Business After Work Auction, Taste of Middletown This Tuesday

March 28, 2016

By Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but we will reach the month of April this week in Middlesex County. Warmer weather is on the way, and our members are already gearing up for baseball, golf and many other spring activities.

The chamber continues to be on the move as we close out March, and we look forward to a number of upcoming events and activities. Monday afternoon in the chamber conference room, our Tourism Committee will host its second “Let’s Make a Deal” event. This special meeting is designed to help our tourism partners put together attractive package deals throughout our region. The mission of the chamber’s Tourism Steering Committee is to entice visitors from all over to come and discover the abundant resources, restaurants, events and activities this beautiful county has to offer.

From left are: President of Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Larry McHugh, Chamber Central Business Bureau Chairman Tom Byrne, Cinder + Salt owner Rachel Decavage and manager of Product Development and Company Integrity Brenda Marousek; Mayor Dan Drew, chairperson of the Downtown Business District Diane Gervais and Middletown Small Business Development Counselor Paul Dodge. They all attended the Main Street shop’s grand opening recently. 

Our goal is to help our members in the tourism industry flourish by creating a referral program and full partnership offerings, and to assist them in the marketing and promotion of the newly created packages. Monday afternoon’s event will include Speed Networking and a Wine & Cheese Reception, along with the main “Let’s Make a Deal” portion of the event. At the conclusion of the event, all packages that have been created will be displayed and participants will vote on the best deal of the day.

The winner of the best “Discover Middlesex County Package” will receive a six-month banner ad on the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Website, a value worth $2,200. I continue to be proud of the chamber’s longtime commitment to tourism promotion and support in Middlesex County.

The 32nd Annual Business After Work Auction & Taste of Downtown is Tuesday evening at The Italian Society of Middletown on Court Street. A number of Middletown’s terrific downtown restaurants will be featured, and they will once again offer delicious samplings from their menus. Complimentary beer, wine, soda and a special drink of the evening will also be provided for attending members of our chamber and their guests. The Live Auction begins at approximately 5:45 p.m.

This portion of the event includes approximately 100 items which may be previewed in advance and a silent auction will also be held throughout the event. This year’s event is titled “The Mustache Bash” and it is sure to be a packed house at the Italian Society of Middletown.

Members and their guests will enjoy delicious samplings from the following restaurants that are confirmed to attend: Tuscany Grill, NoRA Cupcake Company, Lan Chi’s Vietnamese Restaurant, Mattabesett Canoe Club at Harbor Park, Mezzo Grille, Mi Argentina Cuisine, Moonlight Sushi Bar & Grill, First & Last Tavern, La Boca Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, Camp’s Restaurant, Herd Restaurant, Puerto Vallarta, and Celtic Cavern.

The 2016 First Niagara Workshop Series continues April 12 with a business workshop, “Workplace Conflict Resolution.” Attorney Joshua A. Hawks-Ladds of Pullman & Comley, LLC will discuss best practices in dealing with workplace conflicts, including having an appropriate problem resolution policy, recognizing and dealing with problem employees, and how to best train employees to avoid conflicts. Cost is $35 for chamber members and $45 for nonmembers. Registration information can be found at I want to take a moment to once again thank First Niagara New England Regional President Jeff Hubbard, and the entire First Niagara team for their great support of this important workshop series.

The chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series continues April 11, when we will welcome Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff to a meeting at the Courtyard by Marriott sponsored by Eversource, and will conclude on April 25, when we welcome House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano to a special meeting sponsored by Connecticut Water Company. These Legislative Leadership Series events are held every year during the legislative session and are meant to complement our Legislative Breakfast which features members of the Middlesex County delegation.

Our 2016 Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, was held on Feb. 19 and it was a very successful event, and the first leg of our leadership series with Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, held on March 11, was sponsored by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will continue to stay engaged throughout this important legislative session.

Our members should be sure to save the date for our April Business After Work which is scheduled for April 14. The event will be held on the Lady Katharine Cruise Boat which will be docked at Harbor Park, 80 Harbor Drive in Middletown. It has been a few years since our last networking event on the Lady Katharine Cruise Boat, so please join us for what is sure to be a great time. More information on this event will be released as we get closer.

The chamber’s Young Professionals’ Alliance Steering Committee will meet just before the Business After Work. The Young Professionals’ Alliance is designed to help young business people interact socially, exchange ideas and interests, and gain an insider’s view of the regional business scene. It is also designed to get younger members more involved in the many important initiatives of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. I appreciate the support of YPA Chairman Dan Jaskot and all of our young business leaders.

The Middlesex County Revitalization Commission will hold its April meeting April 20 in the chamber conference room. MCRC Chairwoman Laura Francis recently announced that the MCRC has received additional funding through Connecticut’s Small Business Express Program which provides loans and grants to Connecticut’s small businesses to spur job creation and growth.

MCRC is now in a position to once again offer low interest loans to small and mid-sized businesses with the goal of creating jobs and maintaining the quality of life in Middlesex County. For more information, please contact chamber VP, and MCRC administrator, Jeff Pugliese at the chamber office.

The 2016 High School Career Fair Expo is April 28 at the Freeman Athletic Center on the campus of Wesleyan University. This major annual event, presented by the chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council, The Middlesex Consortium of Schools, and Wesleyan University’s Center for Community Partnerships, will be attended by students from Middletown, Cromwell, Durham, Middlefield, Portland, East Hampton, Chester, Deep River, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth and Vinal Technical High School.

The Career Fair Expo is an exploration event, a way to introduce our high school students to the many different career fields out there. We believe that it is very important to connect local students to the many industry sectors that are critical to the economy in our region and in our state, and this event is an important part of that effort. I would like to express a big thank you to those professionals who will be on hand to present and share their career experiences with the students.

The 29th Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast is April 29. The chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County Schools. Its mission is to facilitate and encourage the development of mutually supportive partnerships, and to prepare students for what is an increasingly global and competitive economy.

The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, initiated in 1992, is a partnership between the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middletown Board of Education, and has achieved notable success. This program provides students with Mentors. Mentors are good listeners, people who care, people who want to help young people bring out the strengths that are already there.

The keynote speaker for the event will be Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University. President Roth has been at the helm at Wesleyan since 2007, has served as Professor of History and the Humanities for many years, and has written extensively on a number of scholarly topics. The Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast has become an important annual event for our chamber, and I thank Liberty Bank for its longtime sponsorship and support.

I want to close this week’s column by offering our congratulations to members of our chamber that were recently announced as winners of the 2016 Small Business Administration awards in Connecticut. The Chapman Manufacturing Co. in Durham was the winner in Woman-Owned Small Business category. Tracy Camassar and her team continue to do a great job with this Durham based manufacturer. Jackson Chevrolet in Middletown was the winner in the Family-Owned Small Business category.

Tamera “TJ” Jackson is not only a great leader of a historic Middletown business, she is a member of our Executive Committee and a strong supporter of our chamber and of many community initiatives. Foster Charles, owner of Middletown’s Charles IT, was the winner in the Young Entrepreneur Small Business category. Foster is a bright young business person with a terrific future ahead.

He has served as Chairman of our annual Cruise Night on Main, and has assisted our Technology Committee and Young Professionals’ Alliance among other important initiatives. I am very proud of these small business champions, and am grateful for their support of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce.

For more information on chamber events and activities, please visit