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April 22, 2019

More towns rushing to aid small-business development

Photo | Contributed Silk City Coffee at 763 Main St. in Manchester.
Gary Anderson, Director of Planning and Economic Development, Town of Manchester
Kristen Gorski, Economic Development Specialist, West Hartford

As more innovation hubs and co-working spaces sprout in downtown Hartford, a growing number of nearby municipalities are also trying to offer services that attract and support small businesses, ranging from consulting to financing.

Economic development officials in Manchester are currently rolling out a new no-interest loan program for entrepreneurs and landlords on Main Street looking to spruce up their aging facilities.

Launched in January, the program aims to deliver no-interest loans up to $250,000 to a number of the 200-plus small businesses on Main Street in an effort to encourage private investment and bring aging structures there up to current building and fire codes.

Officials say several small business owners are preparing loan applications for the “gap financing,” which will be available over the next two years, or until the program reaches the $750,000 funding cap. Loans will be repayable over a decade.

“People have to spend more money to occupy those older spaces, and the feedback has been that it's not worth it to occupy them,” said Gary Anderson, the town's director of planning and economic development. “The idea was to make it financially feasible for these transformative uses.”

Free business advice is also becoming more accessible to entrepreneurs in the state through the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), which has advisors stationed at 23 locations across Connecticut, including at the state's only town-owned, co-working space — “WORK_SPACE" — on Main Street in Manchester.

East Hartford-based CTSBDC — which has a presence at UConn Storrs and Stamford, several town halls and collaborative-work spaces, and chambers of commerce — recently expanded its partnership with the town of West Hartford, opening a service center in town hall to help businesses access capital, or to support workforce development, marketing or other business-planning strategies.

Kristen Gorski, West Hartford's economic development specialist, says CTSBDC's new presence creates a “one-stop shop” for local entrepreneurs in need of business advice and permits from the town's economic, building or planning departments.

“The hope is to continue to grow the diversity and variety of [small] businesses that we have,” she said. “Similar to what these incubator spaces offer in Hartford, our hope is that startups can utilize these services to expand in West Hartford.”

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