Last Saturday morning a town bus rumbled through Southington’s main business centers, weaving its way through industrial parks, back roads, and local companies off the beaten path. Southington’s economic development director Lou Perillo III perched himself on the front seat like a tour director, pointing out businesses to wide-eyed tourists (actually, a hearty group of town officials offering insight and asking questions to punctuate Perillo’s presentation).
Every year, the economic development office sponsors this tour through Southington’s business communities, while town leaders discuss strategies, concerns, solutions, and problems that they face on their various boards. Last week’s ice storm forced the Committee of Chairs to cancel their meeting, but Southington’s representatives don’t get time off just because of the weather. In fact, much of their real preparation is done between meetings, between the headlines, in and out of the spotlight. This was one such moment.
As board members get ready to dig in their heels to debate all the tiny details and line items in the budget, it’s important to understand the numbers, the problems (long term and short term), and the range of solutions. The school budget has already been presented with a fairly typical increase. Soon, the Town Manager will present his budget, which he said is “conservative.” The talks will be heated on both sides as board members begin to pick at these budgets to hammer out the town’s course for the upcoming year.
Perillo’s tours, along with the annual downtown walks in Plantsville and Southington, are tools to help officials understand the big picture with the town’s revenue base as they get ready to make tough decisions on spending.
Last week’s Grand List announcement was good news. We hear that businesses are leaving the state, but Southington continues to grow, topping $4 billion in taxable property for the first time in history. Commuters on Queen Street and West Street aren’t surprised as businesses continue to pop up on those corridors, but an even bigger demonstration of Southington’s growth comes as you move off the main roads. Industrial lots that stood empty just a few years ago have sprung up with new construction. Gleaming buildings dot these almost invisible industrial parks, and long abandoned properties are filling with new jobs and opportunities.
Executive Boulevard, once a desolate ghost town, has exploded into a vibrant commercial center, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The long vacant Pratt & Whitney buildings are springing to life with hundreds of new jobs. West Street is seeing planned expansion that should help it to have a unique personality by design. Town Line Road is peppered with new buildings, and there’s hardly any property left off West Queen Street where—just a few years ago—officials talked about untapped potential. The site of the former landfill—once thought to be unusable—is bustling with a working food-to-energy plant that teams with a fleet of vehicles that’s providing taxes to the community and electricity to the grid.
The biggest takeaway from Perillo’s tour is that Southington is nearing capacity for industrial and commercial growth. That’s good news for residents as the town enters this new era of financial challenges, but it’s also worrisome for those expecting continued growth to absorb increases in spending. It was good to see our Town Councilors, municipal officials, Planning and Zoning Commission members, and Board of Finance members—from both parties—asking questions and sharing their own experiences. It left us with a feeling that the town is in good hands.
To comment on this story or to contact Southington Observer editor John Goralski, email him at JGoralski@SouthingtonObserver.com.