Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s stop Monday at a nutritional supplement company in Hartford came with the first “Malloy 2014” sign.
It was not authorized and technically Malloy isn’t even a candidate for re-election. But the words “Malloy 2014” were written on a whiteboard stuck to a refrigerator in the test kitchen and on a button worn by one of the employees of ThinkItDrinkIt.
Malloy’s administration has given the startup more than $430,000 in loans and grants to help it get off the ground and start hiring employees.
The company, headquartered in the south armory of the Colt Building, used a $225,000 small business express grant to create five jobs. It now has 22 employees, including seven previously unemployed veterans who were helped by the Department of Labor’s Step Up program. The program gives the company more than $12,000 per employee for up to six months while the employee trains.
“This is exciting stuff. This is how you grow the economy in the long run,” Malloy said.
As for running for re-election in 2014, Malloy said he would take it under consideration.
During his first three years in office, Malloy has made assistance to employers who agree to create jobs a centerpiece of his economic strategy. After touring ThinkItDrinkIt’s Hartford offices, the governor was asked how heavily he expected residents to weigh such programs as they assess his first term.
Malloy, who has consistently deflected questions about his re-election plans, said, “I think that’s a fair question if I wanted to be judged.”
Malloy paused and the group of ThinkItDrinkIt employees laughed.
“I think what we have tried to do in Connecticut is change our outlook from short term, short term, short term to long term, long term, long term,” Malloy said.
He said he knows the strategy has been difficult for some to get their arms around, but the “companies you have today are not necessarily the companies you’re going to have tomorrow.”
However, is it dangerous to tie the state to a nutritional supplement company since providing funding for the company makes the state a defacto partner?
“As a guy who purchased chondroitin for his dog yesterday at 16 years old, I think there are supplements that make a lot of sense,” Malloy said. “Then there are people who have mis-marketed things.”
But overall “I think this is a great product that ties in very well with what people are and what we’re learning about health,” Malloy said.
David Kania, co-founder of ThinkitDrinkit, said there’s a strong educational component to the personalized nutritional drinks they are selling.
“Whether it’s online or through the retail store you’ll actually be able to check out all the ingredients before you purchase them,” Kania said. “All of the ingredients we’ve been using are FDA approved.”
Will that keep U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal off their backs?
“We have to be careful with the marketing of products that need to be age appropriate and that’s a reality,” Malloy said. “I think there has been historically some very broad advertising of these very high caffeine, high-energy-boost type stuff and that can have detrimental effects.”
At the same time as Malloy was visiting ThinkitDrinkit, Blumenthal was holding a press conference criticizing big energy drink companies like Rockstar, Red Bull, and Monster for marketing to children through toys.
Dr. Stephen Fowler, who is consulting with ThinkItDrinkIt, said all of the supplements are completely safe and they would never allow children to get their hands on dangerous levels of any of the supplements, such as caffeine and guarana.
Kania explained that the idea for the company came to him when his 7-year-old son started suffering vocal cord and respiratory problems from the dyes in sports drinks. As an entrepreneur, Kania said he thought to himself that “there has to be a better way” and the result was ThinkItDrinkIt.
He said in addition to an application that will allow customers to come into the store and create a supplemental drink that meets their health needs, the company also will offer genetic testing to help steer customers to a more exact supplemental drink tailored to suit their personal needs.
There will be blood and urine tests available typically used by naturopaths to help customers find the right combination of nutritional supplements, Fowler explained.
“You won’t be paying for nutrients you don’t need,” he said.
The retail store will open at Storrs Center near the University of Connecticut campus in the next few months.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra also attended the event Monday and was happy that the company chose Hartford for its headquarters.
Hartford has seen a net growth of 134 small businesses with fewer than 100 employees open over the past few years, Segarra said. He said it’s not “happenstance” that the work being done with personalized nutritional supplements ties into the work that’s being done at the University of Connecticut regarding genomics.