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Larry McHugh Column

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Larry McHugh, President of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce writes the weekly column "On The Move," published in The Middletown Press. The column focuses on the business community and the economic environment in Middlesex County. Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce events and grand openings are a regular feature of the column.

Holiday on Main continues through December

November 30, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Now that Thanksgiving is in the books, it is time to look ahead to the holiday season with a spirit of optimism and hope for the future. I firmly believe that we will have a strong end to 2020, and that 2021 will be a brighter year for all of us. This belief has been strengthened by the resilient spirit that this community has shown in recent weeks.

Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown had a terrific kickoff last Friday with our virtual tree lighting. While our normal crowd of supporters and well-wishers could not join us, a few of us were still be able to gather on the South Green to officially kick off the holiday season. I thank Mayor Ben Florsheim and the city staff that made this tree lighting happen, despite these challenging times. I was also honored to participate in a press conference and tour of various downtown businesses last Tuesday which promoted Small Business Saturday. Small businesses are the lifeblood of our community, and I appreciate the fact that U.S Senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy visited Middletown, along with SBA Connecticut Director Catherine Marx who joined us for the event. I thank our CBB Chair Pam Steele for her great remarks at the press conference, and Joe Samolis and Tom Marano from the city Department of Planning, Conservation and Development, Marie Kalita and Sandra Russo-Driska from the Middletown Downtown Business District, and chamber VP Johanna Bond for organizing this great event with these important leaders. I ask again, please support our small business community throughout this holiday season. They need us now more than ever.

This week features important meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, and Down County Division. We also look forward to a virtual gathering of our recently established “Big 6,” a group of dedicated and engaged chamber members who meet biweekly to discuss the current status of the chamber’s financials. Thanks to the leadership of this group, and the ongoing efforts of our staff, our chamber is in a good position and poised for the future. The Big 6 includes chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Vice Chairwoman Tamera “TJ” Jackson, Immediate Past Chairman Don DeVivo, Past Chairman Jay Polke, Past Chairwoman and current Chairwoman of Chamber Strategic Planning Teresa Opalacz, and Past Chairman and current Treasurer Rick Morin. I am forever grateful for their dedication to our chamber. The Big 6 meets this Wednesday afternoon.

Back to the holidays for a moment, The Magic of Middletown continues on Friday evening with the Dashing Through Downtown Holiday Vehicle Parade. Attendees are encouraged to decorate their vehicle and join in our parade as we dash through downtown spreading holiday magic and joy. Registration will take place at Middletown High School between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., and will dash off from MHS at 6:15 p.m. We are requesting $5.00 per vehicle, which will support local community programs, and please don’t forget to bring an unwrapped toy for the Middletown Police Department’s Annual Toy Drive. The festivities continue on Saturday with our Pop-Up Holiday Vendor Fair. Come stop by one of the many vendors set-up along Main Street and then stop into one of the many stores downtown. You can also join us for other Holiday on Main Street events on Saturday including socially distanced pictures with Santa, Conductor Phil reading The Polar Express at Spear Park brought to you by the City of Middletown Recreation Department and the Russell Library, and popcorn and pretzels outside of the chamber. As always, www.holidayonmain.com has all the details.

Switching gears a bit, but no less important, this Thursday, the chamber will partner with the CT. Department of Labor (CTDOL) on a special virtual information session focusing on the Shared Work Program. This session will begin at 9:30 a.m. Representatives from CTDOL will lead a presentation on the program and how it can benefit the employer community in Middlesex County. The Shared Work Program helps businesses prevent layoffs by allowing them to temporarily reduce employee hours and use partial unemployment benefits to supplement lost wages. We look forward to a very productive session, and I appreciate the collaboration and partnership of the DOL staff.

In closing, I am happy to announce that next Monday, Dec. 7, I will join chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, our Support the Troops Committee Chairman Phil Cacciola, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese, and senior representatives from AT&T Connecticut for the formal presentation of our 2020 AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award to the Connecticut National Guard. This prestigious chamber award is presented annually at our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting. Since the event was held virtually this year, we weren’t able to formally present the award. We look forward to meeting the Guard’s Adjutant General, Major Gen. Fran Evon, and Connecticut National Guard troops, to formally present the award in recognition of the guard’s efforts on COVID mitigation and natural disaster response, and to honor its outstanding service to state, country and community in a very difficult year. We are forever grateful for their service, and look forward to visiting with the guard at its PPE distribution warehouse in New Britain where we can thank them in person.

