DANIELSON — Over two days, State Senator Mae Flexer (D-Danielson) brought together dozens of community stakeholders from different towns within northeastern Connecticut to discuss the state’s newest legislation, aimed at amplifying existing assets to kick-start new business development and build a 21st century economy.
The workshops held in Windham and Killingly were an extension of a summit in April at Quinebaug Valley Community College in Danielson, convened by Senator Flexer.
“It was extremely important to me that we have that initial conversation while the legislation was being written, so that I could make sure it was written in a way that would benefit northeastern Connecticut. We are rethinking the way we invest in businesses and development, because throwing millions and millions of dollars at a single company to keep 100 employees is not what I would consider the best use of our resources,” said Sen. Flexer. “These workshops are critical to making sure our region can be competitive in getting funding to establish and support an ‘innovation economy’ that combines all our region’s assets – from existing businesses and companies, to the college and universities – to grow business and create good paying jobs, right here where we live.”
Senator Flexer authored Senate Bill 1, which became law as part of Public Act 16-3, with her senate colleagues. This critical legislation creates a new initiative for Connecticut “Innovation Places,” concentrated areas where entrepreneurs and innovators have easy access to tech talent, support organizations and research institutions. These dense areas are intended to be highly walkable, transit-connected, and mixed-use in zoning to facilitate interactions among entrepreneurs and innovators across different organizations, and to be conducive to the creation of startup companies. This environment is intended to be attractive not only for entrepreneurs to work in, but also to live in and for recreation, to help the community retain the most in-demand workers.
Communities interested in establishing an Innovation Place are eligible for a state grant to help them conduct a strategic planning process to identify local conditions and build a master plan that identifies the resources and assets in each community (like a hospital, a university, a research firm, or a manufacturer) to create exciting new business opportunities. The program was designed to be publicly supported and privately led, with communities leveraging public funding to generate a larger amount of private investment and business growth.
“I am grateful to Senator Flexer for reaching out to our communities knowing that there was a better way to ‘do business.’ UConn has the development, the faculty and the human resources that will allow us to bring those startups and incubator businesses to our industrial parks, technology parks, downtowns and renovated mills. Economic development has no borders. We cannot think in boundary lines for communities. We all must have a community, state, national and global mentality – and only then will we be able to bring our human resources and financial resources to the state of Connecticut and our local towns,” said Delpha Very, the Town of Putnam’s Economic and Community Development director, who has been extremely active in the regional conversations. “This was a perfect opportunity for northeastern Connecticut’s leadership to participate in a discussion regarding what we know as the best way to move economic development forward. We are truly blessed with an entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, so this opportunity for Innovations Place planning will move us one step forward to success. We have the perfect infrastructure for quality of life, we have business people who have built successful companies on a skillset and vision, and to put all of this energy together in one place would drive economic development and urban renewal in new and creative way.”
The working groups will continue to meet over the next few weeks to identify a strategy and key assets that would be included in an application to CTNext.
Should this plan be approved, the community can receive additional state grants that will help develop business incubators, expanded technology infrastructure, and more.
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