Looking ahead to the holiday season

November 27, 2017

By: Larry McHugh

Now that Thanksgiving is in the books, it is time to look ahead to the busy holiday season in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

This last week of November features a few important chamber division meetings that our members look forward to. Our Westbrook division will hold its November meeting on Tuesday morning in the Westbrook High School Library. In addition to local and chamber updates, Westbrook Superintendent of Schools Patricia Ciccone will provide her annual update to the division members. The chamber strives to be an effective bridge between the business and the education community in our region, and we look forward to going to the high school this Tuesday morning. This Friday morning, our Chester, Deep River, and Essex Division will meet at The Lace Factory in Deep River. The meeting will also feature local and chamber updates, in addition to a presentation from Lt. David Loughman, Commander, Troop F, CT State Police. The chamber’s divisions will continue to produce good content for our members as we move forward.

On Tuesday afternoon, I look forward to meeting with my fellow executives from Connecticut’s eight metro chambers of commerce in New Haven. The metro chambers collectively represent thousands of businesses in our state, and these meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration and joint advocacy for the business community. Now that the General Assembly has passed a state budget and it has been signed into law, the chambers can again focus on being the best possible resource for our member businesses.

This Tuesday evening features a MEWS+ hosted “Innovation Meet-up” at CenterPlace Connecticut in Middletown beginning at 5:00 p.m. The MEWS+ is an exciting co-working initiative that will complement the many other economic development initiatives that are currently underway in Middletown and in Middlesex County. The plan for the MEWS+, which stands for Middletown Entrepreneurs Work Space and more, is to use the second floor at the chamber office as headquarters, and as the Co-Working Space. We want our initiative to be a resource for freelancers, start-up businesses and small businesses, and the Wesleyan and Middlesex Community College communities. The Wesleyan community is of particular importance. Middletown is fortunate to be home to Wesleyan University which is a diverse, energetic liberal arts community where critical thinking and practical idealism go hand in hand. With its distinctive teacher-scholar culture, innovative programming, and collaborative commitment to interdisciplinary learning, Wesleyan challenges students to explore new ideas and change the world. We are working to develop constructive MEWS+ curriculum that will compliment on campus activities. We will also work to connect Wesleyan students with downtown Middletown and with the dynamic business community that exists in Middlesex County. In addition to the co-working space, the MEWS+ will develop a series of “Meet-ups” in Middletown that will attract businesses and entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes. The MEWS+ will be a great place to start a new business or grow an existing company. As a co-working initiative, it provides not only a place to work, but also a collaborative working environment. This shared workspace environment will attract a creative class of developers, designers, strategists, artisans, writers, inventors, engineers and professional office nomads. Our goal is to create a truly dynamic public/private partnership that will fuel local innovation. At this Tuesday’s Meet Up, attendees will enjoy networking with local entrepreneurs and high growth companies, receive a refresher on the chamber and its newly created Entrepreneur Council, and engage in an open discussion on the creation of a dynamic co-working initiative in Middletown. The event will also feature a business card raffle featuring great prizes, a tour of the many office options available for businesses and entrepreneurs at CenterPlace and OfficePlace, and a great spread of appetizers and refreshments courtesy of OfficePlace Connecticut. We look forward to another productive event that will help pave the way to the development of an innovation eco system in Middletown.

A busy week continues on Wednesday as the chamber’s Women’s Leadership Resource Committee holds a planning meeting at the chamber office. The Women’s Leadership Resource is the premier regional source for women to engage in important personal and professional development, helps women to build relationships, educate themselves and others, work on personal well-being, and inspire and empower those around them. The committee, staffed by chamber vice president Johanna Bond, will meet at 8:30 a.m. in the chamber conference room. Keep an eye out for exciting content coming out of the Women’s Leadership Resource in 2018.

As I noted earlier, tourism is a key economic driver in our region and a key focus of our chamber. One of the key tourist attractions in our region is of course Goodspeed Musicals. The Goodspeed Opera House in East Haddam and The Norma Terris Theatre in Chester continue to attract outstanding shows and talent to our region. I look forward to attending the Goodspeed Executive Committee meeting on Tuesday afternoon, and the Goodspeed Board of Directors Meeting on Saturday, Dec. 2, and will continue to stress the importance of tourism to our economy.

