A new national report puts Connecticut near the bottom among all states for its business climate in 2012, with the cost of state government, taxes and regulations cited among the causes.

The report by CNBC ranks Connecticut 44th in 2012, down from 39th in 2011.


The Constitution State’s competitiveness is dragged down by the cost of doing business here (ranked 46th in the nation, down from 45 a year earlier), cost of living (only two states higher in 2012), and the state’s substandard infrastructure and transportation (43rd in the nation).


In addition, only ten states performed worse than Connecticut in CNBC’s rankings of the state’s workforce and overall economy (both ranked No. 40).


Connecticut highest national ranking, according to CNBC, was for quality of education (average SAT scores 1535 out of possible 2400), which trailed only New York State. However, even that metric fails to reflect the yawning achievement gap between poor urban and wealthier suburban public-school districts.


The states even worse than Connecticut for doing business, according to CNBC: Mississippi (No. 46), Alaska (47), West Virginia (48), Hawaii (49) and Rhode Island. The top-ranked state for the third consecutive years is Texas.

SBS plans $97 million North Haven plant


NORTH HAVEN — Sustainable Building Solutions, LLC will benefit from the First Five Plus Program (an enhancement of the First Five initiative), which provides generous financial incentives to companies pledging to create at least 200 new jobs in Connecticut within two years or invest a minimum of $25 million within the state and create more than 200 jobs within five years.


Jobs are what Gov. Dannel Malloy emphasized when announcing the state’s agreement with SBS.


“In the last century, the steel industry was the backbone of our nation, providing jobs and helping to build the middle class,” said Malloy in a July 18 statement. “Companies like Sustainable Building Systems represent the next evolution of that industry. By embracing 21st-century technology, what’s old is becoming new again. Green products represent the future and I’m happy to welcome Sustainable Building Systems to American soil.”


SBS will manufacture sustainable building panels for hotels, homes, the military and other users. The business will be headquartered in North Haven, in a 400,000-square-foot site at 297 State Street. The cost to establish the new company is estimated at $97 million.


As part of its deal, SBS will receive a $19.1 million loan at 2.0-percent interest. The loan is to be paid out over a ten-year period, in three installments, provided that the company meets certain job-creation stipulations. It is expected that the new company will create a total of 408 jobs in the state within four years. Initially, 50 local employees will be trained in all facets of the process of manufacturing. The First Five funds SBS received are intended for equipment and machinery purchases.


SBS is a partnership between Diverse Services Group of Arizona and the Weeks Group, an Australian building and manufacturing company. Among the latter’s subsidiaries is Steel Building Systems International, the company entering into the SBS partnership.


Funds for the First Five Plus Program are provided through the state’s Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD).


In other economic development news, Malloy recently announced that Dollar Tree has been given loan, training grant and tax credit incentives to build a million-square-foot, $104 million distribution center in Windsor that will employ at least 200 people in five years. Site construction — which will bring 425 jobs to the area over the next year — is to begin immediately, according to the governor’s office.


Businessman and former gubernatorial candidate Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance, acalled the deal “great news” regarding jobs and regional investment. “We applaud the governor and DECD on this latest success,” Griebel said.


The incentives include a training grant of up to $500,000; a $7 million loan at 1.0 percent interest that could be forgiven if a certain number of jobs are created; and up to $20 million in Urban and Industrial Sites Reinvestment Tax Credits.


The latter, for major development projects, provides tax credits of up to 100 percent of the investment made by developers, explains DECD spokesperson David Treadwell. The DECD determines the amount of credits offered after conducting a financial review and impact analysis. Requests for more than $20 million must be submitted by the DECD commissioner to the legislature for approval.


 Business people, doctors and politicians stir the pot regarding legalization’s toll on the Connecticut workplace


 Gov. Dannel Malloy has made the sanctioned use of medical marijuana official. On May 31 he signed legislation allowing Connecticut residents to legally obtain the drug if a physician has determined it will help assuage the effects of a serious medical condition.

The effect this new law will have on businesses remains hazy, and few companies are willing to speculate or even discuss how they might need to adjust their policies regarding employee performance in the workplace to accommodate the legislation.

Aetna, one of the state’s major employers, declined to comment through spokesperson Susan Millerick, Likewise, Andre Williams, director of media relations at General Electric, another of Connecticut’s corporate titans, preferred not to comment. They are typical of companies that appear to be shying away from the issue, at least for now.

H.B. 5389, “An Act Concerning the Palliative Use of Marijuana,” gained Senate approval by a comfortable margin, with 21 senators voting in favor of the measure, 13 opposed to it. The House approved the bill in April by a 96-51 vote.

The new law makes Connecticut the 17th state to approve use of marijuana for medical purposes. The District of Columbia also has decriminalized its medicinal application.

