Nestled in the scenic countryside of Litchfield Hills, the City of Torrington has been northwestern Connecticut’s industrial and commercial hub for over a century.
Easily accessible to major roadways, and just two hours from New York City and two and half hours from Boston, Torrington continues to enjoy a strong manufacturing sector with a growing emphasis on high precision operations. Torrington is, in fact, the largest ‘Micropolitan Community’ as designated by the US Census; with a population of 36,000, the community services approximately 180,000. “We still have space to continue that growth,” says Mayor Elinor Carbone, and the city is planning ahead to make sure that growth happens.
Rates are low for business, commercial, and industrial space, making the area ideal for companies looking to keep costs to a minimum. “It is affordable here,” reports Torrington’s Director of Economic Development, Erin Wilson. “We are a great location for startup businesses.” Torrington is also a great location for well-known multinationals. “We have a broad base of industries, not just your mom and pops that are serving the state or the region,” Mayor Carbone points out. “We are quite proud of that.” Torrington’s larger companies include Fuel Cell, O&G Industries Inc, Whittmann Battenfeld, Dymax, Altek, and Franklin Products.
The ongoing success of these companies demonstrates Torrington’s ability to maintain its position as an industrial hub, and the city is eager to grow this sector even more. “Torrington has strong roots in manufacturing and industry,” says the Mayor. “We are very proud of our industrial heritage, so it only makes sense for us to build on that.” Today’s manufacturing is distinctly different than the manufacturing Torrington had in the past, however; the days of dirty, labor intense factories are over, replaced by futuristic, high tech machinery, high wages, and good benefits. Communicating these changes to the potential workforce is essential. “Probably the biggest challenge for a small, former mill town like Torrington is convincing our own citizens that manufacturing is not what their parents and grandparents experienced. This is a clean industry. Precision manufacturing is the future.”
Health care is another strong sector, and Charlotte Hungerford Hospital is the city’s largest employer. With more than 1,000 employees, physicians and volunteers, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital is the premiere healthcare provider in northwest Connecticut, providing patients with quality, compassionate and cost-effective services to meet their diverse needs.
Torrington’s workforce enjoys a high quality of life in addition to solid career opportunities across the manufacturing, retail, health care, and tourism sectors. Renowned for its bucolic scenery, the surrounding countryside is dotted with lakes, rivers, walking trails, and state parks. There are also two ski areas and a golf course within the area. “We have all of those recreational activities right here at our doorstep,” Mayor Carbone points out. “Torrington is located in Litchfield County, noted as one of the 50 most scenic areas in the United States.”
The city’s downtown is a prime gathering place, providing even more recreational opportunities. Organized events take place throughout the year, from parades and Fourth of July fireworks to Main Street Marketplace, a summer long festival that brings regional artists, musicians, and designers to downtown, and an Arts Walk on the first Friday of every month in downtown Torrington. “Those community-organized and run events give that sense of community,” shares the Mayor. Torrington also boasts the Warner Theatre, the renowned Nutmeg Conservatory, 5 Points Gallery, an assortment of antique dealers and small specialty shops, and well as numerous arts organizations, art houses, and plenty of restaurants. “We have become a mecca of sorts for the artists in the larger area of Litchfield County,” says Mayor Carbone. The creative economy is tremendously important to the residents and government representatives of Torrington, and the city aims to be a center for creative industry.
With so much to offer, Torrington is an ideal blend of urban amenities and small town charm. “I often say that we have that big city style, because we have all those cultural things that larger cities have – a college campus, a wonderful historic theatre, art galleries – but we still have that small town feel,” shares the Mayor. “It is a nice mix.”
Torrington recognizes the value of its downtown and is working hard to preserve its historical buildings and art deco architecture. “There is so much potential with our quaint downtown,” Ms. Wilson says. “There is so much interest.” With demand soaring for downtown housing and business space, the city has a long term restoration and development plan to ensure that the community makes the most of its city center. “Over the last ten years, our Torrington Development Corporation has worked very diligently [to preserve] this pristine, art deco main street… so that we can continue to enjoy that element of the community,” the Mayor reports. “This community has worked very hard in the lowest points of the economic downturn to build a plan so that, as the economy turns around, we are prepared to put a shovel in the ground and move forward.”
These plans for downtown will “protect and preserve all of the integrity of that art deco,” while also bringing all of the infrastructure up to 21st Century standards. For example, “we recognize the need for parking and traffic flow and pedestrian friendly space,” says Mayor Carbone.
Torrington also has a plan to expand its industrial potential while preserving and restoring its green spaces at the same time. With such a strong manufacturing history, the city has multiple brownfield sites that need to be redeveloped. “These buildings are located in our downtown neighborhoods, so they do have a significant impact on the value of those neighborhoods. Erin and I have really made it our mission to target those particular buildings and find ways to work with the current owners and see what we can do to help them remediate and perhaps redevelop the property. That would have the most significant impact on the city of Torrington in the short term.”
Torrington’s Riverfront Recapture Project aims to redevelop industrial sites along the Naugatuck River, which runs through town. Last year, the city acquired an abandoned, riverfront industrial site and has capped about 1/3 of the two acres using approximately $630,000 of EPA Revolving Loan Funds, creating 45 parking spaces and increasing riverfront access. Now, the State of Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development has awarded the City an additional $1,000,000 to continue its cleanup efforts on that site. A proposed greenway trail will run from the restored site along the river and options are being explored for mixed use development. The city has also just received an additional $100,000 grant for brownfield assessment work and a feasibility study on an adjacent six acre site, which is privately owned. Ms. Wilson is optimistic that this is only the beginning of the city’s waterfront revitalization efforts. “Ideally, we would like to look at the potential for the redevelopment of our entire riverfront in downtown Torrington.”
Torrington is also eager to support existing businesses and help them continue growing. The city is specifically targeting small to medium businesses, since these companies are currently showing the most potential for expansion. “Erin and I have been working to get out to these businesses to help develop a database as to what their plans are and how we, as a municipality, can assist them to either fast track those plans or to keep those plans on track.” Thus far, local businesses have shared impressive and ambitious plans that are already well past the conceptual stage. “They have plans drawn out that are sitting on their desk that they are ready to put into action. So our goal is to continue to work with local businesses to help them realize their goals for expansion.”
Torrington has been remarkably successful transitioning from a small mill town to a thriving, 21st Century manufacturing center, while embracing its past and leveraging the Arts economy to propel the city toward a vibrant future. Careful planning by forward thinking city officials has been key to Torrington’s ongoing success. From maintaining the integrity of the downtown’s art deco architecture to promoting small business growth and remediating contaminated industrial sites, the city is making a conscious effort to keep Torrington on the right path. As Mayor Carbone says, “we want to make sure that everything we do is going to bring us to where we want to be five, ten and fifty years from now.”