State official touts business startups, loan assistance during stop in Meriden

MERIDEN — State Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman touted new business startups and a new fund for business owners and nonprofits during a stop in the city 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 business startups — up 40 percent in the past two years, adding about 20,000 people into the post-pandemic labor market.

He also introduced the Small Business Boost Fund program, a $150 million initiative introduced by Gov. 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 4.5 percent interest rate and 60 to 72-month payback terms, depending on loan size.

Applicants receive support from community lenders and technical assistance, Lehman said. About 50 percent of recipients will be women and minority-owned businesses.

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

Last month, the City Council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief money to establish a program to incentivize the reuse of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million Commercial Space Upgrade Program would enable the owners of vacant commercial space and business tenants to bring the buildings up to code or to make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements. The program, which will be administered by the Meriden Economic Development Corp., would require a funding match from applicants. For spaces located in the downtown inner city district, the match would be 25%.

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

Lehman’s presentation on the economy followed a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey released Friday outlining several challenges.

The survey of 1,200 businesses found that 85% of employers experienced difficulty finding and retaining workers and also showed that just 26% of businesses expect the state’s economy to expand next year.

Nearly a quarter – 24% – believed tax relief should be the main priority for the state’s next governor and legislature, while 22% said state spending and pension reform were the top issues.

Lehman addressed statewide initiatives to cut the cost of living, incentivize the expansion of housing options, retain and attract recent graduates, broaden pathways to careers in manufacturing and the trades and develop a more competitive business climate.

Lamont, who is running for reelection, has also made paying off pension debt and building the rainy day fund priorities for his administration.

His opponent Bob Stefanowski introduced a $640 million plan Tuesday that would aim to save businesses from repaying hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Connecticut’s unemployment trust.

Stefanowski’s plan also would expand research-and-development tax credits, bolster 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 ranked at the bottom of states to do business,” Stefanowski told The Mirror. “CNBC just gave Connecticut’s economy an ‘F.’ Small business owners are struggling with rampant inflation. … The governor is completely out of touch with people’s pain.”

Lamont said Stefanowski’s plan weakens the government’s readiness to withstand the next economic downturn.

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

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