Civic leaders hoping to promote economic growth in the three of Washington's village centers -- the Depot, New Preston and Marble Dale -- are pushing the town to hire an economic development director.

Members of the business community would like to see a full-time or part-time person take on the role.

To that possible end, the town Planning Commission is exploring the idea as it prepares its 2015 Plan of Conservation and Development.

The issue has taken on added urgency because two businesses in Washington Depot are closing by year's end -- Liberty Lemonade, a clothing shop, and Green Hill, a garden shop.

Fran Keilty, the president of the Washington Business Association, said businesses in town support the Planning Commission taking the initiative.

"It makes sense to hire someone who is looking at the big picture," Keilty said. "As business people, our first priority is running our own operations."

Keilty has offered the WBA's help in implementing the plan. She and First Selectman Mark Lyon have attended several Northwest Connecticut Economic Committee meetings.

The Northwest Connecticut Council of Governments has secured a two-year grant to hire a regional economic development director. That person would not work for Washington alone but as a council member, the town could draw on the director's expertise.

Jocelyn Ayer, the assistant executive director of the council, will work with the Planning and Zoning Commissions of representative towns not covered by the grant to develop economic development ideas of their own.

Lyon sees "tapping into" the information generated through the council's initiative as a cost-effective way for Washington to move forward.

A study committee under the the auspices of the Planning Commission is developing specifications on what it would cost the town to hire its own economic development director.

Those figures should be ready in time for budget discussions early in 2015 by the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance.

"There are pluses and minuses to either option," Lyon said. "By January, we'll be pursing whichever is determined best for the town. We want to be sure our municipal government is doing all we can to help our businesses stay viable."

stuz@newstimes.com; 203-731-3352