Middlesex County’s economic development is burgeoning

July 16, 2018

 

By: Larry McHugh

 

We have reached mid-July in Middlesex County and the region continues to be hot with economic activity.

 

Before covering some of the exciting updates from the great towns of Portland and East Hampton, I want to touch on a few more important updates from the City of Middletown. Work continues on the massive renovation project for Liberty Bank’s new, 90,000 square-feet Corporate Headquarters set on a stunning 23 acres at 245 Long Hill Road. While maintaining its commitment to the downtown area and all of the city’s communities, Liberty Bank plans to transition nearly 300 employees to its new home this fall. They expect to receive their certificate of occupancy in late September and, shortly after, they’ll make the move. In addition to three stories of light filled workspace, state of the art training facilities, adjustable height work stations, and many conference rooms, Liberty’s new home will have a fitness center, cafeteria with two outdoor patios, walking trails, a light harvesting system, energy saving and efficiency features, high-end security, and much, much more. Having the majority of Liberty Bank’s support team in one location will afford new opportunities for collaboration, innovation, and efficiency that simply doesn’t exist when spread over multiple buildings. However, don’t think for one minute that Liberty is abandoning its forever home on Main Street. Their Main Office Branch team will remain in place, and once renovation is complete, more than 100 members of the Commercial Lending group and most of their Investment Services team will occupy 315 Main Street and the nearby Annex.  Back in April, Liberty Bank sponsored the chamber’s annual Business and Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast Meeting. During his remarks, Liberty’s President and CEO, Chandler Howard, did a great job rolling out the plans for the Bank’s transition to its new headquarters, and the renderings that were displayed in the ballroom looked outstanding. As always, Liberty Bank will continue to be a critical player in the regional economy, a major employer in our city, and one of the best corporate citizens anywhere.

 

Work also continues on the Community Health Center’s new Knowledge & Technology Center on Grand Street in Middletown. The new, three-story, 30,000 square-feet building will house information technology, telehealth, communications, human resources and other critical CHC offices. The new center will provide room for clinical and medical education services in other CHC sites as space is made available by the centralization of services in the new building, provide appropriate climate-controlled environment for CHC’s sophisticated information technology infrastructure which supports the statewide organization, centralize technology and knowledge services and staff currently spread inefficiently throughout the state, and will allow for the creation of technology-equipped meetings rooms for the expanding telehealth and workforce development programs of the Weitzman Institute. As I noted at the ground breaking back in May of 2017, the Community Health Center has been a long time member of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, and has been a key player in our community on a number of fronts. This project will be an important economic and community development initiative for a critical Middletown neighborhood- the North End. I congratulate Founder Mark Masselli, Senior Vice President and Clinical Director Margaret Flinter, and their entire team. The chamber looks forward to being a constructive partner as the project moves towards completion.

 

As I mentioned last week, the economy is strong throughout Middlesex County, and this week, I would like to cover some highlights from Portland and East Hampton. Over in Portland, excitement continues to build as the Brainerd Place project received its demolition permit approvals and is completing preliminary site work for the mixed use development. Demolition work is expected to begin in late summer, 2018. The project will bring 240 market rate apartments and more than 100,000 square feet of commercial and office space. Over on Main Street, Connecticut Pharmaceutical Solutions LLC has completed construction on an addition to their manufacturing facility. Down by the river, Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park kicked off the summer season with a newly expanded beach area that increases their capacity to 2500 visitors. Finally, Portland's Riverfront Summer Concert Series begins this Tuesday, July 17 at 6:30 pm with a performance by the Michael Cleary Band. The future is bright in the Town of Portland and it is due to sound management, entrepreneurial spirit and ambition, and dedicated residents. I thank First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield, Economic Development Consultant Mary Dickerson, and all of the town’s stakeholders for their hard work. Portland’s neighbor, the Town of East Hampton, is also on the move. A 70 acre mixed-use commercial residential development called Edgewater Hill is currently under development. Construction began after the Town decided to become a partner in the project and offer a tax abatement. East Hampton also just oversaw the completion of a new NAPA Auto Parts store, along with a new coffee shop in the village center called ECO Coffee. On the housing front, 22 applications for new houses have been submitted in 2018, and on the retail front, work is set to commence on a new Dollar General store. The town is also hard at work on the cleanup and redevelopment of 1 & 13 Watrous Street, a Brownfields site that they hope to return to a productive and tax generating use. Finally, the Town Council recently added another Economic Development tool for redeveloping the village center by passing a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) plan. The town believes that the TIF plan will generate funds that can be reinvested in the village center to help with redevelopment. I thank Town Manager Mike Maniscalco, the Town Council, and the entire East Hampton leadership structure for its great work and dedication. Finally, I know that both Portland and East Hampton are excited about recent additions and improvements to the Airline Trail which will attract hikers, bikers and other visitors to these beautiful towns. As you can see, things are happening across the river. I will continue to provide economic development updates from throughout our region in the coming weeks, but it is clear that the sun is shining on Middlesex County.

