The town leaders of Wallingford and North Haven expressed a positive outlook for the economic future of their respective communities during virtual speeches Thursday.
The Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce hosts the annual State of the Town event, which is free to chamber members and in the past has taken place at a luncheon.
This year’s virtual event took place via Zoom and drew about 115 people, said Maribel Carrion, the chamber’s operations manager. Past in-person State of the Town events have drawn about 120 to 130 people.
Garrett Sheehan, president of the Quinnipiac and Greater New Haven chambers of commerce, facilitated the event, which also featured remarks from local business leaders and video interviews with local business owners.
Event sponsors included Masonicare, Ciulla & Donofrio, North Haven Funeral Home, Wallingford Buick, Allnex, TD Bank, Ulbrich Steel, One Source, Nucor Steel, Members First CT and Burns McDonnell.
Wallingford Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. and North Haven First Selectman Michael Freda focused their comments on how the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has shaped the current economic state of their respective towns.
Dickinson has delivered a State of the Town address annually since he became mayor of Wallingford in 1984. He did not appear on camera Thursday, calling into the event by phone.
In his remarks, Dickinson highlighted the work of the Wallingford Health Department in navigating the governor’s stream of executive orders and guidance around reopening, performing contact tracing and assisting the public schools and town departments so they could continue to operate.
The Health Department has held 17 vaccination clinics and inoculated 1,700 people so far, Dickinson said, while receiving only about 200 doses per week.
Vaccine clinics have been staffed by town employees — including health department staff, school nurses and firefighter/paramedics — and employees from Masonicare, Choate Rosemary Hall and Allnex.
Gaylord Hospital is allowing the town to store its vaccine doses in its refrigerators.Coming together
Dickinson also talked about how some Wallingford businesses and manufacturers have responded to the pandemic.
Lyons Upholstery Shop, 864 N. Colony Road, began producing thousands of face masks, distributing many to manufacturing companies to protect workers.
Sorrento Fine Woodwork, 340 Quinnipiac St., put cabinet-making on hold to create polycarbonate face shields and sneeze guards.
Allnex, an industrial supplier of resins and additives, produced hand sanitizer for internal use and distributed 500 additional gallons to town departments in Wallingford and North Haven and several community service organizations.
Ulbrich Steel started producing the metal parts for vaccination needles and for respirators.
In addition to the work of the manufacturers, Wallingford town departments worked in partnership with business to allow outdoor restaurant dining and retail operations to occur. The Public Works and Public Utilities departments worked to keep roads open and safe and the electric, water and sewer services operating.
“So much is still being done with all the issues surrounding, and uncertainty surrounding, the COVID,” Dickinson said. “The future is bright, so let’s continue all of our efforts.”Still ‘rock solid’
Freda is in his sixth term as North Haven first selectman and made his 12th consecutive State of the Town address Thursday.
He said that the past 14 months in North Haven have been “a very dramatic story.”
North Haven has remained “rock solid financially,” he said, maintaining a high bond rating status while being battered by the pandemic and a tornado from Tropical Storm Isaias.
The storm affected about 45 percent of the town. It took nine weeks to remove the debris, Freda said.
Freda said there were 37 economic development projects lined up that either fell apart or were put on pause at the start of the pandemic.
That affected North Haven’s 2020 grand list, which grew only by .4 percent, a reflection of projects that did not materialize but provided $343,000 in new tax revenue.
North Haven’s 2019 grand list grew 9.3 percent, among the largest in the state, Freda said. One of the main reasons was the Amazon fulfillment center on Washington Avenue which opened that year.
Amazon currently employs 5,500 people in North Haven. Freda said he’s working with the global shipping giant on a $13 million internal expansion at the facility.
Despite the challenges, the town has “helped people try to get back to some normalcy, and dealing with people who really have been hurt very hard by this pandemic.”
Freda shared some projects the town is working on to fill vacant buildings and properties along Universal Drive and Washington Avenue (Route 5) with new commercial ventures, including retail stores, gas stations and hotels.