To revitalize area, city draws metal company to riverfront

Suraci Metal Finishing Company is finalizing plans to move from its current State Street location to a larger factory on River Street as New Haven officials launch an effort to revitalize the riverside area of the Elm City.

In a real estate deal between Suraci Metal and the city, set to close later this week, the company chose to remain within the city despite offers from competing townships trying to lure them out of New Haven. The company rejected an offer from town officials in the Naugatuck Valley for a free building and no property taxes for five years, instead choosing to become the first industrial tenants of an economically stagnant area by the Quinnipiac River that New Haven officials are trying to reinvigorate, New Haven Economic Officer Helen Rosenberg said.

Bruno and Marc Suraci, the owners of Suraci Metal, were unavailable for comment this week.

The new River Street location is the first property sold by the city to a manufacturing company as part of New Haven’s attempt to revive the riverside stretch. The city plans to acquire a series of old buildings in the area and sell them at attractive prices to encourage sustainable economic growth in the area, Rosenberg said.

“The plan is to acquire and develop the space for industrial and other commercial uses,” Rosenberg said. “The overarching goal, of course, is to create jobs and revenue for the city.”

Rosenberg said the city of New Haven has already invested $10 million in the redevelopment plan, and the federal Economic Development Administration has donated $1.5 million. The city applied to the state of Connecticut for $8.1 million to help fund the project, but so far the state has not agreed to become involved, Rosenberg said.

City officials said there are many reasons why a company like Suraci Metal would choose to remain in New Haven. New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said the city is a viable business area where any company can thrive.

“We have some extremely well-established firms who seem to be managing the global economy from right here in New Haven,” he said. “We also have other smaller manufacturers, many of which have geared themselves towards construction or industry.”

Bialecki said loyalty to their local work force may have played a part in Suraci Metal’s decision to remain in New Haven. He also said moving out of New Haven might not have proven nearly as lucrative as other towns would have liked Suraci Metal to believe.

“Unless you’re making a real offshore move to China or Mexico, just to move to Alabama or Texas, for example, incurs huge costs and a lot of risks,” Bialecki said. “If you’re a manager, you have to weigh hundreds of issues like that in considering this kind of a decision.”

Michael Morand, Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said he sees potential for a wide variety of other technology-based businesses expanding into New Haven.

“There’s an opportunity in the future for the medical and biomedical services, as well as for some of the start-ups in drug discovery,” Morand said. “There also may be an opportunity for manufacturing pharmaceuticals.”

But New Haven businesses still face unique challenges in the local economy, Bialecki said. New England companies must remain cognizant of innovations that will keep them ahead of their competitors, he said.

“How to work smarter in terms of technology, in areas of money management — these are all new-age factory survival issues,” Bialecki said. “It’s the people who refocus their business in changing times that tend to survive.”

Though manufacturing in New Haven may never return to its mid-20th-century levels, Morand said a niche for manufacturing opportunities remains in the Elm City, particularly due to its convenient location near ports, highways and the railroad. Companies like Suraci, for example, are looking to take advantage of a riverside business location near interstate highways 91 and 95, Rosenberg said.

Morand said retaining businesses is important for New Haven, because the area faces difficulties in drawing new corporations.

“We’re more likely to nurture what’s here than to attract large-scale businesses due to the lack of land availability and relatively high cost of doing business in Connecticut,” he said. “We will never be like Kentucky or South Carolina and be able to attract a major new Toyota or BMW plant.”

Bur Rosenberg said a growing demand for industrial space in New Haven was the motivation for the city’s riverside development program.

“We receive 25 to 30 requests for manufacturing space each year,” Rosenberg said. “We want to accommodate some of these businesses that want to be here. That’s the real impetus.”

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