HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut is expanding a $100 million small business jobs program as economic development officials say more than 700 companies are seeking assistance to hold on to jobs and hire more workers.
In its special session on Tuesday, the General Assembly lengthened business loans to 10 years from five, increased maximum loans to $300,000 from $250,000, included larger companies and made other changes.
Since its start late last year, the Small Business Express program has spent nearly $11 million to help companies keep 566 jobs and hire 393 workers, the Department of Economic and Community Development said.
Rep. Jeffrey Berger, the House chairman of the legislature's Commerce Committee, said the jobs are worth the cost because state aid is helping small businesses make it through a weak economy. Dividing $11 million by 959 would mean an average cost of more than $11,000 for each job businesses keep or establish.
"These are businesses you're hoping will survive," Berger said Wednesday.
Ronald F. Angelo Jr., deputy commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, said he has not calculated the average cost per job, but said the aim of the program is to "move economic indicators in the right direction." He said the cost per job could depend on the size of the business and the complexity of its product or service.
Sen. L. Scott Frantz, the ranking Senate Republican on the Commerce Committee, said support for the jobs legislation is bipartisan. But he said the approach is needed only because majority Democrats have imposed high taxes and numerous regulations.
"My basic argument overall is that we should create the best business environment of all 50 states. Then we won't need bills like this with taxpayers subsidizing business," he said. "But given where we are, we owe it to the people of Connecticut to do what we can."
State economic development officials have received more than 700 applications for the small business program, Angelo said. To qualify, companies must be in business at least 12 months, be in good standing with tax payments, submit a business plan, financing details, a budget and marketing plan. Businesses also must demonstrate a need for machinery, training and other requirements, he said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly are moving on several fronts to battle persistently high unemployment, a potent political issue. In addition to job growth at small companies, the state has promoted an economic development program consolidating tax credits to draw large companies to invest $25 million in Connecticut and create 200 jobs over five years.
Unemployment in April was 7.7 percent, unchanged from the previous month. It's down from a high of 9.4 percent in December 2010.
Angelo said state officials are satisfied the small business program has so far resulted in more jobs retained than created by companies, though new jobs are the top priority.
"We certainly would love and strive to see job growth, but given what we've been through, retaining our job base and adding skills is vitally important, too," he said, referring to the recession and weak economic recovery.
Therap Services LLC of Waterbury, which provides electronic documentation for health care and other services, has received a job incentive loan of $250,000 and a $100,000 grant it matched with its own money for computer equipment, employee training and marketing.
Chief Executive Richard A. Robbins said state aid was critical in keeping five jobs and adding five others. Without the funding, he said, at least one job would have gone to another state and three would not have been created in Connecticut.
"I read all these things in newspapers that companies we're competing against are getting money," he said. "Why are all these others getting money? We want our home community and home state to be aware of what we're doing."