The state authority chooses business startups and loan assistance when it stops in Meriden

MERIDIN – State Department Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman made a stop in the city on Friday to promote new business startups and new funding for business owners and nonprofit organizations.

Lehman spoke to about 75 people at a breakfast at Il Monticello hosted by the Midstate Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted new business start-ups – up 40 percent over the past two years, adding nearly 20,000 people to the post-pandemic job market.

He also introduced the Small Business Enhancement Fund program, a $150 million initiative introduced by Gov. Ned Lamont in July. Targeted at business owners and nonprofits, the fund offers $5,000 to $500,000 with no down payment, a fixed 4.5 percent interest rate and repayment terms of 60 to 72 months, depending on the loan amount.

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

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

Last month, the City Council authorized the use of federal Covid-19 relief funds to establish a program to repurpose vacant commercial buildings. A $5 million commercial space improvement program allows vacant commercial space owners and commercial tenants to bring the buildings up to code or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements. The program, administered by the Meriden Economic Development Corporation, requires financial support from applicants. For locations in the city’s downtown district, the match will be 25 percent.

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

Lehman’s outlook on the economy followed a Connecticut Association of Commerce and Industry survey released Friday that highlighted several challenges.

The survey of 1,200 businesses found that 85% of employers are having trouble finding and retaining workers, and 26% of businesses expect the state’s economy to expand over the next year.

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

Lehman discussed statewide initiatives to reduce the cost of living, encourage housing options, retain and attract recent graduates, expand career paths in manufacturing and trade, and develop a more competitive business climate.

Lamont, who is running for re-election, also made paying down the pension debt and building a rainy day fund a priority for his administration.

His challenger, Bob Estefanowski, introduced a $640 million plan on Tuesday that would save businesses from paying hundreds of millions in unemployment benefits to Connecticut.

Stefanowski’s plan would expand research and development tax credits, provide relief for sole proprietorships and certain small businesses, and repeal new taxes on restaurant food and large commercial vehicles, the Connecticut Mirror reported.

“Connecticut ranks at the bottom of the states for doing business,” Stefanowski told The Mirror. “CNBC gave Connecticut’s economy an ‘F.’

Lamont said Stefanowski’s plan would undermine the government’s preparedness to deal with the next recession.

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

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