At Makery Coworking, we are passionate about fostering startup activity and attracting more entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial ventures to the Greater New Milford region.
As the New Milford Mayoral election approached, I decided to ask Makery Coworking members to submit questions related to entrepreneurism and startup culture that they would like to hear the candidates answer. Both Mayor Gronbach and Councilman Bass quickly agreed to participate and provided written responses to eight questions.
The answers below are unedited. We alternated the order of the responses to avoid any bias. We offer no commentary nor will make any endorsement. We simply wanted to hear each candidate's perspective on issues important to us and our community.
On behalf of all Makery Coworking members, I want to thank Mayor Gronbach and Councilman Bass for taking the time to share their thoughtful responses. Thank you!
Makery Coworking (MC): What direct small business and/or entrepreneurial experience do you possess that is relevant for fostering more entrepreneurism and innovation in New Milford?
Mayor Gronbach: My father and grandfather owned a small family business, Gronbach Cabinets. I grew up working with them and experiencing the ups and downs that come with ownership.
As an adult, I have been the co-owner of two local businesses, the Bank Street Book Nook and Gronbach Law Offices. With this background, I know the challenges facing local businesses.
I have made advocating for them and making it easier for them to operate a central theme of my Administration.
Councilman Bass: I started my first business at eighteen working out of the trunk of my car. From that, I grew my sales which offered me the opportunity to own a number of small businesses locally, both in distribution and retail. I was one of the founders and a board member of the New Milford Economic Development Corporation, served on the Economic Development Commission and have served on many Town boards and Commissions. I was also Chairman of the New Milford Downtown Business Alliance.
My small business ownership experience allowed me the opportunity of experiencing the trials and tribulations that startups, innovators and entrepreneurs face as they work towards making their ideas a reality. By utilizing my experiences as a business owner, I will be able to constructively improve our various economic development tools in New Milford to provide the greatest chance for success of entrepreneurs who are the future of New Milford.
MC: The State of Connecticut seems more inclined to make investments in the startup communities of urban markets than rural towns. As Mayor, what do you plan to do to attract more startups and entrepreneurs to New Milford?
Pete Bass: Based on the grants awarded by the State this certainly appears so. As your Mayor I will take the direct lead role in attracting more startup and entrepreneurial business in New Milford. First, I will ensure that startups and entrepreneurs know that New Milford wants them. This starts with simplifying and streamlining our permit process so that they have a clear understanding of how to begin their business quickly and efficiently. If an issue arises, they will have a direct point of contact in my office so that it may be dealt with immediately. I will also demonstrate that New Milford offers one of the best environments in New England to offer innovation through our streamlined permitting, cultural resources, downtown and active and passive recreational resources.
Mayor Gronbach: Many entrepreneurs already live in New Milford and the surrounding Towns. Our Downtown is primed to be a hub for start-ups with available office space, infrastructure, and access to financial capital. Expanding passenger rail to New Milford is also a central theme to attract new business and people to New Milford.
Over the past two years, we have attracted the State’s attention to New Milford by having the DECD and CERC come to Town to actually see what we have been doing and talk to the people doing it. I supported the grant application to create incubator space. My Administration worked to have the Town included in WESTCOG’s economic development plan that was submitted to the State. By being an active advocate in the State’s Economic Development Plans and investing in quality of life improvements, like Bike and Walking Trails, housing in walking distance to Downtown, and passenger rail, we will continue to attract startups and entrepreneurs.
MC: Entrepreneurs require capital to start and scale businesses. How will your administration help attract more capital for our town’s small businesses?
Mayor Gronbach: The State has programs that provide capital for start-ups. Our Economic Development Director has been holding meetings in Town with the State Small Business Development Center that helps to connect small businesses to capital. We also will continue to work with DECD on access to the manufacturing innovation fund, which also provides capital for manufacturing businesses. But we don’t just refer people; our Economic Development Director is involved in helping with the applications and getting necessary information.
I also have connections with local banks and using the Chamber of Commerce to help businesses access the capital they need to get started or expand.
Councilman Bass: One of the first things I will do as Mayor is to reestablish the Economic Development Corporation decommissioned by the current administration. The Corporation will provide micro-lending, small business loans, facade improvement grants, mentoring and training all for the benefit of New Milford's small business community. We will partner with Federal and State government officials alongside with a greater partnership with HEVCO all with the goal of attracting more grants and low-interest loans. Also, through the Community Reinvestment Act we will work with our local Community banks to ensure that their requirement to invest in local Communities is made and is made in our Town.
Annually, we will have an “open for business” forum highlighting New Milford businesses along with Town and business stakeholders. We will invite business leaders from Litchfield County, Fairfield County, Westchester County, and New York City to demonstrate why New Milford should be their destination for expansion or the blossoming of their latest idea.
MC: What town-infrastructure investments will be priorities for your administration?
Councilman Bass: First, I will actively work towards bringing Commuter Rail back to New Milford. Second, I will work towards improving the roads along our commercial and industrial corridor. I will also promote our existing passive and active recreational infrastructure that already exists but is unknown and greatly underutilized.
