Fairfield new business starts nearly doubled in 2022

FAIRFIELD — The number of businesses opening in Fairfield more than doubled last year compared to 2021, with officials saying business and development is going strong.

The town welcomed 75 new brick and mortar business including Isla & Co., Sally’s Apizza, Trek Bicycle, Evolution Gaming and Ryoma Coffee World, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said in her newsletter.

“Behind the scenes, the collaborative and productive work of our permitting departments assisting businesses throughout the process sends a message that Fairfield welcomes new businesses to our community,” she said. “Our local business’s success is Fairfield’s success, and as a town, we strive to assist in these efforts the best we can.”

In a newsletter at the end of 2021, Kupchick said more than 40 businesses had opened in town that year, including Aldi’s and Floor & Décor, which opened in the former Kohl’s location.

Mark Barnhart, the director of the Fairfield Office of Community and Economic Development, said the town has all of the key criteria a business looks for when deciding where to put a business, including available skilled labor, transportation infrastructure and quality of life.

“This summarizes what Fairfield has to offer,” he said. “The fundamentals of our local economy our quite sound.”

A number of large-scale developments have been completed in town last year, just as even more are approved or underway. 

In a recent Board of Finance meeting, Barnhart said Fairfield has high income demographics, strong financial management and a stable tax rate. All that aside, he said, the town is not an island and, like the rest of the country and the world, is experiencing some head winds. 

“Unemployment being at or near record lows, that’s a good thing,” he said. “But it’s also indicative of a tight labor market. We talk to a lot of businesses here and elsewhere. Many are continuing to have trouble finding workers, holding onto workers and the like. They are also… dealing with supply chain disruptions. Prices overall, across the board, are still much higher than where they were a year or two ago.”

Vacancy rates for offices are trending in a good direction, Barnhart said, adding Fairfield has among the lowest in the area. He said 2022 went really well for the town in terms of construction activity. 

“If you drive around town, you’ll see construction taking place,” he said. “We have medical office buildings being constructed across from the Hotel Hi-Ho, a new three-story mixed used building for a law office downtown, the veterinary hospital, Greenfield Hill Animal Hospitalm finally got approved.”

Barnhart noted that only 4.5 percent of land in Fairfield is zoned for commercial or industrial uses, but said it is highly productive and accounts for more than 12 percent of the grand list. 

“This shows we don’t have a lot, so obviously what we have to work with, we have to make efficient, good use of it,” he said. 

Kupchick touted the Crossings at Fairfield Metro, which broke ground last fall after it stalled for years, as a major victory in terms of development in town. She noted the finished project will have a hotel, 70,000 square feet of commercial office space, 40,000 square feet of retail space, and 357 new housing units, of which 20 percent will qualify as affordable housing. 

“This project is expected to generate over $4 million in net new taxes per year upon full build-out which will be a huge boost to our community’s tax base and to economic development,” she said. 

Construction started on one of the residential buildings at that site, which is the biggest piece of available land for development in town, Barnhart said.

Barnhart said some of the larger multi-family, mixed use developments do contribute significantly on a per acre yield basis to the town’s grand list. He noted that the former Exide Battery site was purchased in 2020 for $4.5 million and a developer is working on plans for that location, although he added officials were not impressed with the initial plans.

“We said, ‘You’re not really leveraging this site,'” he said. “To our earlier discussion, we don’t have a lot of these sites. We have to use them wisely.”

Barnhart said he is always optimistic about where Fairfield is going in terms of economic development, adding it trends tend to peak and valley. He said rising interests rates and the costs of materials make him think some of that will slow down.

“I think those that are currently in the hopper will move ahead,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to be bullish about here. It goes back to the fundamentals. The underlying fundamentals are so strong for Fairfield. We don’t have some of the issues that other communities in the state do. The things we can control are our own land use and permitting process.”




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