DECD: Town/City Profile: Bristol

Town/City Profile: Bristol - October 2001

By Mark Prisloe, Senior Economist, DECD

Introduction

The City of Bristolís Website notes: "From clock making, spring making, and ball bearing industries to the high-tech sportscasting and recycling businesses, Bristol has shown a steady, firm capability to grow and change with the world that surrounds it." Bristol is the ninth largest city in Connecticut with a population of 60,062.

Bristol earned its nickname as a distinction of its early industrial prominence. The townís seal represents the face of a clock since Bristol was the first town in the country to manufacture clocks in 1790. Throughout the early and middle 1800s, Bristol was the premiere clock manufacturing center in the world. A renowned clock museum can still be visited in the City.

Clock manufacturing caused related industries to grow along with it. The most notable of these was the spring industry. Albert and Edward Rockwell came to Bristol in 1888 to start their "new departure" in bell manufacturing. Their invention used a spring driven mechanism to ring a doorbell rather than the commonly used electrical battery. The Rockwell brothersí invention was so successful that their New Departure Bell Co. grew into one of the largest bell factories in America, giving Bristol its distinction as the Bell City.

Bristol is also considered the "Mum City" of the United States because of the many chrysanthemums grown and sold. Each year a "Mum Festival" celebrates this aspect of the Cityís heritage. Bristol offers museums, the oldest amusement park in the country at Lake Compounce and is also known around the world as home to ESPN, the popular sports network, and the home of the Northeastern Regional Little League Headquarters.

Economy

Bristolís labor force has remained fairly steady in recent years. As the table below shows, unemployment is down to its lowest level in a decade at 2.4 percent. The labor force even grew in 2000 by 2.1 percent from a year ago. The largest employment sector is services representing over one quarter of all employment, followed by manufacturing employing nearly 23 percent of the workforce. Also important is retail trade, which showed a rebound to $434 million in sales volume in 2000, up 7.8 percent over the year. Among the largest employers are ESPN, Bristol Hospital, Theis Precision, Barnes Group, and the Bristol Press. Among the highest paid are workers from the transportation, communications, and utilities sector with average wages over $63,000 annually. Manufacturing workers average $46,911 and those in wholesale trade $47,644. Although Bristol saw a large jump in housing permit activity following the early 1990s recession, recent housing permit activity was down except for spikes in 1996 and 1998.

Outlook

Downtown Bristol in 2001 is slated for a major revitalization effort. According to plans filed with the State, since the closing of a major General Motors plant in the Cityís Chippens Hill area, the City secured Firestone Building Products from out of state to anchor the plant and twenty three companies have built new factories or relocated to Bristol since 1995. The City helped secure ESPNís future growth, including 1,500 new jobs, by constructing $3.5 million in infrastructure. With over 500 new and expanded jobs from CIGNA, Bristol has fostered over 3,000 new Connecticut jobs in the last six years. CIGNA has committed to 300 new employees within the next few years. Tunxis Community College opened a satellite facility in the North End. Bristol Center Mall will be the site of major redevelopment including a new CIGNA parking facility, transportation center and access improvements, beautification, faÁade and traffic flow improvements, and rehabilitation of 80 housing units. Even a greenway with bike and walking trails and linkages is an anticipated feature of the plan. A new major exhibit is also anticipated at the Carousel Museum that attracts 16,000 visitors every year. In short, Bristol is a city on the move.

Bristol City Trends

Industry 1990 1999 2000
Units Jobs Wages Units Jobs Wages Units Jobs Wages
Total 1,441 21,591 $25,204 1,276 20,420 $36,922 1,253 20,460 $39,133
Agriculture 26 80 $18,773 20 76 $24,291 22 83 $22,876
Construction 285 1,010 $31,378 186 951 $37,105 178 926 $39,046
Manufacturing 164 5,429 $31,798 157 4,472 $42,236 164 4,694 $46,911
Trans.,Comm. & Utilities 24 855 $38,929 22 1,900 $60,592 22 2,016 $63,591
Wholesale Trade 77 955 $35,529 82 842 $49,419 75 820 $47,644
Retail Trade 325 4,303 $14,240 291 3,958 $19,614 283 3,685 $20,099
Finance, Ins. & Real Estate 104 1,649 $20,896 72 651 $33,938 75 626 $36,532
Services 398 4,890 $21,903 407 5,386 $33,921 393 5,403 $34,394
Federal Government 5 344 $17,650 5 132 $43,826 5 128 $45,516
State Government 10 213 $25,872 12 172 $43,456 12 174 $45,919
Local Government 21 1,851 $30,552 20 1,865 $40,209 19 1,886 $41,391

Economic Indicators \ Year 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Pop.  60,640 60,965 60,604 60,340 59,939 59,679 59,497 59,243 59,158 59,145 60,062
Labor Force 35,855 36,564 35,554 34,558 33,312 32,260 32,122 31,716 30,879 31,139 31,779
   Emp. 33,733 33,375 32,325 31,975 31,105 30,141 30,046 29,983 29,815 30,011 31,015
   Unemp. 2,122 3,189 3,229 2,583 2,207 2,119 2,076 1,733 1,064 1,128 764
   Unemp.
   Rate
5.9 8.7 9.1 7.5 6.6 6.6 6.5 5.5 3.4 3.6 2.4
New Housing Permits 90 128 84 120 183 87 105 88 93 92 77
Retail Sales ($mil.) 372.7 451.5 335.0 353.5 379.5 416.9 442.4 437.1 433.1 402.6 434.1