Notice:  Route 9 North, Exit 18 will be closed to traffic on Saturday, October 29th from 3:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m., due to an event!  Main Street (Route 99) in Cromwell will be closed to traffic from Route 372 (West St.) to South St. for “Halloween On Main Street”.  To access the event, take Exit 19 on Route 9 North.

Culinary training program graduation this week at Vinal

April 25, 2016

By Larry McHugh

We have reached the final week of April in Middlesex County and across our great nation. Before looking ahead to the exciting events of this week, I want to take a look back at what was a very busy last week.

Last Tuesday evening, the chamber held the 19th graduation awards ceremony of the award-winning Side Street to Main Street Business and Leadership Development Program, bringing the graduate total to 235 since the inception of the program. In 1996, there were very few minority-owned businesses in Middlesex County. At the urging of the NAACP, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce created the Side Street to Main Street Business & Leadership Development Program and sought the support of Aetna, which has been an unbelievable partner on the program ever since.

Side St Graduation 2016
Last Tuesday evening, the chamber held the 19th graduation awards for the Side Street to Main Street Business and Leadership Development Program. From left are Chamber President Larry McHugh, Floyd W. Green, Vice President of Community Relations & Urban Marketing, Christopher Montross, Senior Director, Corporate Community Investments/Employee Programs, Aetna, Program Facilitator Jim Jackson, and City of Middletown Director of Human Relations Faith Jackson De Kine Photo LLC

The program is a one-year-long entrepreneurial and business development course with a rigorous curriculum designed to assist minority small business owners in the community who have not had formal business training. This program has been an effective way in which we have encouraged the development and growth of small, minority-owned businesses which are now part of the greater Middlesex County business community.

Floyd W. Green, vice president of community relations & Urban Marketing, and Christopher Montross, senior director, Corporate Community Investments/Employee Programs, Aetna, were in attendance to present the graduates with their certificates. We continue to appreciate the strong and longtime support of Aetna, a terrific corporate citizen that supports so many important community initiatives. I also want to once again thank program facilitator Jim Jackson and chamber staff liaison Jennifer De Kine who do an outstanding job with this important program. We are already looking ahead to Class 20 which begins in the fall.

On Wednesday morning, the chamber hosted an important follow-up meeting which again brought together the property owners on the Washington to Court streets block to discuss the parking and pedestrian situation. The stakeholders of this very important section of our downtown received an update from the city on the changes that are planned for the area. These meetings are designed to develop ways in which we can foster collaboration between stakeholders to make sure that the process is as smooth and efficient as possible. Stakeholders had the opportunity to weigh in on the current design, and the meeting certainly featured a constructive dialogue between attendees. The chamber will continue to stay engaged in this important process for downtown Middletown.

The chamber’s Board of Directors met on Thursday afternoon at the Middletown Elks Lodge. The meeting was sponsored by our friends at Seasons Federal Credit Union and we continue to appreciate the support of CEO Keith Wiemert and his team. In addition to reports from key staff members, a number of chamber committee chairs provided reports on the many different initiatives being undertaken by our organization. Middletown Elks and chamber board member Dan Miramant gave a brief presentation on some of the recent upgrades to the facility including new audio visual capabilities. The chamber Board of Directors represents the best of the business community in Middlesex County, and I want to thank all of them once again on behalf of our chamber.

I enjoyed the Middlesex County Coalition on Housing and Homeless Power of Partnership Awards Breakfast which was held last Friday at Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown. The event honored Bob Fusari, Howard Reid and the city of Middletown for their commitment to ending homelessness in Middlesex County, and we certainly congratulate all of them on this well-deserved honor.

On Saturday, I was honored to speak, along with Attorney Rich Tomc at a celebration-of-life ceremony for Robert “Bob” Briggs who passed away in February at the age of 83. The event was held at South Congregational Church in Middletown. As I noted when he passed, Bob was a longtime supporter of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and a great friend to me personally. He was the recipient of our 1993 Distinguished Citizen Award and was active in a number of business ventures and community activities throughout his life. He served as vice president and secretary of the Valley Oil Division of the Briggs Foundation, was a corporator for Liberty Bank and Middlesex Hospital, served on the East Hampton Board of Finance, and chaired many other local and community organizations.