 

Another important economic development initiative that the chamber is active with is the C-PACE initiative. We are proud to partner with our friends at the Connecticut Green Bank to help member businesses afford energy efficiency and clean energy upgrades. Together we are promoting a clean energy financing tool called Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy, or C-PACE. This innovative solution provides long-term, low interest financing to help local building owners take control of their energy costs. With 100% financing, no upfront cost required, and terms of up to 25 years available through C-PACE, energy upgrades are more affordable and accessible than ever. C-PACE helps local businesses save money on their energy bills and reinvest this money into other parts of the business. When businesses thrive, it can help spur economic development and support job creation. With C-PACE, building owners can enjoy the advantages of energy upgrades immediately and pay for them over time. It’s a safe investment that produces returns immediately and for years to come. I encourage our members to explore to program and its benefits. For more information on C-PACE, contact chamber Vice President Jeff Pugliese.

 

Sticking with the economic development theme of the day, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce’s Side Street to Main Street “Business Know-How” Program 2018 Certificate Presentation Ceremony will be held this Tuesday at the chamber’s Main Street facility. Generously funded with a grant from Eversource Energy, the program is an intensive four-session course which provides practical knowledge for starting and building a small business in Connecticut. The program is targeted for minority small business owners in Middlesex County and surrounding areas within the Eversource Energy footprint. Designed as a companion to the chamber’s award-winning Side Street to Main Street Business and Leadership Development Program sponsored by Aetna, Business Know-How offers a bridge for business owners hoping to participate in the program, now entering its 22nd year this fall. I appreciate Eversource’s support of this important community and economic development initiative, and we look forward to the ceremony.

 

On the summer event front, the Citizens Bank 5K Summer Fun Run will be held on Wednesday evening in downtown Middletown and the surrounding areas. This unique family-oriented festival and road race will once again attract a huge field of runners and a number of supportive spectators. The half-mile Kids Fun Run begins at 6:30 p.m. and the 5K Road Race begins at 6:45 p.m. The post-race festivities and award presentations will be held between 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. The committee charged with planning and executing this event does a fine job every year, and I want to thank them for their hard work. Finally, we should all recognize the efforts of the city personnel who work hard to make this event safe and successful on an annual basis. I look forward to another fun evening in downtown Middletown on Wednesday.

 

In closing, I ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the dates for a number of exciting events coming up in the month of August. A special Member Breakfast Meeting and Book Signing featuring former UConn and NBA Star Ray Allen is scheduled for Thursday, August 2nd. Ray is part of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 2018, and I am so appreciative that he is taking the time to once again visit with our membership. The 13th Annual Middletown Motorcycle Mania is scheduled for Wednesday, August 15, our annual Business After Work Networking Reception at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa is scheduled for Tuesday, August 21, and a Member Breakfast Meeting with UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall is scheduled for Wednesday, August 22. I will have much more as we get closer, but please save the dates. We’re on the move!  


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