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Rob Ryser | Nov. 28, 2021
DANBURY — The city’s economic recovery from the coronavirus crisis is underway and trending in the right direction, an expert said, thanks to relatively low unemployment and a strong local job market fueled by a booming health care industry.
“Even during the challenging economic recession back in the 2008-to-2010 range and the current 2020 pandemic, Danbury’s unemployment was lower than both Fairfield County and the state - and (unemployment) has actually come down substantially since the high point of the pandemic,” said Eric Halvorsen, an economic consultant, during a task force meeting of Danbury leaders who are writing a master plan for the next decade. “The recovery seems to be in full swing in Danbury, which is great news.”
The latest jobless data put Danbury’s unemployment at 4.4 percent in September, compared to 5.3 percent in Fairfield County as a whole, and 5.4 percent statewide. The 1,960 people still out of work in Danbury is significantly down from the 3,000 who were jobless at the height of the COVID-19 lockdown in 2020, the data shows.
Danbury still has progress to make to get down to its pre-pandemic jobless number of 3.2 percent.
To be sure, the coronavirus crisis had a crushing effect on the Danbury economy - costing 790 local jobs in the accommodations and food service industry, 680 local jobs in the retail industry, and 370 local manufacturing jobs, according to the data.
The anomaly was in Danbury’s thriving health care industry, which from 2019 to 2021 added 385 jobs. Led by Danbury Hospital and its parent organization Nuvance Health, the city’s health industry employs 8,500 people, or 23 percent of all Danbury jobs.
Other important employment sectors in Danbury are retail, which accounts for 14 percent of all Danbury jobs; government work, which accounts for 13 percent of Danbury jobs; manufacturing, which accounts for 8 percent; professional, scientific and technical, which accounts for 6 percent; accommodations and food services, which accounts for 6 percent; and construction, which accounts for 5 percent.
“Some of these jobs are expected to come back, and there is a lot of economic development activity in the city — not just in healthcare, but also for some of these manufacturers, which is really exciting to see,” Halvorsen told the master plan task force at a meeting last week. “Danbury’s health care industry is a clear leader within Fairfield County.”
One of the keys to Danbury’s strong job market is that Danbury is an “employment destination,” where 6,000 more people come to the city to work on an average day than those who leave to work out of town.
“Danbury is also very unique in that about 33 percent of Danbury’s working residents remain in the city for their jobs,” Halvorsen said. “From my perspective, working in other communities, that is a really high percentage.”
The result is a “positive inflow of workers” who not only support Danbury’s employers but also create “a strong daytime population that ends up spending money at local establishments such as retail, service providers and restaurants.” Halvorsen said.
Moreover, those who do work outside Danbury tend to have short commutes, either within Fairfield County or no further than New Haven County or Westchester County, N.Y.
“The strength of Danbury’s economy and the diversity of industries here provide a lot of different opportunities for residents to both live and work within relative close proximity to each other,” Halvorsen said. “We know that this helps cut down on commuting costs, time spent away from family, and also fewer vehicle emissions, so it’s good for the environment.”
Halvorsen said the data should help city leaders set economic development priorities for the next decade.
“If an industry like health care is both specialized and growing (as it is in Danbury) this could indicate a real competitive advantage and maybe suggest to the city that this is a sector that they might want to invest more time and energy into,” he said.