While the legislation that will be raised during this month’s special legislative session on jobs is still being worked on behind closed doors, Democratic leaders said Wednesday it will focus heavily on aiding the state’s small businesses.
The comments came after the last monthly majority leaders’ roundtable meeting before the Oct. 26 special session. Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney, D- New Haven, said the state has already taken steps to help large businesses, now it’s time to reach out to the smaller ones.
“We know that the governor’s First Five is basically related to the needs of larger businesses and large businesses have the capacity to negotiate those kinds of deals in an individually tailored way working with the [Department of Economic and Community Development] and other agencies. Small businesses don’t have that capacity,” he said.
House Majority Leader Brendan Sharkey, D- Hamden, said he would like to see a First 50 small businesses program.
There are already some programs offering state grants and tax credits to small businesses, but many find them inaccessible. DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith told the roundtable that small businesses she visited over the past few months believed the state offered no programs for them.
Looney said the bill or bills raised during the session will include language that establishes a sort of accessible checklist of state programs and resources. The checklist would enable businesses to easily determine what state assistance they qualify for, he said.
The legislation will also likely include new small business job training and tax credit programs and phase out programs that have been underutilized in the past, Looney said. The idea is to streamline the programs to maximize the use of the ones that are responsive to current needs, he said.
Smith said she will be proposing some short-term measures to help connect employers with qualified workers. But over time the state should make sure the curriculum’s of public schools and universities match the needs of the industries likely to grow, she said.
“We’ve been told that in the manufacturing arena, particularly the aerospace manufacturing, there’s somewhere between 500 and 1,000 job openings right now and yet we still have a 9 percent unemployment rate,” she said.
Sharkey said the session will also focus on making it easier for businesses to get permits and other regulatory approvals. According to Smith businesses complained frequently about the permitting process on her jobs tour.
“I just heard about it again this morning over at CCM, the fact that it’s sometimes nightmarish to work with our agencies while trying to get permits,” she said.
The DECD has been coordinating with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and the Transportation Department to find ways to streamline the permitting process for business, she said. It may be a good idea for the legislature to look at whether there are regulations the books that are no longer needed, Smith said. Looney agreed.
“Regulatory reform is another key in terms of trying to make the whole state regulatory process less forbidding and more responsive and more timely for businesses of all kinds. Whether you’re talking about DEEP regs or whether you’re talking about other categories of regulations,” he said.
Berlin Mayor Adam Salina, who attended the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities earlier in the day Wednesday, said his town has been trying get a bridge permitted for two years. He said Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel C. Esty was able to get it accomplished in two weeks.
“I think it is more of an open door policy with this administration,” Salina said.
But aside from regulatory changes, the special session legislation will also try to help foster innovation in the state, Sharkey said.
He said the goal will be to create an environment “where academics, private sector and government are all working together to create a critical mass of interest around particular things that we do well.”
One thing Connecticut does well is bioscience and bio-tech, he said referring to last week’s announcement about Jackson Laboratories of Maine expanding at the UConn Health Center in Farmington.
Sharkey said an ongoing working group including Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration and members of both caucuses are putting together the package of legislation.
Policymakers will also be attending today’s Economic Summit at the Connecticut Convention Center to hear from business and economic experts. Smith said the event will be “the “last piece of the puzzle, if you will, for getting the input for the jobs session.”