Business growth highlights annual NEDC meeting

Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Catherine Smith talks about the state jobs bill during the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation's annual meeting Nov. 28.

NAUGATUCK — Some small businesses are flocking to the borough, thanks to the efforts of the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation.

Noel Rutherford, sales engineer at Vitek Research Corporation, said the NEDC played a crucial role in the company’s recent move to the borough’s industrial park.

“We’re glad to have moved up here. All (the NEDC has) done to help us has been critical for the future growth of our company,” Rutherford said at the NEDC’s annual meeting Nov. 28.

Rutherford said tax incentives offered through the state Enterprise Corridor Zone Program in the borough and guidance from the NEDC convinced his company to make the move from Derby last month.

At the meeting, Mayor Robert Mezzo said it’s hard for people to understand how difficult it is to get businesses into the enterprise zone.

“It’s very easy to say times are bad, let’s sit on our hands and wait for things to get better,” Mezzo said.

However, the NEDC has worked hard to bring businesses into town.

Once Vitek finishes moving its medical and aerospace coating equipment to its new location, the company is looking to expand, Rutherford said. He said Vitek, which currently has 15 employees, plans to hire four to six new employees in the next six months. The NEDC expects the company to continue adding 20 jobs over the next two years.

Vitek is one of four borough companies that qualified for Enterprise Zone benefits, which include a five year, 80 percent tax abatement. The state reimburses Naugatuck for half of the abated taxes.

The other companies that qualified for the program in the borough are Chemtura Corporation, YoFarm Company, and Vivax Medical Corporation.

Chemtura invested $10 million to renovate two chemical laboratories totaling 60,000 square feet. The company has relocated 70 employees to the borough from Middlebury.

YoFarm is expanding its main plant on Spring Street with an additional 21,000 square foot space in the industrial park which will create 21 new jobs, according to the NEDC.

Vivax has relocated 10 employees from Torrington and plans to create another 10 to 15 jobs over the next two years. It is leasing a 9,000 square foot space in the industrial park.

The four new and expanding companies in the borough put Naugatuck among the leaders in the state for Enterprise Zone benefits. The cities of Waterbury and Bridgeport each hosted eight projects and New Haven also has four.

The NEDC continues to work with companies considering expanding their operations in the borough. NEDC staff hopes recent changes to zoning regulations will encourage smaller businesses to come to the industrial park. The zoning changes, which went into effect Nov. 1, allow five- and 10-acre lots to be subdivided into two-acre parcels.

Tom Hill, reality broker for the NEDC in the industrial park, said he is currently dealing with a company that needs 50,000 square feet, another that needs 10,000 square feet of office space, and a third that needs 65,000 square feet for a high-tech building.

“There’s something to do every day because it’s a nice industrial park,” Hill said.

He said that markets are starting to adjust to the new economic realities.

“If the tenants or the landlords adjust to today’s market prices, there’s business to be done,” Hill said.

Besides the businesses in the industrial park, several other new businesses, including the Phoenix Stage Company and Bellissimo restaurant have opened in the borough over the past year.

More perks for small businesses will be available soon, explained Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith, who gave the keynote speech at the meeting.

A recently-passed state jobs bill will make it easier for small businesses to apply for loans and grants, Smith said.

She said Connecticut is 44th in creating startups in the United States, a position she said was not enviable. However, Smith said she hoped the changes to regulations and workforce development in the bill would help spur growth in the state.

“I view this piece of legislation as a building block for the future,” Smith said.

She said a small business express package will make it easier for businesses with fewer than 50 employees to apply for loans with a one-page application and quick turnaround time.

After hearing about the program, Rutherford of Vitek said he would be looking into applying for it.

“Being a small business, you don’t have the upfront cash to buy equipment so funding through loans and grants is the only way to get money to grow,” Rutherford said.

Smith explained other state programs, including “STEP UP,” which will offer subsidized training and employment, and job creation tax credits, which will offer employers $500 per month for each new job they create.

The overview of the bill got a positive review from local business leaders.

“It sounds very optimistic so I hope it helps small businesses because that’s where the lifeblood of our new job creation is coming from,” said Dave Prendergast, CEO of the NEDC.

“I think it’s a positive step,” added John Famiglietti of Drubner Commercial. He said he hoped the economy would continue to pick up and spur some development in the industrial park and Renaissance Place.

Ralph Calabrese felt it’s too early to analyze whether the jobs bill will work.

“I think they’re taking a creative approach to economic development. Obviously, we’re all rooting for them,” Calabrese said.