Needed help for Torrington?

It has been almost 16 years since I took over as president and CEO of the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. We are guided by our mission, “to promote economic growth while enhancing the quality of life in Northwest Connecticut.” One of the goals is to increase the awareness of the economic, educational, cultural and civic opportunities available within the region.

Since our Chamber includes 21 towns in this beautiful corner of Connecticut, it makes perfect sense to keep you informed about some of the important initiatives we have embarked upon with a number of collaborators. It is a privilege and honor to have the opportunity to accomplish this through The Lakeville Journal.

One project that deserves your attention is the Working Cities Challenge Connecticut, a groundbreaking effort led by the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston to support community leaders in smaller postindustrial cities. The Working Cities Challenge was created as a new model focused on collaborative leadership and was successful in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Connecticut has been selected as the third site. 

It is designed to lead smaller cities through a process that builds cross-sector collaboration and civic engagement to solve issues impacting the lives of lower income residents. It also encourages leaders from the public, private and nonprofit sectors to agree upon a complex challenge, define its root cause, and then create a solution that will impact communities as they work through the challenge.

Torrington was among the original 16 cities and towns selected in Connecticut as a candidate for a Design Grant to support a team within the community to delve into the many issues we all face in order to understand the economic impact. The Chamber is very proud to serve as the co-lead with the City of Torrington headed by Mayor Elinor Carbone and Erin Wilson, Torrington’s Economic Development Director.

Fifty-plus stakeholders representing 30 organizations and/or businesses have been meeting since last fall to develop a collective understanding of the many challenges that exist. We are slowly and deliberately narrowing it down and uncovering many interesting and important details. In February, some of the team met in Hartford with a panel of experts from the Boston Federal Reserve to present our case. We had uncovered facts and statistics that revealed a little-known secret about Torrington: We are the only “Micropolitan” area in Connecticut and among the top three in the United States.

This means that Torrington contains an urban core of at least 10,000 people but less than 50,000, serving a population of over 180,000 residents. This important distinction set Torrington apart from the rest of Connecticut. Fortunately, we were one of the final 10 chosen to continue the process.

We are a distressed municipality. Like many municipalities, the loss of millennials continues to be a struggle. Torrington faces significant challenges in accommodating local and regional needs. Combined with an aging population, declining student enrollment and loss of millennials, demographic challenges strain our tax base and our ability to provide services, therefore increasing the cost of living.

The key element that rose to the top: the “sense of community” among the strong team of leaders engaged in the challenge. We are working tirelessly to prepare for the Implementation Grant due in late fall that will certainly have a positive impact on the entire region. We will be reaching out to you for your involvement and ideas. There is much more to follow, so please stay tuned.

JoAnn Ryan is president and CEO of the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce. You can reach her by email: joann@nwctchamberofcommerce.org or phone: 860-482-6586.