The Market Demand Study Committee narrowed down its list of five possible consultants to two during a day spent interviewing the firms on Dec. 15. AKRF and BFJ Planning are the final two firms the committee plans to choose between in early January.

The committee itself is made up of six members, including Town Planner Steve Kleppin. They were recently appointed at the Nov. 16 Board of Selectmen meeting. The study itself was a recommendation that came out of the 2007 Downtown New Canaan Strategic Plan. In terms of paying for the study, the town received a Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant in 2009 in the amount of $75,000 that would cover the costs of the initiative.

The group's first meeting on Nov. 30 was spent narrowing down which firms would best be suited to take on this study as well as highlighting the focus of its mission.

"We are trying to identify ways to bring business into town," Committee Chairman John Goodwin said. Goodwin explained that whatever consultant is brought on board would need to focus on maintaining the town character, meeting the needs of citizens from a business standpoint and bringing in new business in general. With those criteria in hand, the committee members were able to choose AKRF and BFJ Planning as the final choices after a long interview process.

"We feel really good about the two that we selected," committee member Tucker Murphy said. "Before we finally decide, we will contact references and continue to deliberate on what the best fit will be."

Murphy said selecting BFJ Planning, a firm also doing work with the Long Range Planning Committee, turned out to be a good thing even though there were some concerns about too much overlap.

"We realized that there were some benefits for that," Murphy said. "It was a good idea."

Goodwin said that they knew going into the interviews that it might be difficult to make a final decision on one firm so quickly.

"For the next level, we are going to be checking references and getting a sense of cost," Goodwin said. "Even though this is funded by a grant, we would like to get the best bang for our buck."

Goodwin indicated that these two firms really had a good grasp on gap analysis and identifying areas the town could improve.

"What I mean by leakage and gap analysis is pointing out things we don't have in town now that we should have in the future," Goodwin said. "We liked what these firms had to offer on that front."

In terms of the specific aspects of both consultants, Goodwin elaborated on what made them each unique. AKRF's experience and approach with other towns in Connecticut and around the country really made an impression on the group.

"They have not done total revamps, but made incremental changes in other towns," Goodwin said. "That is certainly along the lines of what we hope to accomplish here. They have a wide range in thinking and also know our town fairly well."

BFJ Planning was a point of concern before the interviews for Goodwin and the rest of the committee; but they have come away from the process fairly happy with their presentation.

"What's important to say about BFJ is that we didn't choose them because they are already doing work in town," Goodwin said. "We got the sense that they are sophisticated at taking data and applying it pretty successfully. They have also demonstrated success with similar projects in other New Canaan type towns."

Goodwin said that while the jury is still out on how their overlap work with the Long Range Planning Committee will come into play, the combination of them knowing the town along with good experience was a big positive.

As they move forward to deciding in the early weeks of January, Goodwin indicated that his number one goal is to have some real actionable results from this study.

"We are looking for a firm that will provide us with suggestions that we can really move ahead with," he said. "We do not want this to be a study that just sits on a shelf."