Marijuana’s active ingredient, delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, affects nerve cells and can impede normal physiological functioning. While under the influence of marijuana, for example, a user could also become disoriented and experience cognitive problems such as memory, perception and coordination impairment, according to medical experts.

Marijuana has been used for medical purposes, however, to help relieve symptoms and effects of ailments ranging from asthma to glaucoma to multiple sclerosis to cancer.

“This legislation is about accomplishing one objective: providing relief to those with severe medical illnesses,” said Malloy in a statement released immediately after the bill cleared the Senate hurdle in May. But he also acknowledged lingering skepticism.

“I understand many of the concerns raised by opponents,” Malloy stated. “We don’t want Connecticut to follow the path pursued by some other states, which essentially would legalize marijuana for anyone willing to find the right doctor and get the right prescription. In my opinion, such efforts run counter to federal law. Under this proposal, however, the [state] Department of Consumer Protection [DCP] will be able to carefully regulate and monitor the medicinal use of this drug in order to avoid the problems encountered in some other states.”

At the Connecticut District Office of the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) in Hartford, administrators have fielded few, if any, questions about how to address the medical marijuana law, according to District Director Bernard Sweeney. But even if it did, the office would not be able to help a business draft and/or implement policy.

“By virtue of us being a federal agency that really only does loans and management counseling, we wouldn’t get involved in issues like that,” says Sweeney.

One interesting development the office has experienced, however, is a few calls from people interested in starting a marijuana growing and/or dispensary operation.

That too would lie outside SBA’s jurisdiction. In fact, the new law specifically designates the consumer protection commissioner as the responsible agent for establishing standards and licensing qualifications for no more that ten producers throughout the state. The commissioner is charged with setting a maximum number of dispensaries, drafting regulations for their operation, and ensuring that only licensed pharmacists be approved to operate them.

The new law specifically lists glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and cancer as among several “debilitating medical condition[s]” for which marijuana can be used. A physician must recommend it as a remedy in writing, and the user must register with the DCP before beginning treatment.

However, the state’s medical community does not necessarily concur with lawmakers about the extent of marijuana’s medicinal attributes. The Connecticut State Medical Society, along with the Connecticut chapter of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, issued a testimonial statement in March opposing the bill. Three months later, it stands by that opposition.

“The Connecticut State Medical Society continues to have concern about smoking marijuana for medicinal purposes,” asserts a recent release from Audrey Honig Geragosian, CSMS’ director of communications. “There is inadequate scientific evidence to suggest its benefits outweigh either concern for patient and public safety or the long-term health risks posed by ingestion through smoking.”

CSMS President Michael M. Krinsky, MD notes that the Massachusetts Medical Society also opposes the use of medical marijuana. The measure is being considered in the Bay State; if the state legislature doesn’t act on a bill that would legalize medical marijuana use, voters could be able to decide the issue via a ballot question this November.

“The regulations [for Connecticut] have not been written yet, so anything anybody is thinking would be pure speculation,” says Krinsky. “We have no guidance whatsoever. If anything, [physicians should] wait and see how things are written.”

Krinsky stresses that CSMS emphasizes “evidence-based medicine,” and that there also are federal laws that must be abided. He also notes the cost for those who do receive medical marijuana prescriptions might be restrictive for some patients.

“Just because it’s legal doesn’t mean insurers are going to cover it,” he says, adding, “It’s a very complicated issue on so many different levels.”

As far as the workplace is concerned, SBA’s Sweeney echoes the opinion of many when he offers that the bill is directed toward patients with “numerous health issues” and those who are “seriously ill.” People with such debilitating medical impairments, many maintain, are unlikely to maintain a daily work schedule outside the home.

Malloy himself, in his statement lauding Senate passage of the legislation, noted the “thousands of people in Connecticut who will likely benefit from this legislation as the struggle with debilitating and life-threatening illnesses.”

However, the law does not bar workforce participation for employees using medical marijuana.

On the contrary, the law states that, except in situations involving federal law or for which securing federal funds would be jeopardized, an employer cannot fire or decline to hire a person because that person uses medical marijuana. “No employer,” states the bill, “may refuse to hire a person or may discharge, penalize or threaten an employee solely on the basis of such person’s or employee’s status as a qualifying patient or primary caregiver.”

Still, while supporting employee rights, the new legislation also tries to be mindful of employer needs. The bill stipulates that marijuana cannot be ingested in the workplace, among other prohibited locations, and its medical use is allowable only to the extent that it does not endanger the well-being or health of another person.

In addition, the measure recognizes the possibility of work-performance concerns and states that the bill should not be interpreted as restricting “an employer’s ability to prohibit the use of intoxicating substances during work hours” or “any employer’s ability to discipline an employee for being under the influence of intoxicating substances during work hours.”

