By Alexander Soule
Numbers don’t lie –but like anything in business and life, it’s the numbers one chooses to tell a story that count.
In NerdWallet’s annual study of the best places in America to start a business, lower Fairfield County had a surprise finish in the top three, after being nowhere near the top in the 2014 installment of the report.
This year, Fairfield County was bested only by Boulder, Colo., and Wilmington, N.C., with none of the three cracking the top 20 last year.
The reordered rankings are the result of NerdWallet mixing up its criteria for what constitutes a great place to start a company. This year’s criteria included the number of businesses in a metropolitan region on a per-capita basis; income; cost of housing; and employment. Last year’s included elements like access to capital, workforce quality and “business friendliness” as ranked by Thumbtack surveys.
NerdWallet included metropolitan areas that have at least 250,000 residents and 15,000 businesses, more than 180 in all, including 21 in the Northeast.
Stamford Mayor Martin was quick to adopt the report as a stamp of approval for his city as a place to launch a business, lining up statements of support from leaders of the Downtown Special Services District, the Stamford Chamber of Commerce and other groups; as well as from Saleem Miyan, CEO of Ctrack, which established its headquarters at the Stamford Innovation Center in January with a dozen employees and plans to grow to 20. Among other pluses, Miyan, whose company sells a stolen-vehicle tracking and recovery system, highlighted the region’s schools, rail and airports, and “real energy.”
Lower Fairfield County led all municipal areas in average business income at $2.1 million, and also ranked high for the number of businesses, at 11.8 for every 100 people, good for the fifth-highest number nationally.
The Stamford area survived one major element arguing against starting a business here — the high cost of living, with only Silicon Valley having higher costs on the NerdWallet study.
But some noticed this year’s NerdWallet report omitted several other categories that business owners cite routinely in decisions to start or place a business in lower Fairfield County, including taxes, regulations and seemingly perpetual traffic jams.
“Tactfully speaking — they’re sorely mistaken,” said David Lewis, a Stamford resident who is founder and CEO of OperationsInc, a Norwalk-based company that advises businesses on human resources. He’ also head of the CEO Roundtable, a small group of local business leaders who meet on an ongoing basis.
As economic development director for the city of Stamford, it is Tom Madden’s job to sell both the numbers and the zeitgeist to companies considering locating here. There are a lot of statistics Madden points to in Stamford’s favor, including the comparatively short distance to the country’s largest market, New York City, and what that entails for income, and access to talent and capital, among other key metrics.
But Madden’s favorite number is $6 billion –the figure he computes for the ongoing flood of development dollars into Stamford, whether in the South End, downtown or other neighborhoods.
“Start with that,” Madden said.