Berlin holds networking event for economic development insight

Berlin holds networking event for economic development insight

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BERLIN — Attendees stressed healthy dining, recreation and walk-ability in the downtown region during “What's The Buzz” in Berlin, a networking event created to gauge what would interest young people looking to live in town.

"We'd like your thoughts on OK, we've got apartments, we've got a train station, what's next for us? We've got an opportunity here to create something in our town center we don't currently have," said Economic Development Director Chris Edge. The event was held at Shuttle Meadow Country Club on Nov. 13.

About a dozen residents and expatriates paired up with local business figures at tables labeled food and beverage, health and wellness, projects in town, and retail and amenities to discuss what kinds of new businesses could thrive in the newly named Kensington Village district and what is needed to support them.

The event was a partnership between the town and The Buzz, a program formed this year by the Community Foundation of Greater New Britain to get young people more involved in business and philanthropy.

Kaylah Smith, president of The Buzz and the foundation’s assistant director of development, said she attended with her fiance, who told her he’d be interested in moving to Berlin if the town was able to implement many of the ideas that flowed at the tables. By the end of the night, Edge was rolling up over a half dozen poster-sized sheets of paper filled with ideas.

“It shows the town is interested in learning what people want, whether it’s a rooftop bar or better and clearer bike lanes,” Smith said.

Hearing what residents would like to see is important to the foundation as well, since the insight can help guide the foundation’s grant-awarding process when considering funding economic development projects in town. She noted that it had recently provided a grant to help run the contest to name the downtown district, christening it the Kensington Village.

Much of Wednesday’s event focused on the impact Steele Center at Farmington Ave. will have on the downtown region. Plans for the development call for five mixed-use buildings with 8,400 square feet of retail space, 10,800 square feet of office or medical area and 76 market rate apartments on vacant, town-owned land at the former sites of Pioneer Precision Products and Kensington Furniture.

Tony Valenti, co-principal of Newport Realty — the developer behind the project, said they want to work with residents and local businesses to find commercial tenants that fit the area.

"We don't want Starbucks, we don't want Dunkin’ Donuts, we want a cool mom and pop to go there to service all of the development and the local community too," he said.

Kristen Yousef, of Yousef Tae Kwon Do, said she was excited to see how interested attendees were in healthy living. One proposal she is interested in pursuing for her own business was linking with town departments like Parks and Recreation for activities, especially if they can be held outdoors.

She was also glad to see how many millennials that grew up in Berlin but live elsewhere came back to their hometown to give feedback. “It means they’re interested in coming back,” she said.
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