Then, there is the proverbial elephant in the room: the concern that the medical marijuana law would be utilized to obtain marijuana by persons who do not have serious medical conditions.

Some in the medical community, including members of the Connecticut Society of Eye Physicians, take issue with a least one of the law’s specified “palliative use[s] of marijuana.” During public hearing testimony opposing the legislation in March, Trumbull ophthalmologist Steven Thornquist, a past president and current legislative chair of the Connecticut Society of Eye Physicians, voiced that concern.

“Our concern specifically is with listing glaucoma, a condition that is rarely debilitating and that is not responsive to any palliative effect that has been attributed to marijuana,” stated Thornquist, who said he was representing “over 90 percent of the ophthalmologists in Connecticut and the American Academy of Ophthalmology, representing 29,000 members.”  Thornquist went on to say that vision loss, “the primary symptom that occurs with glaucoma, does not abate in response to marijuana so there is no opportunity to use it for a palliative effect.”

And if people who do not need medical marijuana find a way to obtain it anyway, the situation then becomes a law-enforcement issue.

But the law’s supporters are just as adamant. State Rep. Penny Bacchiochi (R-52) of Somers began to champion what she referred to as “the therapeutic effects of marijuana” after seeing her husband suffer through the debilitating side effects of radiation and chemotherapy. And New Haven State Sen. Martin Looney (D-11), majority leader, noted in hearing testimony that not only would the legislation help “citizens with certain debilitating medical conditions,” it also would benefit the state through “the generation of sales tax revenue created by [medical marijuana] dispensaries.”

So, it seems as if the full impact on the workforce and in the workplace of the new medical marijuana legislation has yet to be measured. And for better or for worse, it appears that the impact will be fully realized only after the new law has taken effect.


 HARTFORD — Connecticut truckers are asking state lawmakers to roll back plans to increase the state's tax on diesel fuel by five cents per gallon. The tax is scheduled to jump to 51.2 cents on July 1.

Last year, it climbed from 39.6 cents to 46.2 cents per gallon. With this latest planned increase, the tax will have jumped by 11.6 cents per gallon — more than 25 percent — in two years.

The Motor Transport Association of Connecticut has sent a letter to legislators, asking them to cap the tax at 49 cents when they meet June 12 in a special session. Association President Mike Riley said the state's diesel tax is already too high and an increase will make Connecticut a more expensive place to do business, according to the Hartford Courant. Many large trucks get only five or six miles per gallon.

 HARTFORD — It’s official: Connecticut will join the rest of the country to allow Sunday sales of liquor.


On May 1 the state Senate voted 28-6 to allow package stores to open and sell alcohol on Sundays and certain holidays, affirming an April 26 vote of the House. The final bill did not, however, include all the consumer protections Gov. Dannel P. Malloy wanted.


In addition to permitting Sunday sales, the final bill increases the number of stores one owner can operate from two to three,  and permits owners to discount one item monthly. It also establishes a task force to study pricing issues, which were key to Malloy’s initial proposal.

“Under the current law, we lose millions of dollars over the border every Sunday,” Malloy said in a statement following the vote. “It’s a bad policy that inconveniences consumers and makes businesses less competitive.  But after tonight, there will be an additional 55 days where sales will be permissible.  It’s a good first step.”

 NEW HAVEN — A proposal to give more than $300,000 in state assistance to a New Haven community center with ties to the Communist Party was pulled abruptly off the State Bond Commission agenda April 27.


And while Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, whose budget office sets the agenda, insisted the item was tabled only because the New Haven People's Center wasn't ready to use the funds, a key Republican on the commission called the proposal an inappropriate use of state funds and charged the administration with conducting sloppy research.


"An organization like this should never have made it onto the bond commission agenda," Rep. Sean J. Williams of Watertown, one of two Republicans on the 10-member bond panel, said after Friday's meeting. "The responsibility of the governor and his budget office is to vet this stuff."


Williams was referring to a proposal to give a $343,500 grant to the Progressive Education and Research Associates, a nonprofit entity that runs the New Haven center. According to the center's website, it is "a meeting place of labor, community, peace and social justice groups."


It hosts the Connecticut bureau of the communist newspaper "People's World." But the center also provides space for poetry, music and film, various training programs, meetings for community groups and Food Not Bombs -- an anti-hunger, peace organization.


The center also is a site on the state's African American Freedom Trail.


Malloy declined after the meeting to discuss the proposed funding, which would have paid for masonry repairs, new roofing and other improvements to the center at 37 Howe Street. The governor referred questions to his budget director, Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes.


But during the meeting, both Barnes and Malloy said the proposed funding was being pulled from the bond commission's agenda at the request of a Progressive Education and Research Associates.


"The project is not ready to go forward," the governor said.


Barnes also told Williams that political affiliation is not a factor when the administration weighs applications for bonded state assistance.




This article originally appeared in CTMirror.com.