Milford sees spike in new businesses: ‘Good news for the future’

MILFORD — The city is well on its way to exceeding last year’s 507 new business starts, according to Julie Nash, Milford’s director of economic and community development.

Nash said as of July 2022, Milford had seen 469 new businesses come into the city.

“We have doubled the 2021 number in the same period,” Nash said. “It’s pretty incredible, and if we stay on this average, then we should double last year’s numbers, which is unprecedented.”

New business starts is a benchmark municipalities and the state use for economic development activity, explained Nash. The Secretary of the State registrations include limited liability companies, limited partnerships, and foreign-owned (out-of-state) and domestic-owned (in-state) corporations.

“We have had a wave of new businesses, and it keeps growing and growing, and it demonstrates the fact that this is the type of community that is good to expand your business and bring your business to,” said Mayor Ben Blake. “We have all those ingredients for success ... a great talent pool, great location, lots of transportation options nearby and of course, we have lots of beautiful beaches, parks and amenities.”

Blake said when new businesses come in and outfit their new location or when existing businesses expand their facility, it increases and grows the city’s tax base.

“When our tax base grows, it means that we can have lower taxes in future years,” he said. “So it’s good news for the future.”

While the downtown area is still a hotbed for new businesses, Nash said they are finding locations throughout the city.

One of those businesses that found a location in downtown Milford is Natural Kitchen.

“We opened in March 2022, but our soft opening was the last week of February,” said Jinbing Lin, general manager of Natural Kitchen.

Natural Kitchen serves poke bowl, a Hawaiian dish stemming from Japanese cuisine.

“Poke means cut into pieces, and the name refers to the slices of raw fish that are found in a bowl along with rice, dressing, vegetables and seasoning,” Lin said. “We also serve shrimp, chicken and tofu for those who don’t eat raw fish, and there are also gluten-free dishes for people to enjoy.”

Lin said now was the right time to open Natural Kitchen with the pandemic starting to wane, and people less worried about COVID and wanting to go out more.

“People are more focused on what they eat, and how the food is prepared,” he said.

Making Milford Natural Kitchen’s home was an easy decision, according to Lin, since the staff lives in the city.

“Every time we would go to the green or downtown for family walks or special events, we noticed the food is almost all the same,” said Lin. “We thought Milford deserved the poke bowl shop because there is nothing like that in town. Many in Milford like to eat quality fast food, so when we saw the concept poke bowl in Florida, we thought it would be nice to have one in Milford.”

Nash believes the pandemic has something to do with the rise of new businesses in the city.

“I think people decided to start working for themselves quite a bit,” Nash said. “The pandemic allowed people to take a second and think about life, and entrepreneurship took off. There is a worker shortage, not a company shortage, so I think if companies want to ‘woo’ these folks back, they need to consider why they left.”

Nash said the reasons many left were to create a better work-life balance and because of child care.

Simon McDonald, Milford Chamber of Commerce’s director of membership and marketing, said the number of grand openings he’s done with the chamber has risen significantly.

“In the past four weeks, we’ve had many more ribbon cuttings that we have done before,” he said. “There’s been a good amount of ribbon cuttings in West Haven as well.”

McDonald commented that he has had two to three ribbon cuttings already in September — including Wiz Auto Group last Monday and IL Capriccio Ristorante E Bar on Tuesday.

“Some of this is due to the economy and COVID,” McDonald said. “People spend less and save more during COVID and it gave people more capital than they’ve had in the past. Then they looked at what they were doing and decided they would rather be their boss.”

However, McDonald said many small businesses face problems because they are good at their particular skill, such as baking or hair styling, but they do not know how to properly handle their financials or how to market themselves.

“That’s where we come in as a chamber, to assist those businesses who might need extra help,” he said. “We have members in our chamber who specialize in marketing, payroll and the like, and we can make help connect new businesses with them.”