U.S. Congressman and Senate hopeful Chris Murphy, D-5, was in Meriden Wednesday morning to host a Small Business Seminar at the public library, where he talked about the resources available to Connecticut's small business owners.
“The future of Connecticut’s economy is in this room today,” Murphy told the roughly 50 attendees from the region who showed up for the two-hour information session. “Connecticut’s economy won’t succeed if Connecticut’s small businesses don’t succeed.”
In his opening remarks, Murphy said that when small business owners are in the throes of these tough economic times, they don’t have time to network and find out what resources are out there. That, he says, is why he has hosted a handful of events like these over the past six years.
Murphy also shared these statistics:
- 97 percent of Connecticut employers are small businesses.
- Small businesses employ about 50 percent of the state’s workforce.
- Between 2005 and 2008, almost all new jobs in Connecticut were created by small businesses.
- In the next 10 years, an estimated 80 to 90% of new jobs in the state will be created by small businesses.
Murphy then turned the podium over to a group of panelists from federal, state and regional economic development agencies, who described the resources and services they offer. Among the organizations represented were:
The U.S. Small Business Administration
Co-hosts of the event, the SBA supports Connecticut small-business owners with loans, government contracts, and business counseling and training. SBA Lender Relations Specialist William Tierney stressed the importance of being well prepared before approaching a lender.
“The more prepared you are, the more likely you are to get the yes,” he said.
He also shared information on the most common reasons loans are declined, what lenders look for in applicants, and the documentation needed to apply for a business loan.
New England Bank
New England Bank CEO Tony Mattioli urged attendees to start with community banks and to create a strong business plan before seeking a loan.
“Community banks will give you the attention you deserve,” he said, and they are “sitting on piles of cash” that isn’t making them any money unless they lend it out. They can make decisions quickly and locally, he added.
Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD)
DECD spokeswoman Lindy Gold described the resources available under the state Jobs Bill passed in June. Those resources include:
- Matching grants of up to $100,000. (The applicant has to come up with an equal amount on her or his own.)
- Loans of $300,000 or less, up to half of which may be forgiven if the business’ employment goals are met.
- Job expansion tax credits of $500/person per month for new hires and $900/person per month for new hires who are receiving disability or unemployment benefits or who are veterans. These credits last for three years.
According to Gold, who has conducted dozens of similar seminars around the state, DECD has received approximately 1,400 small-business loan applications already. Loans are available to companies with 100 or fewer employees that have been in business for at least 12 months.
Ann Harrison, Regional Coordinator of the state Department of Labor’s STEP UP programs, explained that one such program offers qualifying small businesses up to six months in wage reimbursements for new hires who are:
- Have a household income of up to 250% of the federal poverty level, and
- Live in specified areas of the state that have been hardest hit by unemployment. (Meriden is one of those municipalities.)
A second STEP UP program for small manufacturers provides up to $12,500 in grants over six months to train new hires who were previously unemployed.
Community Economic Development Fund (CEDF)
Donna Wertenbach, President and CEO of the Meriden-based CEDF, described her agency as a nontraditional statewide program that tailors its loans to each individual customer.
“Every one of you is unique and different with your own unique set of needs and problems,” she told the audience. “Our goal is to do everything in our power to help you continue to survive and grow your way out of this mess,” she said, referring to the current state of the economy.
Wertenbach described CEDF as a last-resort lender.
"Everybody potentially is eligible for a loan unless you can show me that your business doesn't have a ghost's chance in hell of surviving," she related.
“Yes, we do start-ups. Yes, we’re certifiably crazy,” she joked.
In addition to loans, the agency provides a free business consultant, pro bono CPAs, and a host of business-skills training programs offered in six locations around the state, including Meriden. You don’t have to be a borrower to take the training classes, she said, but borrowers do enjoy reduced rates.
Women’s Business Development Council (WBDC)
The WBDC is not a lender, but provides training, counseling and one-on-one consulting. Despite the name, many of its clients are men, said spokesperson Kim DeSousa. The council offers a nine-week program for developing a business plan and helps clients through the loan application process.
At the end of the seminar, panelists took questions from the audience and invited interested participants to talk with them afterwards.
For more information about any of these agencies or programs, please visit their websites.