NEDC hopeful about economic future

NAUGATUCK — Thursday’s news from the U.S. Department of Labor that unemployment in Connecticut had jumped from 8.4 to 8.8 percent lent an air of irony to that night’s Sixth Annual Business Meeting of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation (NEDC), where officials acknowledged the challenging economy but expressed hope about the future.

Among orderly protocol—including the reseating of NEDC Chairman Jay Carlson, Secretary Rebecca Zandvliet and Treasurer Terry Barber—the meeting was punctuated by presentations from NEDC CEO Dave Prendergast and Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Joan McDonald.

NEDC CEO Dave Prendergast said the Renaissance Place project, site pictured above, is "making strides" despite red tape and developmental hang-ups.

NEDC CEO Dave Prendergast said the Renaissance Place project, site pictured above, is "making strides" despite red tape and developmental hang-ups.

Prendergast said, to date, the NEDC can claim a hand in the creation of 426 new jobs and the retention of 289 others in the borough.

Perhaps most importantly, cleanup on Parcel C has finally begun, and talks with Saint Mary’s about the development of a healthcare facility there are “moving along very well,” Prendergast said.

Additionally, the Riverwalk project is approved for final design, and construction on Phase 1 should begin next summer.

Details on the long-stagnant Renaissance Place project, however, were scarce. Prendergast offered only that the Renaissance was “making strides,” and that the new municipal development plan was “well on its way” to completion.

The NEDC, he said, has worked with 44 companies over the years, and there’s plenty of development coming down the tube.

This year, those companies included MJM Eyelet Manufacturing, Northeastern Communications, and Pennsylvania Steel. YoFarm Yogurt and RAM Welding are also expanding—and inflating the tax base along with them.

Prendergast said the NEDC also influenced the development of new stores on Bridge Street, including the new Dunkin’ Donuts.

One NEDC project in coming months will be to host a “business-to-business expo,” where companies, especially ones in the industrial sector, would be able to meet and establish business relationships.

McDonald, the state DECD Commissioner, presented her plan for the ongoing growth and development of business in the state.

“We get to set the stage and talk about policy,” she told business owners, “but the rubber really meets the road in what you do every day.”

McDonald addressed the disparity between perceived economic growth and unemployment, saying, “The economists say we’re coming out of the recession, which means we’ll have two [consecutive] quarters of economic growth … but if you’re in that 8.8 percent [of unemployed], those two quarters don’t matter.”

McDonald said the state’s economic strengths, such as strong healthcare and technology industries, an educated workforce, and a competitive international business presence were offset by its weaknesses—among them a lack of affordable housing, an “insufficient” mass transit system and frequent demographic shifts.

She mentioned the ongoing national crisis in consumer and credit confidence, saying, “We have become a debtor nation, a consumer nation. People realize they’re overleveraged … they’re contracting and not spending.”

In spite of dire circumstances, McDonald said the economic forecast from the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA) is “brighter,” and the state may be looking at recovery in 2010.

She quoted Chairman of the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors Don Klepper-Smith, saying, “We will come out of this, but it will be inch by inch as opposed to yard by yard.”

The DECD’s recovery plan comprises 65 initiatives divided into three categories—talent and technology, cultivating competitiveness, and responsible growth.

Highlights of these initiatives are a $100 million student loan pool, which would offer some loan forgiveness to Connecticut graduates who remain in-state, a boosted tax credit for start-up companies, a $65 million per year state marketing fund, the creation of a Connecticut Port Authority to link the three city ports, and the expansion of Bradley Airport.

McDonald and the DECD will hold four public hearings throughout the state in January and February to get feedback on and prioritize their many initiatives.

Visit www.ct.gov/edc for more information about the DECD’s plan.