A government official advertises business start-ups and loan assistance during a stopover in Meriden

MERIDEN — State Department Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman touted new business start-ups and a new fund for business owners and nonprofits during a city stop Friday.

Lehman addressed a crowd of about 75 people at a luncheon at Il Monticello hosted by the Middle State Chamber of Commerce. The presentation highlighted new business start-ups, which have grown by 40 percent over the past two years, adding about 20,000 people to the post-pandemic job market.

He also introduced the Small Business Support Program, a $150 million initiative introduced by Gov. Ned Lamont in July. Aimed at business owners and nonprofits, the fund provides $5,000 to $500,000 with no creation 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 receive support from community lenders and technical assistance, Lehman said. About 50 percent of the recipients will be women and minority-owned businesses.

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

Last month, the city council authorized the use of federal COVID-19 relief money to create a reuse incentive program for vacant commercial buildings. The $5 million Commercial Space Upgrade Program will allow vacant commercial space owners and tenants to bring buildings up to code or make other so-called “vanilla box” improvements. The program, which will be operated by Meriden Economic Development Corp., will require funding from applicants. For premises located in the city center, the coincidence will be 25%.

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

Lehman’s economics presentation followed a Connecticut Business and Industry Association survey released Friday that outlined several concerns.

A survey of 1,200 businesses found that 85% of employers were having difficulty finding and retaining workers, and showed that only 26% of businesses expect the state’s economy to grow next year.

Nearly a quarter – 24% – believe tax breaks should be a top priority for the next state governor and legislature, while 22% believe government spending and pension reform are top issues.

Lehman has turned to nationwide initiatives to lower the cost of living, encourage expansion of housing options, retain and attract recent graduates, expand career opportunities in manufacturing and commerce, and create a more competitive business climate.

Lamont, who is running for re-election, has also secured the payment of his pension debt and the creation of rainy-day fund priorities for his administration.

His opponent Bob Stefanovski on Tuesday unveiled a $640 million plan that would be aimed at saving businesses from paying hundreds of millions of dollars owed to Connecticut’s unemployment fund.

According to the Connecticut Mirror, Stefanovski’s plan will also expand tax credits for research and development, strengthen incentives for self-employed entrepreneurs and some other small businesses, and remove new taxes on restaurant food and large commercial trucks.

“Connecticut ranks last among states for doing business,” Stefanovski told The Mirror. “CNBC just gave the Connecticut economy an A. Small business owners are struggling with rampant inflation. … The governor is completely unaware of the pain of the people.”

Lamont said Stefanovski’s plan weakens the government’s preparedness to withstand the next economic downturn.

[email protected]: @Cconnbiz

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