Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and a contingent of local lawmakers got a firsthand account of how recently passed legislation to promote and strengthen small businesses in Connecticut is working when they toured Empire Industries in Manchester Friday afternoon.
The manufacturer, located at 180 Olcott St. across from Verplanck Elementary School, has been making pipe and pipe hangers in town since 1942.
The officials toured the factory and heard feedback from employees and management at the shop about how Connecticut's was benefiting small businesses. The program, past by the Connecticut General Assembly in a special session last October, provides grants and loan programs to help Connecticut companies with 50 or less employees grow.
John Feeney, vice-president of sales and marketing at Empire, described the company as the "poster boy" for everything a Connecticut manufacturer should be. Feeney said the company has upped its workforce from 48 employees just over a year and a half ago to 71 at present, that sales increased by 10 percent in 2011 and were up 15 percent so far this year, but that Empire's growth makes it ineligible for the tax credits and other assistance provided under the jobs bill for any new employees it hires.
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Feeney urged Malloy and the legislators to expand eligibility for the program to Connecticut companies with up to 100 employees.
"We appreciate the up until 50 and some of those tax breaks we've gotten, but if we can get it up to 100 that would be great," Feeney said.
Malloy said he was fully supportive of expanding the program, and called it "probably the most popular new program we have ever come out with." The governor said that more than 700 Connecticut companies have applied for funding under the program thus far.
"I think if it's good for under 50 it's probably good for up to 100 as well," Malloy said, noting a special session of the current legislature scheduled for June 12 this month when the idea of an expansion of the program could be brought for a vote. "I hope it will get done next week, but if it doesn't I think we can turn it around pretty quickly in January…this is not a door you have to push me through."
State Sen. Steve Cassano, D-Manchester, a former mayor of Manchester himself, said he was an advocate of expanding the jobs bill as well, precisely because it benefited local companies like Empire, which he said was a benefit for the entire community where the company is based.
"It's one of the several types of manufacturing businesses here east of the river that people drive by every day and don't realize the economic impact it has on the community," Cassano said. "To see them grow like this and to have such a positive future - I saw the place sometimes when they wondered if they were going to be able to continue in business - so this is a tremendous turnaround and that's what's going on in Connecticut right now.