MERIDEN — State Department Commissioner of Economic and Community Development David Lehman touted new business start-ups and a new fund for business owners and nonprofits during a stop in the town on Friday.
Lehman addressed a crowd of about 75 at a breakfast at Il Monticello hosted by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted new start-ups – up 40% over the past two years, adding around 20,000 people to the post-pandemic job market.
He also introduced the Small Business Boost Fund program, a $150 million initiative launched by Governor Ned Lamont in July. The fund, aimed at business owners and nonprofits, provides between $5,000 and $500,000 with no origination fees, a fixed interest rate of 4.5% and repayment terms of 60 to 72 month, depending on the size of the loan.
Applicants receive support from community lenders and technical assistance, Lehman said. About 50% of the beneficiaries will be women and minority-owned businesses.
Thomas Welsh, president of Meriden Economic Development Corp., was quick to point out that the Boost Fund can be used in conjunction with the city’s $5 million business matchmaking program.
Last month, the city council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief money to establish a program to encourage the reuse of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million commercial space upgrade program would allow owners of vacant commercial space and commercial tenants to bring buildings up to standard or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements. The program, which will be administered by Meriden Economic Development Corp., would require matching funding from applicants. For spaces in the downtown district, the match would be 25%.
“We want people to know they can use state program funds in their municipal applications,” Welsh said.
Lehman’s presentation on the economy follows a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey released Friday outlining several challenges.
The survey of 1,200 companies found that 85% of employers had difficulty finding and retaining workers and also showed that only 26% of companies expect the state’s economy to grow. next year.
Nearly a quarter – 24% – think tax relief should be the top priority for the next governor and state legislature, while 22% said state spending and pension reform were the main problems.
Lehman addressed statewide initiatives to reduce the cost of living, encourage the expansion of housing options, retain and attract recent graduates, expand pathways to manufacturing careers and professions and develop a more competitive business climate.
Lamont, who is running for re-election, has also made paying down retirement debt and building up the rainy day fund priorities for his administration.
His opponent Bob Stefanowski outlined a $640 million plan on Tuesday that would seek to save businesses from repaying hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the Connecticut Unemployment Trust.
Stefanowski’s plan would also expand tax credits for research and development, strengthen relief for sole proprietorships and certain other small businesses, and repeal new taxes on restaurants and large commercial trucks, according to The Connecticut Mirror.
“Connecticut is ranked at the bottom of the states for doing business,” Stefanowski told the Mirror. “CNBC just gave Connecticut’s economy an ‘F.’ Small business owners are grappling with runaway inflation…. The Governor is completely out of touch with people’s pain.
Lamont said Stefanowski’s plan weakens the government’s ability to weather the next economic downturn.