business

Best Cities 2010: West Hartford, Conn.

There's no shortage of business opportunities and things to do in this small town, our number-nine pick for Best Cities for the Next Decade.

West Hartford is not content to be merely an idyllic place to raise a family. It's also transforming itself from a suburb into a regional destination.

The majority of West Hartford's residents work in the area's biggest sectors -- insurance and financial services -- in nearby towns. But small business is the new game in town, and everyone's playing. West Hartford's economy rests largely on professional and health services, from law and accounting firms to satellite offices for Hartford Hospital and St. Francis Hospital. The University of Hartford is the biggest employer.

Retail makes up the rest of the local economy. Three years ago, the town doubled the size of West Hartford Center by adding a new mixed-use development of upscale retail stores and residences. Called Blue Back Square, in homage to Webster's Blue-Backed Spelling Book, the square brought a movie theater, a Crate & Barrel, a Whole Foods Market and an REI to the town's central shopping and dining district.

Parking aplenty means townies and visitors alike can ditch their cars for the day and walk to the bank, the grocery store and the library, or grab a bite to eat and go to a movie. Elmwood Center and Park Road on the south end of town add restaurants and niche businesses, including one of the region’s biggest art-supply stores, a professional-figure-skating retailer and a '50s-era diner.

Location-wise, the town couldn't be better situated. The Center is 15 minutes from downtown Hartford, where you can find art museums, the Connecticut Science Center, sports arenas and concert halls, such as the Bushnell Center for Performing Arts. It is two hours from both Boston and New York City. As a blossoming destination in its own right, West Hartford is in talks to bring a hotel to town and grab a stop on the proposed New Haven-Springfield high-speed rail line, which would connect it to Amtrak.

West Hartford continues to steal market share from Hartford on the entertainment front -- "Downtown Hartford is not really where people go anymore," says town mayor Scott Slifka -- but it's also focused on retaining the small-town charm that keeps it, well, charming. "Great neighborhoods, a safe community and great schools have been our tradition," says Slifka.

Community is key, and this is place where you know your neighbors. The outlying suburbs in the Hartford area feature loads of land, big homes and high price tags. But in West Hartford you can get in for under $200,000 on the south end of the city, and the median price is about $300,000. Housing near the Center is the most desirable and ranges from $350,000 to $500,000. Modest colonials dominate the scene, although the east and west ends have their fair share of small estates.

Education is West Hartford's hallmark, and schools -- both public and private -- are the biggest draw for newcomers to the town. Public schools are top-notch in the state, and Connecticut schools rate among the best in the nation. Nationally known private schools, such as Renbrook and Kingswood-Oxford, call West Hartford home, too. Three colleges in town up the quotient of highly educated residents -- 57% have a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 36% for the state.

The chief complaint is high taxes, but most figure that great schools and amenities don't come cheap. In addition to green space at Elizabeth Park and the MDC Reservoir (both ideal spots for walking the trails or a picnic), the town has five swimming pools, an ice rink and two public golf courses, including Rockledge, noted to be one of the top ten in New England.

VIDEO: Take a Guided Tour of West Hartford

Most Popular

13 States That Tax Social Security Benefits
social security

13 States That Tax Social Security Benefits

You may have dreamed of a tax-free retirement, but if you live in these 13 states, your Social Security benefits are subject to a state tax. That's on…
October 4, 2021
10 Best Stocks for Rising Interest Rates
stocks

10 Best Stocks for Rising Interest Rates

The 10-year Treasury yield is hovering near its highest level in months. Here are 10 of the best stocks to buy in a rising interest-rate environment.
September 30, 2021
How Big of a Threat Does Inflation Pose to Your Retirement?
retirement

How Big of a Threat Does Inflation Pose to Your Retirement?

You might be surprised how much inflation can nibble away at your retirement nest egg over time if you aren’t prepared.
October 3, 2021

Recommended

The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In
places to live

The 25 Cheapest U.S. Cities to Live In

Take a look at our list of American cities with the lowest costs of living. Is one of the cheapest cities in the U.S. right for you?
October 13, 2021
Business Cost Outlooks for 2022: Eight Key Sectors
Economic Forecasts

Business Cost Outlooks for 2022: Eight Key Sectors

What’s in store for all sorts of business costs in 2022?
October 12, 2021
Ditch Your Dying Career for a Dirty Job Instead
careers

Ditch Your Dying Career for a Dirty Job Instead

How secure is your job in a world of artificial intelligence? Technology is putting many careers on the endangered list, but some jobs just can’t be d…
October 12, 2021
11 Reasons You Don't Want to Retire in Florida
retirement

11 Reasons You Don't Want to Retire in Florida

An overabundance of boomers, critters, sweat and weirdness. Welcome to the dark side of the Sunshine State.
October 6, 2021