State officials tout startups, loan aid during Meriden stay

MERIDEN — State Department Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman touted new startups and a new fund for business owners and nonprofits during his stop in the city on Friday.

Lehman Brothers spoke to about 75 people at the Il Monticello breakfast hosted by the Mid-State Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted new startups — which have grown 40% over the past two years and added about 20,000 people to the post-pandemic labor market.

He also introduced the Small Business Promotion Fund program, a $150 million initiative by the governor. Ned Lamont in July. Targeted at business owners and nonprofits, the fund offers $5,000 to $500,000 with no origination fee, a fixed 4.5% interest rate, and repayment terms of 60 to 72 months, depending on the size of the loan.

Applicants are supported by community lenders and technical assistance, Lehman said. About 50 percent of recipients will be women and minority businesses.

Thomas Welsh, president of Meriden Economic Development, was quick to point out that the Boost Fund could be used in conjunction with the city’s $5 million business matching program.

Last month, the city council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds to develop a program to incentivize a large number of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million commercial space upgrade program will enable owners and commercial tenants of vacant commercial space to bring buildings to code or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements. The program will be administered by Meriden Economic Development Corporation and requires applicants to provide a financial match. For spaces located in inner city centres, the match rate is 25 per cent.

“We want people to know they can use state program funds in city applications,” Wales said.

The Lehman Brothers economic report follows several challenges outlined in a Connecticut Chamber of Commerce and Industry survey released Friday.

The survey of 1,200 businesses found that 85 percent of employers were having trouble finding and retaining workers, and also showed that only 26 percent expected the state’s economy to expand next year.

Nearly a quarter (24%) believe tax cuts should be a major priority for the state’s next governor and legislature, while 22% say state spending and pension reform are top issues.

Lehman Brothers has statewide initiatives to reduce the cost of living, incentivize the expansion of housing options, retain and attract recent graduates, broaden manufacturing and industry career paths, and develop a more competitive business environment.

Lamont, who is running for re-election, has also paid off pension debts for his administration and established fund priorities for rainy days.

His opponent, Bob Stefanovsky, on Tuesday unveiled a $640 million plan to spare businesses hundreds of millions of dollars owed to the Connecticut unemployment trust.

Stefanovsky’s plan would also expand the R&D tax credit, strengthen relief for sole proprietorships and certain other small businesses, and repeal new taxes on restaurant food and large commercial trucks, according to the Connecticut Mirror.

“Connecticut is at the bottom of the rankings for doing business,” Stefanovsky told the Mirror. “CNBC just gave Connecticut’s economy an ‘F’. Small business owners are battling rampant inflation. …The governor is totally out of touch with people’s pain.”

Lamont said Stefanovsky’s plan undercuts the government’s preparedness to weather the next recession.

mgodin @record-journ203-317-2255 Twitter: @Cconnbiz

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