By Chris Bosak
Recognizing that small business is the "heart of the economy," Congressman Jim Himes organized an event held Tuesday at Norwalk City Hall to alert business owners of the government programs available to them.
"We need to do everything we can to assist them," Himes told The Hour. "Government is limited in what it can do, but it's important to know what we can do for small businesses."
Entitled "How to Do Business with the Federal and State Government, Access and Obtain Capital, and Resources Available to Assist Connecticut's Small Businesses," the seminar put small business owners in the same room as representatives from agencies such as SCORE, Small Business Administration and Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD). More than 100 people attended the seminar. Business owners represented a wide range of industries, such as restaurants, flooring, manufacturing, real estate, entertainment and retail.
Himes spoke to several business owners prior to the event and got a general feeling of optimism about the economy.
"It's not cause for celebration, but the environment is getting better," Himes said. "No one is doing what they were doing four or five years ago. "The new Jobs Act, recently signed to law, will increase financial flexibility for small businesses. That's an effort by Washington to make things easier."
At least one small business owner stood up during the event and complained about the complexity of getting assistance from the government.
Rina Bakalar, executive director of the Office of Workforce Competitiveness for the state's Department of Labor, said various governmental entities are working on solving that problem.
"We're all in this together and trying to streamline the process," she said. "We hope you will begin to see that change soon."
Bakalar encouraged small business owners in attendance to learn about the DOL's STEP UP program, which assists in training and offers grants.
Joseph McCarthy of the Internal Revenue Service urged business owners to know what tax breaks or credits for which they may be eligible.
Brian Baxendale, a SCORE Counselor, touted his organization's workshops and one-on-one counseling. The Fairfield County chapter of SCORE, which is based in Norwalk at new offices at 111 East Ave., supports all types of businesses.
"Our advice is free and we have no agenda," Baxendale said.
Gerald Cavallo, president and owner of aerospace manufacturer James Ippolito & Co., told the audience how he set aside his preconceived notions of SCORE and benefited greatly from its service.
Stamford-based Women's Business Development Center was at the event for the dual purpose of helping small businesses and getting more information about obtaining grants, according to WBDC representative Beth Dolan.
Lindy Lee Gold told small business owners to not be shy about inquiring of the loans and grants offered by DECD.
"We love being overworked. We love being stressed," she said. "We have loans and tools for you. Let us be your partner."
Other speakers included: Bernie Sweeney of the U.S. Small Business Administration; Brien Robertson of the Connecticut Procurement Technical Assistance Program; and Robert Zarnetske of General Services Administration.
"Word to the wise: If you want to get into government contracting, there are resources available to you," Robertson said.
After the opening presentations, attendees were able to meet with representatives from the various government organizations.
"Do not let this be the end of our conversation," Himes said. "You don't have to have lobbyists. Feel free to visit me in my office."