L/fog
43°
L/fog
Hi 62° | Lo 31°

Enfield Businesses Upbeat on Future

Recent Improvements Seen as Boost to Economy

Enfield — About 10 years ago, when Lori Bliss Hill planned to construct a new building for her restaurant, Enfield House of Pizza on Route 4, the town approval process was more difficult than she anticipated.

“When I developed this property and this location, it was not a clean-cut process,” said Bliss Hill on Friday. “I wished I had a task list that told me, what is the next step.”

A member of the town’s economic development committee, Bliss Hill said there have been vast improvements in the town’s regulatory process and the recent approval of an 8,000-square-foot building for a new Family Dollar across from her restaurant is an example.

“It is the first tangible example of the new zoning going into effect,” Bliss Hill said. “We are trying to make a clearer path for what businesses need to do.”

But she was quick to add that the developer has experience in dealing with zoning regulations.

“I think someone new, starting from scratch, may be overwhelmed,” Bliss Hill said.

Still, she and others who attended a forum last week on economic development are excited about the prospects for growth with the new water and sewer line on Route 4, the town’s designation as a historic district and new zoning regulations. The feeling is now is an opportune time to aggressively promote advantages to owning a business in Enfield.

“Enfield has invested millions in our economic future on Route 4 and along our Main Street so let’s continue to keep that development happening in a way that makes sense for Enfield,” Town Manager Steve Schneider said during the forum. “There is definitely an area for all kinds of good, diverse businesses that will help Enfield in the future.”

About 50 people, including business owners and town officials, attended the discussion hosted by the Enfield Village Association at the community center. They tossed around a number of different ideas on economic development from easing regulations to holding more events that would draw people from outside the community.

Most spoke glowingly on their reasons for choosing to own a business and live in town. But they also asked what more could be done to attract new businesses and more people to town for shopping and other activities.

The question, debated and discussed during the forum, was how to build, in a controlled and sensible way, the town’s economic base and promote advantages to living and working in Enfield.

“If you have what they want, they will come here,” said business owner Bill Warren.

“Something we need to do is reinforce that there are retail products that can be purchased here,” added EVA member Sharon Carr at the forum when ideas were sought on some action items.

Christopher Way, the interim director of the Division of Economic Development at the state Department of Resources and Economic Development, said on Friday that paying attention to the existing businesses is an important component to bringing in new ones.

“If businesses are happy, they will spread the word,” Way said. “Having strong relationships between the town and businesses is critical.”

To entice others to open a business in town, Way said it is necessary to understand what is attractive to the businesses in town and to those thinking of locating to Enfield. He also said the town approval process must be a personal one.

“The best thing they (Enfield) can do is have a clear blueprint for moving forward,” Way said. “They (applicants) need a point of contact to help them through that process. At the state, we try to demonstrate relationships that show them they can cut through the red tape.”

Schneider emphasized the same point during the forum about paying attention to businesses already in town.

“What can we work on to be sure you are here with us five, 10 and 20 years from now,” he said.

Town Planner Scott Osgood echoed those thoughts.

“What I want to hear is what is working and what is not.”

Another point made at the forum was letting people know better what properties are available.

As an example, Bliss Hill said on Friday she plans to construct a 3,000-square-foot building on a Route 4 parcel she owns and offer it for rental.

The economic development committee and Realtors will need to be part of the process to let the public know that her rental property is available, she said.

“There is now a lot of buildable land for small businesses,” said Kim Quirk a small business owner in town and vice president of the Enfield Village Association, referring to the water and sewer line that extends to the Canaan town line.

Quirk noted during the forum that the new Enfield directory of businesses and services list 125 businesses in town.

“Enfield is a great place to do business,” she said. “We have a lot to offer and people love to work and live here.”

Last week’s forum also included brainstorming on ideas for attracting shoppers and visitors so that, in the words of Bliss Hill, Enfield “becomes a destination, not just a corridor.”

Jim Shibles, who owns a maintenance business, said Enfield must give people less of a reason to hop on Route 4 and drive to the West Lebanon shopping district.

“We’d like to have more of that over here. Food and clothing stores, home improvement.”

Another recommendation for drawing more visitors was to take advantage of Mascoma Lake with winter activities similar to what Fairlee does with Lake Morey.

The historic district designation, with nearly 200 properties, makes it one of the largest in the state and another approach that was encourages was promoting economic development through the lens of historic preservation.

EVA is currently undertaking a renovation of a historic red house on Main Street, the oldest house in town.

“A lot of good things are happening here and we need not lose sight of that,” said Bill Warren.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.

CORRECTION

Scott Osgood is the town planner in Enfield. An earlier version of this story gave an incorrect first name.