By Christine Stuart
This summer Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has spent some of his time crisscrossing Connecticut visiting companies the state has supported through the Small Business Express program.
The grant program created through the bipartisan Oct. 2011 jobs bill gives grants and low-interest loans to small businesses with 50 or fewer employees. The companies don't have to promise to create jobs, but at least one business Malloy visited Monday has created five since receiving a $76,000 grant.
Bolton Aerospace in Manchester used the money to help purchase a milling machine. The grant helped free up other capital and gave its president, Brian Martin, an opportunity to hire five previously unemployed workers. The company makes "value added" aerospace parts for companies such as Sikorsky, Rolls Royce, General Electric, and Pratt & Whitney. "Value added" parts are parts that the company modifies through precision manufacturing once they are received.
"On a per capita basis we are the second most intense in aerospace," Malloy said of Connecticut's employment statistics. "That's something that we want to protect."
There are more than 80 aerospace companies in the state. Most are concentrated around Pratt & Whitney east of the Connecticut River and Sikorsky Helicopter on the Housatonic River in Stratford.
Malloy said the state has well over 800 Small Business Express agreements in place that have kept thousands of jobs in Connecticut and added a few thousand more. To be more exact, the Department of Economic and Community Development is reporting that it has distributed $108 million to 815 businesses, retaining 8,210 jobs and creating another 2,873.
As of May, only about four of the then 704 companies with agreements in place had closed after receiving the money, giving the state about a 99.4 percent success rate.
As far as the aerospace industry is concerned, Martin said he sees a lot of growth potential and opportunities in the next two years. He said Rolls Royce, Pratt, and Sikorsky all have contracts to build aircraft that will keep his machines running in Manchester.
Malloy credited the legislature for allocating the money to help continue funding the program to "build a stronger economy." In February, the legislature authorized $60 million in bond funds and in June it authorized another $100 million to expand the Small Business Express program.
Three state lawmakers attended the event in Manchester on Monday, including Reps. Joe Diminico of Manchester and Pamela Sawyer of Bolton, and Sen. Steve Cassano of Manchester.
Sawyer, the only Republican member of the group, said she supports the Small Business Express program.
"I've been supportive of the work the state is doing for small and medium sized companies, but I have not been supportive of the first, second, or third five program," she said referring to the program that doles out millions of dollars to large companies if they agree to create 200 or more jobs over 10 years.
Big companies that have received low-interest loans from the state include a hedge fund, a pharmaceutical company, a sports network, and an insurance company to name a few. Malloy has the approval of the legislature to offer deals to up to 15 large companies. There's been an ongoing debate about whether the state should be giving these companies money to stay in Connecticut.
"It's the economy of scale where we don't have an understanding," Sawyer said of the differences in philosophy between Republicans and the Democratic governor on economic development issues.
Malloy, who has not yet announced whether he's running for re-election, has been defending his economic development policies over the last few weeks as his Republican opponents get ready to take him on in 2014.
"I'll take my credentials against any Republican when it comes to assisting small businesses in the state of Connecticut," he said after a July 26 Bond Commission meeting.
Malloy said the incentives his administration offers to businesses are based on a model that looks at a company's potential for growth and tries to forecast how quickly the state will see a return on its investment.
"These deals pay for themselves relatively rapidly in some cases and in other cases extremely rapidly," he said.