Mayor Gronbach: Traffic and lack of public transportation are some the biggest inhibitors to attracting new business. I am already working on the restoration of passenger rail to New Milford and will continue to do so in my next term. In addition, we have been working with the State to develop a plan to add a third lane to Veteran’s Bridge, continuing the promise that Super 7 was supposed to offer. We are also developing a 10 year plan to touch every road and bridge in New Milford, with funding options, so that we proactively address wear and tear, as opposed to reacting to the worst conditions. The Library Modernization, with its additional space, computer terminals, and access to information will be a hub for intellectual capital in our Town.
Developing Century Brass, moving Public Works and other industrial businesses off of the River, and attracting renewable energy to the site is also an emphasis. Developing the Public Works property with some mixed use or anchor like higher education or hospital expansion would connect our Downtown with the waterfront.
Apartments and density housing within walking distance of the Downtown are also important initiatives we will continue to promote.
MC: What is your position on tax abatement programs with respect to attracting new businesses to New Milford?
Mayor Gronbach: Tax abatement programs are a tool to attract business to Town. However, they must be tied to tangible and enforceable benchmarks that ensure the economic benefits inure to New Milford. The MedInstill abatement is an example of how not to offer tax breaks without some guaranty of either job creation or other tangible economic benefit coming to the Town. In contrast, the Candlewood Mountain Solar PILOT Agreement required that the work done on the project be performed by New Milford contractors and workers. Any tax abatement offered to a new business will be tied to contractual guaranties of economic benefit.
Councilman Bass: I fully support abatements for startups and good-paying, job-producing companies that will improve our tax base. In fact, as a Town Council member I helped craft and voted in favor of New Milford's current Tax Abatement Ordinance.
Together, my office will work with new businesses to demonstrate to the Town Council and the taxpayers at large that by working cooperatively together we can assist businesses while they are getting their business off the ground in return for increasing our tax base significantly as they prosper and grow from the initial investment that New Milford provided to them.
MC: Why should entrepreneurs choose to locate their business in New Milford?
Councilman Bass: New Milford should be chosen as we will be a business friendly community combined with a quality of life unparalleled in the area. We are already a great place to raise a family, with good schools, numerous passive and recreation activities (see: http://newmilfordct.com/listing-category/outdoors-recreation/) and within driving distance to several metropolitan cities including New York.
Mayor Gronbach: Entrepreneurs will find a skilled workforce and a Town Government that is supportive of their efforts to conduct business, going so far as to scout space and help draft applications and permits. Our distinctive Downtown is a unique place to work, with natural beauty, interesting shops and dining, and a creative vibe that spurs connections. Geographically, we are within range of larger urban hubs like Danbury, White Plains, Stamford, and even NYC. Importantly, New Milford has Space to meet every need, from the small start-up looking for a co-working situation, to industrial space to make products. New Milford can accommodate almost any need and we are committed to do so.
MC: What is your favorite business book of all time, and why?
Mayor Gronbach: That’s Not How We Do It Here, by John Kotter, Holger Rathberger. Whether in business or in government, we need to be able to adapt to changing circumstances. This book laid out that imperative in stories about meerkat communities and the personalities and factors that lead to organizations adapting and thriving, or dying. When I became Mayor, “that’s not how we have done it before” became a constant refrain, and so I knew this book was talking about real world negative inertia that leads organizations to stagnate. The moral imperative to continue to challenge ourselves and adapt has been and will continue to be a driver of my Administration.
Councilman Bass: Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey. I like this book because it talks about principles and values and attaining goals by aligning yourself to what Mr. Covey calls the "true north of character ethics." These seven habits can guide any business person from a one-man home business to a fortune 500 company.
MC: Why are you the best candidate for New Milford entrepreneurs?
Councilman Bass: Because I am an entrepreneur. Having served New Milford in many government capacities over the last 25 years, and as a former business owner and Chairman of the downtown business alliance, I have seen first-hand the needs and wants from our business community from access to capital, to parking, to the permit process and others. I will be your advocate at the State and local level and in partnership with State Rep. Bill Buckbee, State Rep. Richard Smith and State Senator Craig Minor.
Most important, as an entrepreneur myself I have experienced firsthand both successes and failures. I know what it is to have no working capital, to have the feeling that success seems impossible and then overcome every obstacle possible to succeed.
Mayor Gronbach: My entire professional career has been about new beginnings, new opportunities, not just to work and make money, but to work, make money, and be happy. That is what entrepreneurs want and as Mayor, it my job to help them do that IN New Milford, not somewhere else.
I use all of the resources I can to help a new business get started and established in our Town. As an attorney, I am a trained advocate and as Mayor, I advocate for our Town to attract and keep the creative talent that will be the defining economic driver of the next 20 years.
I have the drive, passion, and most importantly, willingness to personally promote our Town to anyone looking to locate here. The personality and positive vibe of my Administration are part of the reason why people want to do business with us. I am asking for another two years, along with my Economic Development Director, to keep the momentum going.
Don't forget to vote on Tuesday, November 7th! For information about voting, please visit the town's Registrar of Voters Page.