State official praises start-ups, help with loans during stop in Meriden

MERIDEN — David Lehman, State Department commissioner for economic and community development, praised new business start-ups and a new fund for entrepreneurs and nonprofits during a stop in the city on Friday.

Lehman addressed a crowd of about 75 people during breakfast at Il Monticello hosted by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted new business start-ups – a 40 percent increase over the past two years, bringing about 20,000 people into the post-pandemic job market.

He also introduced the Small Business Boost Fund program, a $150 million initiative launched by the Ned Lamont government in July. Targeted at business owners and nonprofits, the fund offers between $5,000 and $500,000 with no startup fees, a fixed interest rate of 4.5 percent, and a payback period of 60 to 72 months, depending on the size of the loan.

Applicants will receive support from community funders and technical assistance, Lehman said. About 50 percent of recipients are 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 match program.

Last month, the city council approved the use of federal COVID-19 relief money to establish a program to boost the reuse of vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million commercial space upgrade program would allow owners of vacant commercial space and corporate tenants to put the buildings in order or 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 in the center of the city center, the match would be 25%.

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

Lehman’s presentation on the economy followed a study by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association released Friday that outlined several challenges.

The survey of 1,200 companies found that 85% of employers struggled to find and retain employees, and also showed that only 26% of companies expect the state’s economy to grow next year.

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

Lehman spoke about statewide initiatives to reduce the cost of living, drive housing expansion, retain and attract graduates, broaden pathways to industrial and commerce careers, and develop a more competitive business environment.

Lamont, who is running for re-election, has also paid off the pension debt and built the rainy day fund priorities for his administration.

His opponent Bob Stefanowski on Tuesday introduced a $640 million plan that aims to save companies from paying back hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Connecticut’s unemployment trust.

Stefanowski’s plan would also expand tax credits for research and development, strengthen the exemption for sole proprietors 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 list of states to do business,” Stefanowski 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 the people’s pain.”

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

[email protected]: @Cconnbiz

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