Photo of Senator Flexer.

State Senator

Mae Flexer

Representing Brooklyn, Canterbury, Killingly, Mansfield, Putnam, Scotland, Thompson & Windham

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CTNext Awards Planning Grant to Northeastern Connecticut Innovation Places Project

Northeastern Connecticut’s plans for reinvigorating the local innovation economy will move forward as the result of a grant announced today by The CTNext Program. The Northeast Innovation Hub has been awarded a $50,000 grant, the maximum amount offered, to jump-start the development of Northeast Connecticut’s “innovation places.”

Senator Mae Flexer led passage of the innovation economy law passed this year, which includes the creation of “Innovation Places.”

“This grant is a significant first step toward implementing a plan that will combine the expertise of northeastern Connecticut’s entrepreneur community, the close proximity of UConn, Eastern and QVCC and communities that are eager to innovate,” said Senator Flexer. “Over the past several months I have convened local officials, educators, business owners and entrepreneurs to design a plan to capitalize on the economic potential in our region. We will be putting some of Connecticut’s brightest young minds in touch with experienced businesspeople, and giving them an environment where they can put their ideas into practice. New, growing small and medium sized businesses create jobs and economic activity at a far faster rate than larger companies. That is the kind of growth we need in Connecticut, and we’re going to make sure it happens right here in northeastern Connecticut.”

Putnam’s Economic and Community Development Director Delpha Very said she was “elated” to learn that northeastern Connecticut’s proposal was chosen by CTNext to receive the planning grant.

“I think we all have to thank Sen. Flexer for bringing this opportunity to the forefront and working behind the scenes while this legislation was being written to make sure that our state’s new economic development initiative could be accessible to any part of the state, including rural communities like ours,” said Very. “The fact that this planning grant was awarded to a rural community is especially important, and the beneficiaries of this truly regional concept are our business community, educational resources and neighborhoods. I think that changing the paradigm about how Connecticut does business and really focusing on entrepreneurship and innovators is not only a different concept, but it allows people who are not in the ‘business mainstream’ to shine and showcases opportunities that we are not used to.” “I think it’s a great recognition of the fact that our area has an unbelievable and underappreciated collection of industries that employ a lot of people in high-technology jobs and require a skilled workforce. These industries have tremendous potential for growth. Our towns need to start recognizing this fact and treat the area like a truly unified region by connecting businesses, the workforce, education, and the improvements of our historic urban centers like Putnam, Danielson and Willimantic that have historically attracted lots of activity and can do so again. This grant is the opportunity to have that conversation so that people inside and outside of the region really see us as a unified place,” said John Guszkowski, the Director of Planning for CME Associates, who took the lead on writing the grant application.

“It’s also interesting to point out that, geographically, the Putnam-Killingly-Mansfield-Willimantic quadrangle is basically the same size as North Carolina’s ‘Research Triangle’ and we think of that as a single place and a place of innovation. We have an incredible advantage with UConn as our anchor institution of higher education, which will be the engine driving this. There’s no reason we can’t take advantage of the natural assets and educational institutions we have here and eventually rise to that same level of innovation and economic success,” Guszkowski added.

“I’m happy that everyone’s hard work, led by Sen. Flexer, came to fruition. Every economic development director in the area helped out on this and I can’t tell you how excited I am to be working on a new program in northeastern Connecticut that’s working with QVCC and UConn to help create jobs,” said state Representative Danny Rovero (D-Killingly). “As I’ve always said—‘what we need is jobs, jobs, jobs’ and this will help to create those jobs. I am proud that so many people from our region came together to make this happen.”

“I am so incredibly happy and excited about the fact that we were awarded the grant, and I thank Sen. Flexer so much for her hard work and for bringing everyone together in the region to truly become a community that is working together to expand our local economy,” said state Representative Susan Johnson (D-Windham).

“Sen. Flexer took the lead to make sure all of the right people from eastern Connecticut were at the table as this grant application was being put together,” said state Representative Gregg Haddad (D-Mansfield). “Because of her leadership, our region of the state will have the resources to build an environment that will create jobs through innovation and encourage entrepreneurship. I was pleased to help our team in this important designation.”

“This is another positive step toward increasing economic development opportunities in northeastern Connecticut. There are a number of successes we can build upon to support new and existing businesses and create jobs,” said state Representative Christine Rosati-Randall (D-Killingly). “This planning grant will allow us to build upon what we already do well here in in this region, and that is share resources. This collaborative effort, led by Sen. Flexer, will bring together our business community, schools, colleges and entrepreneurs to create the Northeast Innovation Hub which will infuse new vitality in our area’s economy. When we work together, we can get things done.”

Under this new economic development plan, Innovation Places will be concentrated areas where entrepreneurs and innovators have easy access to tech talent, support organizations and research institutions. These dense areas are intended to be highly walkable, transit-connected, and mixed-use in zoning to facilitate interactions among entrepreneurs and innovators across different organizations, and to be conducive to the creation of startup companies. This environment is intended to be attractive not only for entrepreneurs to work in, but also to live in and for recreation, to help the community retain the most in-demand workers.

This $50,000 grant will be used in the development of a strategic planning process to identify local conditions and build a master plan that identifies the resources and assets in each community (like a hospital, a university, a research firm, or a manufacturer) to create exciting new business opportunities. The program was designed to be publicly supported and privately led, with communities leveraging public funding to generate a larger amount of private investment and business growth.

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