a puzzle piece that fits into the future of Stamford’s picture.”
Stamford has been a leader in mixed-use and mixed-income development. Do you see Stamford as a national model? How does Stamford accomplish what other cities fail to do?
“Stamford is a national model when it comes to mixed-use and mixed-income development. The 2002 Master Plan laid the foundation for transit-oriented development around the train station. This has been key in developing the ‘Work, Live, Play’ environment you are seeing around the downtown and South end areas. Another aspect of this has been Stamford’s ability to create a ‘Complete Community’ in the rest of the city. This is where the city has improved walkability, proximity to services and jobs/housing balance in areas where there is reduced access to mass transit.
“Many communities have been afraid to increase the density of development where it makes sense and have been paralyzed by fear of change. Stamford has made some bold moves in the past to make it the leader in the region today.”
What specific goals do you bring to the office on day No. 1? And how do you intend to implement these goals? Who do you plan to collaborate with?
“One of the most important goals will be diversifying the local economy through the development of the right business mix that makes Stamford attractive on a regional and national scale. This includes having the right mix of business and residential development along with increased recreational opportunities. Using Stamford’s resources as assets is important in growing the assessment role, which will help to stabilize and lower taxes for Stamford residents.
“I am looking forward to working with Mayor David Martin on his vision for the community, as well as Gov. Malloy and Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development on Stamford’s place in the state. Also, partnering locally with the Business Council of Fairfield County, Urban Land Institute, Stamford’s Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Special Services District to make Stamford even better.
“I am excited that Mayor Martin has retained Robin Stein to be part of the economic development team. He is a great guy to work with that has wealth of knowledge on the city and state.”
Green initiatives are popular today. They are not always the cheapest solution. Do you see them as critical to development?
“Implementing green initiatives is imperative in new development. Green solutions lower the overall impact on city services such as solid waste, water and sewer usage and lead to potential job creation. The return on investment timeframe has started to drop dramatically, where it make sense to have these features incorporated into new construction from the start.
“For example, we found in New York that the annual estimated energy expenditure was $60.50 billion in 2010. About half those dollars ($30 billion) left the state. For the mid-Hudson region, this export expense was about $3.36 billion for 2010. Reducing the amount of energy the mid-Hudson region imports by just 3 percent would leave an additional $100 million per year in the region’s economy. This is a huge economic stimulus that could help drive the economy.
“In terms of retrofits for sustainability, Jay Black at SL Green has done a great job in make SL Green’s office building portfolio become more sustainable and has saved the company a lot of money. I was just in One Landmark Square looking at the improvements there. I want to make sure that all of the buildings in Stamford are taking advantage of the sustainability programs that are available out there.”
Stamford has a UConn campus. We hear tales of so-called “brain drain” to other states. What can you do to stanch the flow of talented students to other regions?
“The key to stem the brain drain of the area is to develop a strong partnership program between the universities and our companies.
“It is important to develop and expand R&D facilities and the development of laboratory incubators for businesses that offer top-performing science and engineering students a place to practice. Another aspect is to create workforce training space and courses designed in partnership with local companies to ensure there is an enriched workforce.
“The city of Stamford’s school district also plays an important part in reducing the impacts of brain drain from the area by developing the infrastructure for a “cradle to career” economy by partnering with the universities and businesses on course development and internships.”
Urban amenities are now seen as desirable to young, sometimes no-car, professionals. These walking-friendly amenities also work for seniors. Is Stamford on the edge of the fewer-cars society?
“I believe Stamford is on the cutting edge of this philosophy in the Northeast. There will always be a need to plan for a car culture, but successful cities reduce the need and dependence to have a car by creating small neighborhood villages or nodes that have enough density to support the smaller and larger businesses that locate there. Stamford’s Master Plan will play an important role in creating these future nodes.”
What would you like to see the city resemble in 50 years?
“A sustainable city that is a regional and national leader with an economy that includes local, national and international commerce, while supporting growth that addresses the needs of all economic, social and age groups as well as for future generations.”
What is the best piece of advice you’ve received?
“As I was heading off to university, my father took me aside and told me that the people who get the furthest in life are the ones that listen first then speak second.”