November 30, 2018

New Haven economic development chief steps down

Matthew Nemerson.

Matthew Nemerson, the city's chief economic-development official, has resigned. His last day at City Hall is Friday.

Nemerson says he is leaving to assume a business-development role in the private sector with a yet-unnamed technology enterprise.

The former president of the Connecticut Technology Council and Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, Nemerson actively pursued a pro-development agenda that sometimes placed him at odds with other "entrenched" city and state-government officials including department heads, state lawmakers and union bosses.

He departs Friday exactly one month shy of five years on the job. He was named to head the city's Department of Economic Development before Mayor Toni N. Harp assumed office on Jan. 1, 2014. Nemerson says he informed the mayor "a while ago" but they agreed to keep the decision confidential until now.

In his stead City Plan Director Michael Piscitelli will serve as acting development administrator beginning on Monday. Nemerson, who has served as point person in key development projects such as redevelopment of the former Veterans Memorial Coliseum site, new ownership for the Ninth Square apartment complex and others, will continue to help with transition as well as to continue to advance some existing projects as a part-time consultant through year's end, he said.

Bull by the horns

Nemerson's City Hall job was his first purely public-sector role, although he had served in quasi-governmental organizations such as the CTC and the regional chamber of commerce, as well as at Science Park Development Corp. His private-sector experience includes a stint as chief operating officer at the Branford technology company startup exitech.

Nemerson's direct management style has frequently brought him into conflict with others in City Hall and beyond. In June he was placed on an unpaid three-week "leave of absence" by Harp. "People are getting annoyed with me," he explained at the time.

"I will be going to another job, which I can't announce yet," he told NHB. "But it's back to the private sector doing technology things. It's an exciting opportunity with a fun, fast-growing company."

Nemerson's five years as an oft-outspoken "agent of change" in city government weren't always so much fun.

"It's been a great five years — five years of 60-hour weeks and the weight of the world on your shoulders every day," he said. "Dealing with a complex [organization structure] of departments and city politics in a very flat matrix organization that requires constant navigation.

"One of the things I've learned about government is that if you're really going to be true to your strategies and your goals, you're going to use yourself up," Nemerson said. "One of the reasons government is so hard to [make] change in, coming from the private sector as I did, is that you can't take entrenched interests lightly.

"It's not that people are entrenched because they don't get it, or they don't have all the information, or they don't understand your side of the story," he explained. "They're entrenched for other reasons — which means that they're hard to move, and in some cases impossible to move."

Nemerson has nothing but praise for his boss — her vision, work ethic and determination to make the city a better place for all its residents.

He described his relationship with Harp as "a very positive partnership. There's a lot of trust there for a long time. That speaks well to New Haven's government culture — [her] willingness to let people come in and try new things."

Contact Michael C. Bingham at mbingham@newhavenbiz.com

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