Economic development has support of the people
If past is prologue, this region has the capacity to grow and thrive, leading the way for our state and our families. But that is not assured, and it is not what we oftentimes hear from the loudest voices or see in the boldest headlines across our local communities.
Instinct and anecdotal evidence suggested support for continued economic development and growth is not only present, but strong. What has been missing is the data to provide clear and convincing evidence that those advocating for continued economic expansion are not only on the right track, but have popular support.
So, hopeful about the results of undertaking a comprehensive public opinion survey, but uncertain about what the results would indicate, we moved forward.
What we learned was that not only were our instincts accurate, but if anything we underestimated the degree to which residents throughout Fairfield County are convinced there is meaningful value to the entire community for growth done right, and it is the best path forward for the region, its residents and its businesses.
Solid majorities — in some instances exceeding 90 percent — were clear about priorities that ought to be present in future initiatives. It is important, people responded, that plans and proposals should be designed to strengthen small businesses, to create local jobs with livable wages, to create more affordable places to live, to generate revenue for communities, to make downtown areas more walkable, livable and green, and support renewable energy and a clean environment, and reduce the gap between the rich and poor.
That is a broad menu for progress, reflecting the public view that substantive initiatives can bring an array of tangible benefits for residents of the region.
When asked, for example, if investing in development that supports more good paying jobs, beautifies downtown and offers more cultural experiences will make our area a more attractive place for young professionals to live and work and will make us more competitive for new employers, nearly eight in 10 were convinced that, yes, that’s the way to go.
A nearly equal number were similarly convinced that investing in development is the best way to create more opportunities for local small business and create good paying jobs here after COVID-19. Beyond the jobs themselves, certainly of paramount importance, that generates more tax revenue which is invested back in our communities in the form of improved infrastruture, safer neighborhoods and better schools.
There is broad satisfaction — although room for additional growth — regarding economic opportunity in the region, with 58 percent rating the current status as good or excellent. When asked about access to good paying jobs, the level of satisfaction is somewhat higher, at 60 percent. Strong majorities also rate access to public transportation options, access to parks and green spaces, and public safety, as good or excellent.
At the same time, more than seven in 10 expressed the view that the cost of housing is “not so good,” which reaffirms the public interest in future development that will create more affordable places to live and local jobs with livable wages.
The public is clear — and consistent — about its priorities and the benefits that will accrue if that path is pursued. Concerns understandably rise if the perceived benefits disproportionately fall elsewhere. There is no doubt, however, based on the data, that economic growth reflecting what the public views as unequivocal benefits will have broad and deep support — and that the public places high value in the results.
For naysayers, or fear-mongers, that’s not good news. However, for those advocating for a future of smart growth, of carefully and thoughtfully developing ways and means to improve our quality of life and economic vibrancy, it is an affirmation upon which steady and incremental progress can be made. And then some.
Stamford resident Josh Fedeli is president and founder of Catalyst for Connecticut, which commissioned survey research company Change Research. The firm conducted a poll of 611 registered voters between June 30 and July 3, across Connecticut’s Fourth Congressional District.