Bob was also heavily involved in both the East Hampton and Haddam little leagues. For these reasons and many more, Bob was the inaugural recipient of the chamber’s Good Guy Award, and now that prestigious award bears his name. The Bob Briggs Good Guy Award is presented every year at the chamber’s golf tournament, and as this year’s tournament approaches, Bob’s family and a large network of friends and supporters will certainly be on our minds. Bob Briggs is missed by many and I will always appreciate his longtime friendship and support.

The 2016 edition of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Legislative Leadership Series concludes Monday with a special event in Cromwell where we will welcome House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano to a special meeting sponsored by Connecticut Water Company. Sen. Fasano and Rep. Klarides will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2016 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly and meeting attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions about the closing weeks of the legislative session. We value our relationship with legislative leadership and certainly look forward to this event.

This event, our final legislative event of 2016, is a follow-up to successful meetings with the Middlesex County legislative delegation, Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. The legislative session ends on May 4, and the chamber will continue to stay engaged the rest of the way.

Tuesday morning, our Westbrook Division will hold its April meeting at Middlesex Hospital’s Shoreline Medical Center. Middlesex Hospital CEO Vin Capece, who currently serves as the chamber’s chairman, and Vice President for Clinical Affairs Dr. Bud McDowell will give a presentation on the hospital’s recent initiatives including its exciting partnership with Mayo Clinic. The state-of-the-art Shoreline Medical Center, located at 250 Flat Rock Place in Westbrook, offers 24/7 emergency care and outpatient diagnostic services — including a new women’s imaging center, a brand new MRI suite, CT, X-Ray, a full-service lab and more. We are lucky to have a hospital in our region that is so community minded, and I continue to appreciate the support of Vin and his outstanding team.

The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Culinary Training Program Graduation Dinner will be held on Wednesday evening in the Vinal Technical High School Dining Room. Through funding from the Connecticut Department of Labor, the Culinary Training Program is designed to assist area restaurants by training their employees in the cook-chef occupation with the goal of upgrading their skills. Participants receive 60 hours of classroom training followed by on the job training.

I would like to thank all of the restaurants that participated in this year’s program: Camps Restaurant, Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar, Fire at the Ridge, Griswold Inn, Iguanas Ranas Taqueria, Mattabesett Canoe Club, Pavilion Catering, Saybrook Point Inn & Spa and The Whole Enchilada. I also want to acknowledge our instructors who did a terrific job this year, Chef Louis Marinelli and Chef Ryan Barnes. We very much appreciate their support of this culinary training program. Finally, I want to thank Commissioner Scott Jackson and the Department of Labor for supporting this important job retention initiative in Middlesex County.

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 once again express a big thank you to those business and career professionals who will be on hand to present and share their career experiences with the students. This major annual event is made possible by sponsorship support from Eversource and Pratt & Whitney to the Chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council, and Wesleyan University’s Center for Community Partnerships’ donation of the Spurrier-Snyder Ice Rink facility to hold this event. This is truly a great partnership, and we very much appreciate our Business & Education Partnership sponsors.

An open house and ribbon-cutting to celebrate recent renovations to Torrison Stone & Garden in Durham is scheduled for Thursday at 5 p.m. Durham First Selectwoman Laura Francis and I look forward to the newly expanded showroom and office space with Owner Tyler Gerry and the entire Torrison team.

The 29th Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast is Friday. 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 want to again thank Liberty Bank for its longtime sponsorship and support.

I look forward to attending the grand opening of Oak & Velvet April 30 at 3 p.m. This event, hosted at the fine upholstered furniture store’s new facility at 180 Johnson St., in Middletown, will feature drinks, dinner, live music, and a raffle for a signature set of furniture valued at $7,500. I look forward to celebrating with owner Michael Ciborowski and his team on Saturday and wish them the best of luck moving forward.

It is hard to believe, but the 33rd Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament will be held May 6 at Portland Golf Course. The 2016 tournament is sold out for the 33rd straight year, with 144 golfers and over 80 more on the waiting list. I will have more on this year’s tournament in next week’s column, but I want to again note that I am very grateful to our Golf Committee, all of our volunteers who are critical to the success of this important event for our organization, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond who puts in countless hours to make sure the event goes off without a hitch every year.

We look forward to the sun shining on Portland Golf Course next Friday. Also, be sure to save the date of May 12 for our next Business After Work Networking Reception hosted by Connecticut Rental Center. I will have more on this event as we get closer, but we certainly appreciate the fact that Tom Byrne and his team will welcome our group on the evening of the 12th.

The month of May is almost upon us, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

For more information on chamber events and activities, visit