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November 18, 2021

Jaigantic Studios star power launches ‘Big Connect’ Chamber expo

PHOTOS | Liese Klein Actor Michael Jai White gives the keynote speech at the Big Connect on Nov. 18, 2021.

With vivid graphics rolling behind him on a high-def wraparound screen, actor Michael Jai White made his pitch.

“We can do it here even better,” White said, of bringing large-scale film production to Connecticut. 

White was the keynote speaker Thursday at the in-person gathering for the Big Connect, the annual business expo of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. White’s talk and “virtual tours” of his studio’s big-screen capabilities stirred excitement in the crowd at the Omni hotel downtown. 

Originally from “the mean streets” of Bridgeport, White said he was lucky to have mentors and a community center to channel his energies and point him toward college and then Hollywood, where he found success in films like “Black Dynamite” and “The Commando.”

Westville business owner Alisha Crutchfield-McLean poses with a digital backdrop at Jaigantic Studios' booth at the Big Connect on Nov. 18, 2021.

Last year White proposed a mega-studio complex for New Haven’s Quinnipiac River district, with 25 soundstages potentially creating hundreds of jobs. 

Jaigantic and city officials are still negotiating over a development and land disposition agreement (DLDA), according to CEO Donovan DeBoer. 

“We’re on our way,” he said. He added that the studio still plans to break ground this spring on the initial phase of the project, sited for River Street.

“The idea of bringing this industry back, of trying to shoot a movie here, was always in my mind,” White said of his years in Hollywood. “My best work consists of uplifting my community that gave so much to me.” 

Chamber President Garrett Sheehan welcomed attendees to the business group’s first major in-person event since the start of the pandemic. “Being able to connect, shake hands — it's great to see everyone again,” Sheehan said. “What today is about is getting to learn, and connect and find new ways to operate in this shifting landscape."

From left: Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Garrett Sheehan, Michael Jai White of Jaigantic Studios, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, Chamber Board Chair Howard K. Hill and David Salinas of District cut the ribbon to open the Big Connect on Nov. 18, 2021.

Earlier on Thursday at the event, District founder David Salinas announced that the CEO of a startup housed in his New Haven coworking complex — Chris Aguas of fledgling blockchain company CoreChain — had been named the Big Connect’s first Entrepreneur of the Year.

Launched last fall, CoreChain has already raised over $1 million in funding and added employees to develop its blockchain database technology, designed to streamline and modernize B2B payments and reduce fraud risk.

The District complex recently hit 100% occupancy, Salinas said, and the coworking space returned to profitability earlier this year.

Starting up in District has helped his fintech company grow, Aguas said via video in accepting his award. 

“What we have found is that we have been able to attract great world-class talent from across the Nutmeg State,” Aguas said. “New Haven has turned out to be a great place for us to base.” 

Contact Liese Klein at

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