Connecticut’s Most Affordable City

City of Shelton , CT

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Shelton, Connecticut is making headlines for its low cost of living. “We are the most affordable place in Connecticut,” says Mayor Mark Lauretti. “And we are consistently and historically affordable. When you don’t raise your taxes for eight years, or your mil rates either stay the same or go down 19 years out of the past 26 years, I’d say you’re pretty consistent, pretty predictable.”
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Zippia agrees. The career advice guru ranked Shelton the number one most successful city in Connecticut. To determine the state’s most successful cities, Zippia used three criteria collected from the 2010-2014 American Community Survey: poverty level, median household income, and unemployment rate.

Zippia.com explains that the median household income is “the most digestible way to understand how wealthy a place really is,” while the unemployment rate “tries to capture the prospects for more people to become rich.” In addition, “if more people are employed, the brighter (and more successful) that place’s future looks.”

Zippia collected data from the 21 places in Connecticut with a population of over 5,000 people and ranked their success. Shelton took the number one slot with a median income of $88,369, unemployment rate of 8.6 percent, and poverty level of 4.9 percent. This wasn’t the lowest unemployment rate of the 21 cities, but it was the lowest poverty level and the highest median income—which was enough to catapult Shelton to number one.

Bloomberg Businessweek named Shelton the Best Affordable Suburb in Connecticut in both 2009 and 2010. A large number of factors were taken into account to create the ranking, including median household income, unemployment rate, crime rates, job growth, commuting times, academic testing scores, location, diversity, and the cost of housing. “We are strong in many different categories: household income, quality of life issues, employment statistics,” Mr. Lauretti says.

With so many advantages, it’s no wonder that Shelton has attracted a variety of businesses, including a number of Fortune 500 companies. “We have over 1,500 businesses of all sizes in Shelton and on any given day there is somewhere around 25,000 people that commute into Shelton to work. We have become an employment hub.”

Notable companies headquartered in Shelton include Baldwin Technology, Hubbell Inc., Panolam, Precision Resource, Prudential Annuities, Tetley USA, and TranSwitch Corporation. Other well-known companies operating within the city include BIC Corporation, Pitney Bowes, Cartier, Wiffle Ball, Inc., NEC Unified Solutions, Landstar Systems, Raytech Corp., Country Home Bakers, Inc., Perkin-Elmer, Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation, Unilever, and United Healthcare.

Four of these companies must have gotten the memo that Shelton is the Most Successful City in Connecticut—and acted accordingly. Comet Technolgies, BIC Corporation, United Healthcare, and Pitney Bowes all recently relocated to Shelton from other locations within Connecticut.

The presence of so many thriving businesses creates a substantial revenue base for the city, shifting much of the burden from residents. In fact, Shelton has the lowest property tax rates in the region. To ensure that rates stay low, the city works hard to be fiscally responsible. “We control expenses,” says Mr. Lauretti.

Redevelopment
Shelton has taken on a string of major redevelopment projects over the last couple of decades. During his 26 years as Mayor, Mr. Lauretti has made it his mission to clean up the community. Gone are the abandoned buildings and shady alleyways. They have been replaced with shiny new offices, green space, and pedestrian-friendly boulevards.

As with many New England communities, Shelton was an early center for industry. In Shelton’s case, industrial projects took off when the Housatonic Dam was built in 1870. This provided an early economic boom—but left the city with crumbling, contaminated factory sites in later years. The community has successfully decontaminated and redeveloped a number of these brownfield sites.

An old corset factory has been transformed into upscale condominiums called the Birmingham on the River. The site of an old asphalt plant has been given new life as the Avalon Shelton apartments. After burning to the ground over four decades ago, the remains of a mattress factory have been cleared away to create green space in Shelton’s downtown—and an ideal site for the local farmer’s market.

“We’ve been working on these things for about 25 years,” Mr. Lauretti says. And the transformation has been substantial. The entire city is buzzing with new life and new potential. “When you have old factory buildings that have been vacant for 30 years and they are dilapidated and contaminated and they are not generating anything, and now you have new structures going up in their place—you can really see that change is prevalent here.”

Shelton’s most recent major redevelopment project involved an abandoned chromium plant. Built in 1910, the factory was the community’s last link to its industrial past. According to Shelton Life, the derelict building was a time capsule of a bygone era, filled with a number of personal items collected by workers over the years—as well as chromium, arsenic, lead, and cyanide. Over 80 tons of onsite materials were contaminated with these poisonous substances.

The demolition, which began in August 2016, was slow and painstaking due to the high level of contamination. The work was finally completed four months later, in late November. Today, all that is left of the contaminated plant is a tidy, half-acre vacant lot. The site is an ideal spot for a new development project.

Shelton’s redevelopment efforts have caught the attention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). “We are about to get an award from the EPA Region 1 in Boston for our environmental stewardship,” Mr. Lauretti says. The award acknowledges the city’s success in remediating contaminated sites.

In addition to extensive redevelopment efforts, the city boasts new construction in both the downtown and along the riverfront. Shelton sits alongside the Housatonic River, which provides plenty of development opportunities. Some dilapidated stretches of this riverfront are currently being remade into an aesthetic river walk so that residents can enjoy a quiet stroll where unsightly, abandoned industrial buildings once stood. “We have a recreation path that is about seven miles long and we have land banked over 2,000 acres of open space.”

The Housatonic River provides a number of recreational opportunities including swimming, boating, and fishing. Indian Well State Park has a sandy beach with a lifeguard and plenty of picnic tables for a relaxing day on the water. The Sports Center serves up a range of family entertainment. The sprawling complex offers a dozen activities onsite and hosts everything from birthday parties to corporate events. Activities include ice-skating, hockey, a golf range, mini golf, laser tag, an arcade, bowling, batting cages, basketball, target paintball, and more. A variety of shops and restaurants scattered throughout the community rounds out the list of things to do in Shelton.

People looking to take advantage of Shelton’s quality of life and affordability will find plenty of housing options, no matter what their budget. “We have a diversity of housing stock for people with different socio-economic backgrounds,” Mr. Lauretti says. “We have apartment buildings, we have condominium buildings, we have mixed use development along with commercial structures.”

The resilient city is well placed for continued success as more and more people discover its affordability and quality of life. “This is the third recession that I have been through as mayor and we are always the last ones in and the first ones out. I think that speaks to the strength of our financial situation. The future for the city is very bright.”

August 21, 2017, 7:56 AM EDT

A Model that Addresses Infrastructure Demand

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