Nearly 500 small businesses benefit from new initiative


HARTFORD — What does it take for a state agency to produce dozens of happy small-business owners in Connecticut, a state not known as business-friendly? Quick service and responsive employees help — and $67.2 million in no-cost or low-cost capital certainly doesn't hurt.

On January 3, about 30 small business owners praised the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy for doing what banks had refused in the past year: providing capital to expand in a weak economy.

There was Virginia P'an of Yumi EcoSolutions, a maker of biodegradable products that replace plastics. She said a $250,000 loan and $100,000 grant are allowing her small Norwalk company to supply national retailers like Williams Sonoma.

Marcia LeFemina of Pennsylvania Globe Gaslight, a North Branford manufacturer, called her company the "poster child" for economic development as a beneficiary of a $100,000 grant and help hiring ex-offenders and others.

Their companies were among 494 small businesses receiving financial assistance in the first year of the Small Business Express program, a product of the bipartisan special session on jobs in 2011.

Through the end of 2012, the program had made $27.5 million in grants and $39.7 million in loans, with another $38 million tentatively set to go to another 271 businesses.

Under the Malloy administration, the Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) and its commissioner, Catherine Smith, have won strong reviews as a customer-friendly state agency.

The governor was told that the DECD rapidly walked the businesses through an application process that was painless, at least until the lawyers got involved. Several business owners called the closing process cumbersome and expensive.

Smith said the department was working on simplifying the closing procedure.

Smith said her department required only a one-page business plan, but some applicants could not show sufficient cash flow to qualify for a state loan. Others owed back taxes to state or local governments.

To qualify, companies must have been registered to conduct business for at least 12 months and they must be in good standing with all state agencies, particularly the Department of Revenue Services.

State officials say the program has "impacted" more than 6,300 jobs, with 1,738 to be created and 4,616 to be retained as a result of the financial assistance, which has leveraged about $40 million in private investments.


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