HARTFORD, Conn. — Connecticut lawmakers took a key step Thursday toward addressing the state’s stubborn unemployment by holding hearings on two bills that call for spending hundreds of millions of dollars to boost job growth and help build a new research lab.
The bills call for $291 million toward a new genetic research lab and $516 million over two years to spur jobs, especially among the state’s small businesses. Both will be up for a vote during the Oct. 26 special session of the General Assembly.
While there appears to be strong bipartisan support for the wide-ranging jobs bill, which includes the small business funding, minority Republicans were less enthusiastic about the deal Gov. Dannel P. Malloy reached with The Jackson Laboratory to build the new $1.1 billion lab on the grounds of the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.
It requires a $192 million forgivable loan and $99 million in research funding from the state. The project is supposed to create 320 jobs over 10 years and a total of 661 over 20 years, in additional to construction and spinoff employment. State Rep. Sean Williams, R-Watertown, the ranking House Republican on the legislature’s Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee, said the deal seemed a bit one-sided.
“I don’t say that disrespectfully, I say that from an analytical point of view that it seems one-sided,” said Williams, who questioned whether the Bar Harbor, Maine-based, independent research lab had as much “skin in the game” as the state in terms of a financial investment.
Michael Hyde, Jackson’s chief development officer, pointed out that the lab would outspend the state of Connecticut over the next several years by 3-to-1 as the project goes forward. Overall, Hyde said the lab was making a substantial investment of money, as well as its international reputation, in Connecticut.
“What The Jackson Laboratory offers the state of Connecticut is the full force and credibility of our global reputation,” Hyde said. “We’re going to put that on the line, with you. We’re going to say to the world, ‘We believe that Connecticut is the place where biomedical history is going to be made. We have no intention of leaving. We’re not a football team. We’re proposing to come here and build an institution that will help this state to move forward.”
In 1999, former Republican Gov. John G. Rowland unsuccessfully attempted to persuade the New England Patriots to move to Hartford, promising to help build a $375 million stadium. Hyde’s mention of a football team brought some levity to Thursday’s hearing.
“What do you mean by that,” deadpanned Williams. “I don’t get it.”
Malloy’s administration and legislative leaders, meanwhile, were still negotiating the final details of the jobs bill. It comes after Malloy and legislative leaders met for weeks with Connecticut businesses and held economic forums. They are hoping for bipartisan approval of the legislation, sending a message to the business community. Malloy was unable to get support from the GOP for his budget earlier this year.
“We understand that the failure to address job growth, job retention, on a bipartisan basis, hurt the state of Connecticut and that we’re changing direction at every step of this process,” the Democratic governor told reporters. Connecticut’s unemployment rate has hovered at about 9 percent for months, about the same as the federal rate.
Malloy officials said both Democratic and Republican leaders have signed off on the key components of the jobs bill, including the $180 million to help spur small-business growth. The plan calls for a revolving loan fund, a job creation incentive program, and a revised job creation tax credit. Also, the $250 business entity tax would be collected every two years instead of annually.
Catherine Smith, the state’s economic development commissioner, said the state wants to make it easy for small-business owners to seek state assistance. She predicted the one-page application will be processed within 30 days.
“It’s going to be simple, easier to use, easy to find,” she said of the state assistance for small businesses.
The jobs bill also calls for extending Malloy’s “First Five” initiative, which provides special incentives to companies looking to expand and relocate in Connecticut. Smith, who said the governor is expected to name the fourth recipient soon, said Connecticut has received a lot of interest from firms in the program.
Other highlights of the jobs bill included, the governor expected to sign an executive order requiring agencies to eliminate or consolidate duplicative and burdensome regulations, and the hiring of a consultant to analyze several state agencies and come up with ways to change their permitting processes. It provides $10 million a year to subsidize certain employee training and for the state to remediate and sell for development up to five contaminated properties that it owns. It also includes, the building of “Innovation Centers” in key cities to connect entrepreneurs with mentors, supports, services and capital, and to reduce the investment threshold for those who invest in high tech and tech start-ups in return for a tax credit.
The jobs bill provides $5 million to replace boilers and furnaces at nonprofit agencies and housing authority facilities and spends $20 million a year for two years to create and expand manufacturing technology programs at three community colleges and three vocational-technical high schools. It also sets aside $50 million in bonding to fix bridges.