By: Paul Schott
The development of the Harbor Point mixed-use complex in Stamford’s South End reflects the growth of the city’s residential base in recent years.
Stamford ranks seventh among small American cities in economic growth, according to a report released this week by a division of the Financial Times.
In addition to its No. 7 overall position among some 200 cities with populations between 100,000 and 350,000, Stamford placed second among small cities for connectivity and ninth for economic potential. The 2017-18 standings for the American Cities of the Future from the Financial Times’ FDI unit, which studies foreign direct investment, also evaluated cities’ business friendliness, human capital and lifestyle and cost effectiveness.
“This is really good news for Stamford,” said Joe McGee, vice president of public policy for The Business Council of Fairfield County. “This index is closely watched by people who look at the hot places to invest, and clearly Stamford is one of those places. That connection to New York is really advantageous to Stamford.”
In the past few months, a number of companies including Henkel, Octagon Sports and PartnerRe have announced plans to open large offices in Stamford. As the largest relocation in that group, Henkel intends to start with 266 employees at 200 Elm St. and expand to about 500 by 2018. Those upcoming arrivals “reinforce the rankings and represent the continued commitment to improve Stamford as a business-ready and business-friendly city on a national level,” said Thomas Madden, Stamford’s economic development director. But the city faces vulnerability in some sectors, including financial services. Royal Bank of Scotland has laid off some 570 Stamford-based employees since the beginning of 2015.
To spur further growth, city and nonprofit leaders plan to establish an innovation district covering much of the downtown and South End. Creating super-fast public internet service would comprise a key feature of the innovation zone. “The good news is that the infrastructure is here — though many of the buildings in the city can’t access these faster networks because the ‘last mile’ connectivity is not there for the older buildings,” said Gordon Baird, founder and CEO of G.A. Baird & Co., a Stamford investment and technology company. “This will require the building owners to make additional investments for tenants to be able to benefit from the resource.”
Stamford’s economic power correlates with its population growth. It ranks No. 3 among Connecticut cities, with a population of nearly 130,000. Apartment developments have driven the residential increase. In the Harbor Point complex in the South End, some 2,360 apartments have been built, with another 2,400 planned. Sunnyvale, Calif. ranked No. 1 overall in the American Cities of the Future’s small cities category, followed by Irvine, Calif., Fremont, Calif., Bellevue, Wash., Ann Arbor, Mich., and Fort Lauderdale, Fla. Jersey City, N.J. took the No. 1 spot among small cities for connectivity. “I think Stamford can be more than it is today, but it needs to take a hard look at these other cities,” Baird said. “What are they doing better than we are? We should learn and then adopt what makes sense to us.”