On Wednesday afternoon at the chamber office, our staff will host a meeting of all of the chamber’s committee and division chairs and co-chairs. Our county based divisions, and industry based committees, continue to be critical pieces of the chamber operation. This meeting is being held to make sure that everyone is on the same page and that the chamber has a strong and consistent pro-business message throughout the county as we move forward. I continue to appreciate the service of all of our chairs and other members in chamber leadership roles.

MCSAAC, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council, will host a Youth Suicide Prevention Forum at Middlesex Community College from 5:30-7 p.m. on Wednesday evening.  This Community Conversation will allow attendees to learn from each other while working together to support mental wellness with meaningful action. Hanady Gouta, MD, Psychiatrist, Middlesex Hospital; Jennifer Blakeslee, LCSW, Coordinator, Youth EMPS Team; Janice Keeman, LCSW, Parent and Clinician; Tom Steen, Parent and Connecticut Suicide Advisory Board, and Betsey Chadwick, Director of the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council will lead this important discussion. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

This Thursday evening, Jeff Pugliese and I will attend the Celebrate Connecticut Awards put on by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC) at the Bushnell in Hartford. This event honors one company and one initiative in each region of the state, and celebrates their contributions to economic and community development. The Middlesex awardees for 2017 are Pegasus Manufacturing and Goodspeed Musicals. Pegasus Manufacturing provides dependable and integrated Contract Manufacturing Services in Fabricated Tube and Pipe Assemblies, Precision Machining and Gearing. The company is recognized on an international level as a highly specialized contract manufacturer with complete turn-key solutions. They are also a terrific corporate citizen that we are lucky to have in Middlesex County. Goodspeed opened its doors as a professional musical theatre in an historic building on the banks of the CT River in East Haddam in 1963. Under the direction of Michael Price, Goodspeed transformed from a struggling entity into a non-profit arts organization with a mission. Goodspeed stands as the first regional theatre in America to earn two special Tony Awards, one in 1980 for outstanding contributions to the American Musical and one in 1995 for distinguished achievement for a regional theatre. Goodspeed is a key tourism stakeholder that we are also lucky to have in our region. We look forward to honoring our partners on Thursday night in Hartford, and continue to appreciate their strong commitment to our region.

The 32nd annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney, is off to a fast start after a very successful opening night Nov. 24, and a busy follow-up on the 25th. This Saturday, Dec. 2nd, the fun continues with Disabled American Veterans Middletown Chapter 7 Day. Planned events and activities include: free pictures and donuts with Santa at Vinnie’s Jump and Jive, the Fun Train, which will offer free rides on the sidewalk, and the Annual Holiday Craft Fair at The Church of the Holy Trinity. At 11:30 a.m., Holiday Story Time, featuring Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Biscuit, The Dog will take place at Main St Fire House (533 Main St) and Biscuit, will be on hand for a “Book Signing”.  Volunteers from DAV Middletown Chapter 7 will staff the popcorn and hot pretzels stand in front of the chamber building, and holiday music played by Harvest Woods Audio will entertain the large crowd that we expect. Holiday on Main Street continues Dec. 9 and 16 and parking is free in city lots. Holiday on Main Street is an institution in Middletown, and in Middlesex County, and we are very proud of it. I want to again thank Pratt & Whitney for its great support, the City of Middletown, and in particular, the leadership of Mayor Dan Drew and the Common Council, our longtime event chairman Al Santostefano, vice chairman Rich Greco, and the entire Holiday on Main Street Committee for their terrific support of this longtime event. For all of the details on events and activities, please visit www.holidayonmain.com.

In closing, I want to announce that the date for our Annual Governor’s Member Breakfast Meeting has been changed to Wednesday, Dec. 20. Governor Dannel P. Malloy, now approaching his eighth and final year in office, has appeared at our December Member Breakfast Meeting in every year of his administration, as have all of our sitting governors, going back to the administration of Governor William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. We look forward to welcoming a sold out crowd of businesspeople, public officials and other chamber supporters for the 2017 version of our annual Governor’s Breakfast. This event, sponsored once again by Eversource, will begin with networking at 7:00 a.m., breakfast buffet at 7:30 a.m., and meeting program 8-9:00 a.m. Save the date of Dec. 20!

The weather might be cold as the holidays approach, but the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County.

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