Weston reveals its ‘secret’ amid Connecticut’s regional tourism push | Crain's Connecticut

Weston reveals its ‘secret’ amid Connecticut’s regional tourism push

Just as the state of Connecticut begins a regional program to boost tourism, one Fairfield County town is also embarking on a solo flight to promote its corner of the Nutmeg State.

The Town of Weston has launched a marketing and branding plan called The Weston Way. The effort, led by a strategic planning committee, features an ambassadors program through which longtime Weston residents show off the town and explain its history.

Town leaders don’t want just visitors; they want people to set down roots.

There are three subcommittees totaling about 15 volunteers working under the planning committee. One is the Generation X Subcommittee, which is in charge of the ambassadors program, said Bill Douglass, who is leading communication efforts for “The Weston Way.” As defined by the Gallup polling organization, Generation X is the section of the population born between 1965 and 1979.

In detailing the campaign in a January press release, Weston officials said the effort might be a first nationwide for a town with a population around 10,000.

City dwellers including New Yorkers who seek a more relaxed lifestyle amid other high achievers are a major target audience, First Selectman Nina Daniel said.

Just under 85 percent of Weston residents hold a bachelor’s degree, and 32 percent have master’s degrees. The campaign also touts the town’s low crime rate.

“Truly, the rustic, unspoiled beauty of the town is exceeded only by the creativity, talents, and innovative drive of its residents,” Daniel said. “We hope to tell our story to attract a new generation of people to call Weston home.”

The committee has established a website at www.thewestonway.com. It touts assets including beaches, bicycling and hiking trails, and easy access to New York City.

Additional promotion efforts are planned, Daniel said. The January rollout has been dubbed Phase I. Phase II will include print and online advertising as well as efforts to boost the local business community.

“This is just the start of an effort to raise the profile of our town as we invest in it, build its brand and favorably compete with other towns for those residents who want a great town and amenities,” she said.

After checking out The Weston Way, the executive director and president of the Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce expressed an interest in helping the effort, especially promoting local business.

“It appears to be a very fine promotion for the town,” Matthew Mandell said.

Statewide campaign

Additional bolstering of the business community may come through the Connecticut Office of Tourism, which announced a new regional program roughly two weeks after the start of The Weston Way campaign. The program aims to create closer ties with chambers of commerce and regional government councils to help bolster businesses through greater use of the tourism office’s CTvisit.com.

More than 15 organizations – including the Business Council of Fairfield County, the City of Norwalk and the Fairfield Chamber of Commerce – have joined the effort, the Hartford-based tourism office said in a Jan. 27 press release.

Streamlining and cost cutting are among the benefits, said Randy Fiveash, the state’s tourism director.

“Together we’re focused on driving more tourism business to each of our regions by eliminating the costly duplication of efforts while maximizing our collective clout when pitching to the media, sharing social media, and negotiating for advertising,” he said.

Like Weston, the Business Council of Fairfield County’s main target audience is New Yorkers, especially city residents.

Christopher Bruhl, the council’s president and CEO, sees the statewide alliance as a way to keep New Yorkers with significant incomes visiting Connecticut and spending money on hotels, sporting events and other attractions.

“We’re the intersection,” he said of his Stamford-based group.

‘Best-kept secret’

Located near the center of Fairfield County, Weston is “Connecticut’s best-kept secret,” according to the press release from the town’s strategic planning committee. But officials and volunteers want to change that.

Weston’s population rose 2 percent to an estimated 10,387 in 2015 from 10,179 five years earlier, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. Weston’s per capita income of $92,794 between 2011 and 2015 is more than double the Connecticut state average, as is its median household income of $217,171.

Meanwhile, the aging population phenomenon that most Connecticut towns are experiencing is much less evident in Weston, where 32.5 percent of its 2010 population was 18 or younger. The statewide rate for that age bracket was 22.9 percent. Persons age 65 and older in Weston in 2010 were 11 percent of the population compared with 14.2 percent statewide.

Smaller towns like Weston rely on its real estate sector to keep its character intact while attracting like-minded newcomers, Bruhl said. He said he’s not surprised that Weston has started a “coordinated effort.” Weston is not looking to become like Westport, its more famous and larger neighbor, Bruhl said.

“They don’t want to have three or four major corporations headquartered there,” he said. “They’re focusing on their quality of life including the schools.”

Weston sees itself becoming increasingly attractive to telecommuters and those wanting to maintain a distance from New York City, Daniel said.

“As people become less and less tethered to a central office building, life in Weston will be prized even more by the next generation of the workforce,” she said.

Daniel’s late father was also a Weston first selectman. Nina Daniel went away to college and returned as a young mother with two children. She said she wants to share Weston’s values with future generations and newcomers.

“I feel that Weston is more than just my hometown; rather, Weston is an integral part of my family history and personal DNA,” Daniel said. “Weston has been home to four generations of my family and provided them all with a sense of community. I am unabashedly in love with this town and its people.”

January 30, 2017 - 6:17pm