OIB asked one of the city’s preeminent policy wonks Jeff Kohut for his take on what he would do were he city development chief. Grab a cup of joe and check it out.
Bridgeport has been in governmental/administrative and socioeconomic decline for the better part of six decades. There are many reasons for Bridgeport’s decline, some Bridgeport-based, but most wrought by forces not based in Bridgeport. This life-long Bridgeport resident has witnessed most of this decline, as well as many failed Bridgeport-based efforts to reverse our negative momentum. I have written and commented extensively on various aspects of Bridgeport’s decline, failed revitalization efforts, and what might be done to re-establish Bridgeport’s municipal and socioeconomic health and regional preeminence.
It was recently requested by Only In Bridgeport that I present a plan to accomplish a Bridgeport renaissance from the perspective of being Director of Economic Development of the city. In this context, I present the five-part plan below, in terms of serving as the conductor of an “economic development symphony” composed of sections consisting of City Hall, the state (including the DECD and Governor’s Office), the federal government (including the Commerce Department and White House economic development staff), the Connecticut/regional business community, and perhaps most importantly, the academic community from the regional colleges and universities (with the emphasis on representation from their science/technology, engineering and business departments).
As indicated above, there are five basic components of my overall plan of economic revitalization for Bridgeport, which if designed, facilitated, and executed through a cooperative effort involving City Hall and the state and federal government, by way of the enlistment of the creative expertise of the regional universities and business community in conjunction with the participation of relevant capitalists and entrepreneurs (accessed via university and business community networks), will be capable of resulting in the reestablishment of a robust, stable Bridgeport economy and viable municipal government. Herewith the basics of the five-step “Bridgeport Renaissance Plan:”
I. ASCERTAIN OUR STATUS. Determine where we are now in terms of our socioeconomic and fiscal conditions.
· Undertake an exhaustive analysis of the city’s fiscal condition in order to determine long- and short-term liabilities and the current capacity to maintain solvency without any reduction in essential services or the ability to maintain necessary infrastructure capacity.
· Compile relevant demographics in terms of the socioeconomic health of the city (poverty/near-poverty, unemployment/underemployment, education/literacy levels, etc.). (Request participation of the state, federal government, et al. in this regard.)
II. CREATE A BASIC MUNICIPAL “VISION” FOR BRIDGEPORT. Determine an “ideal” municipal/socioeconomic standard for the city. (Determine where we want to be. Create an overall set of municipal goals, with timeframes and basic, general benchmarks with respect to specific time periods.)
Undertake an analysis of the (desirable/acceptable) tax rate range and associated grand list/tax base value that would provide Bridgeport with the budgetary means for a world-class public school system, as well as world-class services and municipal infrastructure, in the context of living-wage, full-employment in Bridgeport-based jobs for Bridgeport residents. (This is not a terribly difficult task in and of itself, all that needs to be done is to find a successful city of comparable size to Bridgeport and work from the relevant stats of that city. We can work upscale from there, if we choose. Economic development would be planned in this context in terms of full utilization of the local workforce at living-wage jobs. For simplicity’s sake, we can work from a local example, initially using Stamford, CT as the model for our calculations, extrapolating/”tweaking” from there to conform to our unique needs/goals. I performed such calculations in 2011 and determined Bridgeport would need in the neighborhood of $13 billion in additional, taxable grand list, at a tax rate of 30 mils, in order to have municipal services comparable to Stamford.)
III. IDENTIFY, INVENTORY, AND LEVERAGE OUR ASSETS: Determine the “tools” available to us for the achievement of our municipal ideal (our municipal vision/goals).
· Inventory Bridgeport’s resources/assets and determine how they can best be utilized/exploited. When we undertake this inventory, we will see, among other things, we have
· Political Power–A 100,000-strong political lobbying force, the Bridgeport electorate
· Land–Bridgeport has square miles of available industrial land, served by pre-existing sanitary, energy and transportation infrastructure
· Labor–A large, trainable, locally housed workforce that currently serves as the labor base for the regional economy
· Healthcare Services–Modern, sophisticated, state-of-the-art regional healthcare capacity, including two of the 100-best hospitals/regional trauma centers in the country
· Transportation Infrastructure/Potential–Enviable transportation infrastructure capacity/potential capacity, including: passenger rail service to regional/national transportation hubs; excellent inter- and intra-state highway access for all levels of freight and passenger transport; water-borne (ocean/river) passenger and freight-shipping capacity of very high potential; air transportation capacity (with great passenger/freight-shipping potential, via innovative helicopter/vertical-lift airship usage); potential for tram, trolley, bus, pedestrian mass employment situations. (Most notably, Bridgeport has the option to greatly expand its water transportation/freight shipment capacity to accommodate all such possible transportation needs, via harbor/river dredging/improvements and creation of a harbor rail spur for rail-freight shipment.)
