MERIDEN — Downtown business advocates invited investors to the Silver City Ballroom in hopes of selling them an opportunity.
”Everybody wants a downtown,” city Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said. “Meriden is a vibrant community but its downtown has not been.”
Burdelski was one of several speakers who addressed potential small business owners, investors and current landlords.
“There are a lot of opportunities for small business,” Burdelski said. “We’re looking for you to tell us how can we help you?
About 50 people attended the free entrepreneurial workshop on Thursday. It also included a networking event and walking tour of downtown, including commercial buildings, the Meriden Green and the new train station. The event was sponsored by the Making Meriden Business Center, the Midstate Chamber of Commerce and the Meriden Economic Development Corp.
David Kooris, deputy commissioner for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, moderated a panel discussion with young entrepreneurs Eric Francis, Star Childs and Evan Dobos.
Dobos is the founder of CivicLift, a community engagement app. The online platform delivers timely and relevant information and increases resident engagement, while offering small businesses a better way to reach potential customers. CivicLift is based in Torrington.
Childs is the founder of Citisense, based in New York City, which organizes information about neighborhoods, including storefront vacancy, sales, foot traffic, and more.
Eric Francis is the chief data officer and a co-founder of Trifecta Ecosytems, a hydroponics agricultural company located in a former warehouse at 290 Pratt St.
“Aquaponics was a constant of mine, it interests me,” Francis told the group. “So, I quit my job.”
Francis found a mentor who introduced him to his partners. The group visited several cities but felt most welcome in Meriden.
Kooris, who grew up in Stamford, is a frequent rail traveler. Each town and city along the line offers something different, he said.
“People will find their niches and function as part of a smaller community,” Kooris said. “You’ll start to evolve complementary assets. The rail line will allow you to stretch to get those assets. We have to view growth as an opportunity.”
Ross Gulino, who owns commercial and residential properties downtown, said more outside investment and state and local incentives are needed to fill storefronts. Most of his tenants come from outside the city.
“The residential apartments are sold out,” Gulino said. “The train is a fantastic opportunity, it’s making Meriden accessible. We need more of that and more and more young kids. Now we need people from the outside to come here, but they got to sweeten the pot.”