The number of new business starts in Fairfield almost doubled in 2022

FAIRFIELD — The number of businesses opening in Fairfield more than doubled last year compared to 2021, and officials say business and development are booming.

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

“Behind the scenes, the collaborative and productive work of our licensing departments to assist businesses throughout the process sends the message that Fairfield welcomes new businesses to our community,” she said. “The success of our local business is the success of Fairfield, and as a city we strive to assist in those efforts as best we can.”

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

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

“This sums up what Fairfield has to offer,” he said. “The fundamentals of our local economy are pretty good.”

A number of large projects were completed in the city last year, and even more have been approved or are underway.

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

“With unemployment at or near record lows, that’s a good thing,” he said. “But it also points to a tight labor market. We’re talking to a lot of businesses here and elsewhere. Many are still having trouble finding workers, keeping workers and things like that. They’re also … facing disruptions in the supply chain. In general, prices are still always much more than a year or two ago.”

Office vacancy rates are moving in a good direction, Barnhart said, adding that Fairfield is among the lowest in the area. He said 2022 was very good for the city in terms of construction activity.

“If you drive around town, you’ll see it being built,” he said. “We have medical office buildings being built across the street from the Hi-Ho Hotel, a new three-story mixed-use building for a law office downtown, a veterinary hospital, Greenfield Hill Animal Hospital finally got approval.”

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

“This shows that we don’t have a lot, so obviously what we have to work with we have to use effectively, well,” he said.

Kupchick touted the Crossings at Fairfield Metro, which went live last fall after being stalled for years, as a major development win for the city. She noted that the finished project will include a hotel, 70,000 square meters of commercial office space, 40,000 square meters of retail space and 357 new residential units, 20 percent of which will be affordable housing.

“This project is expected to generate more than $4 million in net new taxes annually upon full construction, which will be a major boost to our community’s tax base and economic development,” she said.

Construction has begun on one of the apartment buildings at the site, the largest piece of land available for development in the city, Barnhart said.

Barnhart said some of the larger multifamily, mixed-use projects contribute significantly to the city’s large inventory based on yield per acre. He noted that the former Exide Battery site was purchased in 2020 for $4.5 million and that a developer is working on plans for the site, though he added that officials were not impressed with the initial plans.

“We said, ‘You’re not really exploiting this site,'” he said. “For our earlier discussion, we don’t have many of these pages. We must use them wisely.”

Barnhart said he is always optimistic about where Fairfield is going in terms of economic development, adding that trends tend to peak and decline. He said rising interest rates and material costs make him think some of that will slow.

“I think the ones that are in the tank right now will move forward,” he said. “I think there’s a lot to like here. It goes back to the basics. The fundamentals are so strong for Fairfield. We don’t have some of the issues that other communities in the state have. The things we can control are our own land use and the permitting process.”

[email protected]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *