ESSEX — As it has each year since 1996, Essex Savings Bank annually commits ten percent of its after-tax income to non-profit community organizations under the bank’s Community Reinvestment Program. This April the bank awarded $76,698 to 94 non-profits that participated in customer-preference ballot at Essex Savings branches. Awards ranged from $1,000 to $7,500 per organization. By year’s end $255,655 will have been donated to some 200 area non-profits — and more than $3.4 million since the program’s inception.

 NEW HAVEN — The accolades just keep coming for Higher One. The latest is recognition as one of the “Achievers 50 Most Engaged Workplaces” in the United States. The award is given each year to employers who make innovative and leadership strides towards engaging their workers. Applicants are judged on eight criteria, including communication, culture, rewards and recognition, and corporate social responsibility.

When we founded Higher One, we wanted to create a company that could bring outstanding service and efficiencies to our customers in higher education and contribute in a meaningful way to our community — achieved by truly engaging our employees each and every day,” said Miles Lasater, Higher One’s COO and co-founder. “It is extremely gratifying to be honored for creating a workplace where people can grow personally and professionally.”

Headquartered in San Francisco, Achievers produces software focusing on employee rewards and recognition. Higher One, founded by a group of then-Yale students 12 years ago, offers financial services and data analytics to some 1,250 colleges and universities throughout the U.S.

 Survey: Business costs, workforce, infrastructure cited as impediments




Connecticut companies continue to struggle to grow in a post-recessionary economy, according to the results of the 2012 Survey of Connecticut Businesses, published by the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) and the accounting, tax and business consulting firm BlumShapiro.


The survey found that while some progress was made to address concerns about workforce development, small-business access to state financing programs and streamlining regulatory processes, Connecticut has a long way to go to create a business climate that fosters economic success.


The annual survey, released September 7 at the Connecticut Economy conference in Rocky Hill, takes the pulse of Connecticut's business community, identifying issues and trends within the state's economic, fiscal and regulatory climates.


Since the last survey in the summer of 2011, the state's economy has fluctuated, growing at a moderate pace through January 2012, but struggling to expand in the ensuing months.


Although companies were cautiously optimistic about their own profitability and hiring over the next year, business confidence remained fragile, and key metrics pointed to continued slow growth.


"We need to restore business confidence in Connecticut in order to secure job growth and create a bright economic future," said John Rathgeber, CBIA's president and CEO. "But to do so we must address our state fiscal challenges, business costs, workforce preparedness and infrastructure needs."


According to BlumShapiro Chief Marketing Officer Tom DeVitto, the report shows that "demand persists for both business and government leaders to create a more favorable business climate if we expect Connecticut companies to stay in Connecticut and thrive during this long, slow recovery. We must improve the course to create a sustainable business climate."


The 2012 survey revealed a slight upward trajectory in business profitability in the state, but business conditions did not improve significantly over the last year. Of the businesses surveyed, only 25 percent rated current conditions as excellent or good.


Adds Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at DataCore Partners in New Haven, “The fact that business profitability has yet to recover to its pre-recessionary levels is not surprising. It is indicative of the overall slow pace of economic expansion, underlying economic uncertainty and profound structural changes that are often underappreciated."


The survey found that hiring was up within the state, with 43 percent of respondents either hiring or planning to hire new full-time workers in 2012. Yet 47 percent reported difficulty finding qualified workers.


"Connecticut's new education reform law and expanded precision machining training in several of the state's community colleges was helping address the state's talent shortage," said Rathgeber, adding that more progress in workforce development was needed.


The 2012 Survey of Connecticut Businesses was emailed in June to businesses throughout the state. There were 580 responses, for a margin of error of plus or minus 4.15 percent.


 State firms say lack of capital hinders growth


Connecticut's already poor credit conditions deteriorated between April 1 and June 30, according to the Second Quarter 2012 CBIA/Farmington Bank Credit Availability Survey, surrendering first-quarter gains.

"With economic growth waning, demand for credit has slackened as well. This lies in sharp contrast to what we saw earlier in the year when expectations for expansion were more favorable," said CBIA economist Peter Gioia.

"It was hoped that the prospects for rising profits would boost business lending, thereby further reducing the risk of another downturn in the 2012-13 timeframe, but despite record-low interest rates, credit demand remains rather lackluster."

The survey showed that only 15 percent of respondents saw future credit conditions improving in the near term, while 43 percent thought future credit conditions would remain effectively unchanged. About 41 percent believed near-term credit conditions were likely to deteriorate in the months to come.

"Economic recovery in the middle part of the year has clearly become more tenuous given the slowdown in real GDP growth, modest job gains, and scaled-back plans for expansion within the manufacturing sector," said John Patrick, president and CEO of Farmington Bank.

"Although the slow economy means reduced demand for credit, the good news is that current credit availability readings are up considerably from one year ago and so the basic uptrend in overall credit conditions remains intact for the time being."

Most economists have asserted that credit availability was crucial to sustained economic growth and therefore expected to play a pivotal role in the strength of expansion for the balance of 2012 and into 2013.

"Credit availability is clearly impacted by the overall strength of economic recovery, and with a 1.5-percent growth rate in the second quarter, it would seem that expansion plans for many firms are being postponed," adds Don Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at DataCore Partners.

"The election is creating some degree of economic uncertainty as well, also suggesting a weakening of near-term credit demand."

Other findings:

• More than a quarter of respondents (27 percent) saw credit availability as a problem for their business.

• Of those who saw credit availability as a problem, 27 percent reported that lack of credit adversely impacted their ability to maintain an adequate workforce and/or forced them to reduce their workforce. Sixty-two percent said that they would be unable to grow or expand as a result of inadequate credit, and another 16 percent indicated employee compensation and/or benefits would likely be reduced as a result.

• Asked what types of financing their firms most needed, 31 percent said working capital for day-to-day operations, while another 14 percent said they needed capital for machinery and equipment purchases.

 BOSTON — Connecticut single-family home sales increased a mere 0.4 percent in the month of June, according to the latest report by the Warren Group. The modest June gain follows double-digits increases in April and May. Second-quarter single-family home sales totaled 6,723, an 11 percent increase from 6,042 in the second quarter of 2011.

June single-family home sales in Connecticut represented the sixth straight month of increases in 2012. A total of 2,532 single-family homes sold in June, up slightly from 2,521 a year earlier. This marks the best month for sales since June 2010, when there were 3,400 sales.

"While it's positive that sales remained about the same as last year, it looks like the market lost some momentum in June. Connecticut home sales are not as strong as in other parts of New England," said Warren Group CEO Timothy M. Warren Jr. "Hopefully the local consumer confidence combined with low mortgage rates will help the market a great deal."

Year-to-date home sales statewide are up nine percent over 2011.