Brigdeport: Finding The Right Audience
New Haven Independent, August 2, 2019
By CCM Staff
What role do you think the City of Bridgeport plays in the economic vibrancy for the State of Connecticut? If the answer isn’t as one of the State’s entertainment and jobs hubs, then the city still has some work to do.
Joining us on this week’s episode of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities’ Municipal Voice is Aidee Nieves, the President of the Bridgeport City Council and Dan Onofrio, CEO of the Bridgeport Regional Business Council, both of whom agree that the city is on the right path, it’s just a matter of getting people to see that.
For both Nieves and Onofrio, there’s both a lot to celebrate and a lot of work to do.
One example they both spoke of was the PSEG power plant that had its official opening on July 29, attended by both guests, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim, Governor Ned Lamont and a host of PSEG officials.
With the PSEG Ready2Work program, they placed Bridgeport residents in a training path to get modern jobs in advanced manufacturing jobs. Nieves said that Bridgeport can’t be just about bringing jobs in, but about preparing residents for jobs that will make businesses want to locate there.
“It’s not just about college,” she says, alluding to the $90 million in funds that the state is providing to turn Bassick High School into an advanced manufacturing and career high school, creating a “synergy” between people and business through the local government.
Onofrio agreed saying that “manufacturing is changing, not only here, but throughout Connecticut,” but that there are great blueprints if you look around, citing companies like Sikorsky.
“All of these jobs are changing so rapidly,” he said, “We need to evolve.”
Long term, the plan is to get people back on to the harbor, what Nieves says is an emulation of Baltimore National Harbor, or as Onofrio says a “mix of live, work, play.”
“We are reinventing Bridgeport’s image as being entertainment friendly,” Nieves said, saying that it’s “about building up, we want a hotel, and a destination.”
Back from the dead back to top
While it appeared to be dead in session, behind the scenes work was being done to make a Bridgeport casino a reality, CTNewsJunkie reported as the podcast was on air.
“Lawmakers from different regions of the state who had previously been at odds over casino expansion have joined forces with the state’s two tribes to come up with a proposal to build a Bridgeport casino and three entertainment zones,” Christine Stuart reported.
The investment minimum from the two tribes would be $100 million, whereas the MGM proposal was offering $500 million.
Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, said the “legislation is a great example of what we can accomplish when we work together, regardless of our party affiliation or the chamber we serve.”
“By investing in our cities, we can create new destinations that will spur additional development and create not only jobs but also vibrant urban centers,” which was the sentiment of Nieves and Onofrio as well.
But the oft-discussed Casino isn’t a “magic pill” for the city. Rather it compliments Bridgeport’s goal of being the entertainment hub of Southern Connecticut. Along with the new amphitheater, boat docks, and renewal happening in the Steelpointe area, you have a fresh landscape on which to build.
It’s going to take a partnership though. From Onofrio’s side, it’s as simple as “if you build it, they will come.” But the good news stories and growth isn’t being shared as much as he wants it to, so he argues that BRBC will have to “continue to be the marketing engine for the region.”
And from Nieves side as the President of the Bridgeport City Council she has recognized that every project has an impact, that not everything is right for Bridgeport, and finding out what is means sitting down and having those conversations.
For her, as a second generation Bridgeport resident, it’s important that she be able to live where she works: “it’s affordable for me,” she says, and important to keep families in the city. But also that means looping people in from further down the coast and into Manhattan, maybe those who don’t realize how affordable Bridgeport really is.
Onofrio believes with the right message, the right marketing, you can even lure them into going the “opposite direction” and settling right in Bridgeport.
For both, Bridgeport has that mix. It’s just a matter of letting everybody know.