· Power/energy Infrastructure–Bridgeport hosts the regional, electric energy generation/supply infrastructure and therefore has a usable, abundant supply of electric power for all conceivable residential, commercial and industrial uses required for the achievement of our renaissance goals.
· Technology Development/Advanced Manufacturing Development–Access to world class, regional/local universities that host cutting-edge science, engineering, business, medical and legal/humanities programs (Bridgeport-based, as well as others within a 25-mile radius of Bridgeport (e.g., UB, FU, SHU, Quinnipiac, Yale, UCONN branches).
· Location–Advantageous geographic location, in terms of moderate weather, access to manufactured-products/special-services markets, transportation hub access/negotiable terrain, financial/capital markets access, workforce/labor market access, etc.
Determine how best to enlist our assets in the achievement of our municipal ideal. E.g., how do we want to use our political power to leverage the utility of government in exploiting our assets in terms of the achievement of our municipal/socioeconomic ideal?
We would probably need to determine goals/specifics in terms of the definition/description of the new, Bridgeport tax base/grand list. Toward this latter end, we would want to target economic development sectors that marry the greatest taxable grand-list value to the greatest number of living-wage jobs. The short list of these (interrelated) sectors would be
· Advanced Manufacturing–especially in regard to the manufacture of equipment/components/materials related to extant, regional manufacturing sectors (e.g., machine tools, aerospace, digital control systems) as well as sectors that could be developed in partnership with the science technology/engineering departments of area universities
· Biotechnology–especially in regard to the production of equipment/materials used in the manufacture/processing/handling/administration of bio-active materials/biohazardous materials (e.g., biocontainment-related materials and equipment, such as hazmat-type clothing/containers).
· Shipping/Storage–shipping/storage operations for raw materials/finished products with respect to I and II above.
· Hospitality–Accommodations for commercial and business travel related to the aforementioned industries.
· Retail/Services/Construction–The gamut of retail, services, and construction-trades operations required to sustain all aspects of life of a prosperous workforce
· Arts and Entertainment–Leisure/educational opportunities for the local/regional population/workforce
· Financial–money management/capital markets institutions (e.g., savings banks, commercial lenders)
In order to initiate and support the massive scale effort implicit in the attainment of an indicated Bridgeport “municipal ideal,” the first measure that would need to be taken by City Hall would be the enlistment of the participation/resonance of the Bridgeport electorate in asserting the political will to leverage state and federal participation in all aspects/stages of the “renaissance process.” In this regard, Washington and Hartford would need to be made to appreciate the value of Bridgeport votes to the extent such that things as public-safety improvements, massive brownfields remediation, and Bridgeport Harbor/shipping channel dredging would be funded and implemented in a timely, “front burner” manner. (In this vein, harnessing our political power would probably be the first step in utilizing our other assets toward our renaissance. Assuming the accomplishment of this first step, the enlistment of our other assets would follow a fairly simple, logical process.)
IV. GOVERNMENTAL REFORM: In the context of Bridgeport municipal renaissance efforts, create indicated City Charter amendments/administrative reform to ensure the establishment of the necessary partnerships/participation needed to create and sustain renaissance efforts and momentum over the short- and long-term (to extent of the maintenance of the “municipal ideal,” once achieved).
V. UB–THE ANCHOR INSTITUTION: As part and parcel of the Bridgeport renaissance initiative, create a permanent University of Bridgeport-based think tank/brain trust for the purpose of pursuing/resonating with the renaissance initiative and attainment of the renaissance goals, and as importantly, in securing/preserving the benefits for posterity. In this regard, UB should be enlisted to participate in the renaissance process by way of focusing the assets/expertise of existing UB programs in pursuing Bridgeport renaissance goals as well as through the creation of special areas of accredited study to address relevant, renaissance goal needs, such as urban economic development/urban economy design, environmental remediation/land re-use, workforce education/workforce development, et al. Toward these ends, the University would be encouraged to develop special major areas of study/degrees, such as Land Re-use Engineering, Urban Economy Design and Development, and Workforce Design/Development. These programs could be cultivated from the expansion of existing programs as well as the introduction of new programs in existing departments. The new programs could be utilized within a UB-based Institute of Urban Political Economy with a mission of creating and preserving urban prosperity.
I submit the above “plan” as a means of stimulating the current Bridgeport City Hall Administration to reach out to the Bridgeport electorate, in earnest, for the purpose of resonating politically with the administration in enlisting the support and participation of the state and federal government in working with regional academia and the regional business community in creating a real plan, and taking real steps to give wings to the great Bridgeport Phoenix waiting to rise from our smoldering ashes.