The holiday season is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber is on the move!

A Time to be Thankful

November 23, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

It is Thanksgiving time again in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, not simply because of the great turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but because it inspires reflection and a true appreciation of what is important in life. I am blessed with a wonderful family, led by my wife Patty, and a network of friends that truly has my back. It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve as president of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, a dynamic business organization with over 2,100 members. I am thankful for my staff at the chamber who works hard on behalf of the business community in Middlesex County on a daily basis. We have a dedicated Board of Directors, led by Chairman Tom Byrne, which truly makes Middlesex County a great place to live, work and play. I am thankful to be a citizen of the United States of America, a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in writing. I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope everyone keeps in mind those who are less fortunate, and those who are struggling with COVID-19 and other health challenges, throughout this holiday season.

Thanksgiving time also means that it is Holiday on Main Street time in Middletown. Despite these uncertain times, the chamber and the City of Middletown are working hard to develop interactive, safe and socially distant events that will help get the community in the holiday spirit. The Holiday of Main Street Planning Committee, led by Chairman Al Santostefano, has come up with a series of events called, “The Magic of Middletown!” The Magic of Middletown will begin with a virtual tree lighting which will be released on Friday, November 27, and will be followed by socially distant events on November 28, December 5 and December 12. We will also host a Dashing through Downtown Holiday Parade on Friday, December 4, which will feature a decorated car parade that will travel around the great City of Middletown. This Saturday, Nov. 28, is Small Business Saturday, and we are encouraging everyone to support our local small business community throughout this holiday shopping season. For a list of participating businesses, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. This Saturday will also kick off the Festival of Wreaths Virtual Silent Auction, pictures with Santa, “Tis the Season to Find a Gnome” Scavenger Hunt, popcorn and pretzels outside the chamber building on Main Street and much more. Please visit www.holidayonmain.com for all of the details.

On the chamber meeting front, this week features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, our Arrigoni Bridge & Saint John Square Project Committee, and our Women’s Leadership Collaborative. The Arrigoni Bridge & Saint John Square Project Committee is tasked with making sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday. This week also features meetings of the Metro Chamber Executive Work Group, and the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE), both on Tuesday. I will attend Tuesday’s virtual meeting with my fellow chamber executives from around the state, and chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will attend the virtual CACCE meeting. I continue to appreciate the great work of our chamber colleagues from all over the State of Connecticut.

Look ahead to December, I ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the dates for three important upcoming events. On Tuesday, Dec. 8, our KeyBank Workshop Series continues with a session on Cyber Security. On Wednesday, Dec. 9, our Recovery Employment Program will host an important webinar focusing on opioids titled, “Facing the Holidays.” Finally, on Wednesday, Dec. 16, a special Virtual Luncheon featuring Gov. Ned Lamont, sponsored by Eversource, will take place at 12:00 p.m. Gov. Lamont will visit with chamber members to discuss the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, he will focus on public health measures that are underway or planned, and how the State of Connecticut plans to support the business community as we approach the start of a new year.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to remind readers that the Community Health Center is offering free COVID-19 testing, seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at its 19 Grand Street facility in Middletown. This service is available for drive up or walk up. Testing is critical to combating the pandemic that we all continue to deal with, and I would like to again thank Mark Masselli and his team for their great work on the front lines of this crisis. I also want to take a moment to thank Vin Capece and his terrific team at Middlesex Health for the great work they have done on the public health front this year. We are so fortunate to have these two institutions in our region, and we are eternally grateful for their efforts.

Happy Thanksgiving, Middlesex County. Be safe!

Chamber gearing up for socially distanced Holiday on Main

November 16, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, Chamber Chairman Tom Byrne and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening of Jersey Mike’s on Washington Street in Middletown. Jersey Mike’s offers fresh sliced, authentic Northeast-American style sub sandwiches on fresh baked bread. On behalf of the chamber, I would like to welcome Ken Schanke and the entire Jersey Mike’s team to Middletown. We look forward to working with them as they grow their brand right here in our city. I will also be sure to introduce Ken to Jeff Pugliese and Lorenzo Marshall from the chamber team, because Jeff and Lo can certainly take down a good sub.

On the chamber front, this week features important meetings of our Killingworth Division, East Haddam & Haddam Division, and Board of Directors. I also look forward to participating in the Metro Chamber Executives Work Group which includes chamber CEO’s from throughout the state, Mayor Ben Florsheim’s weekly meeting of city leaders which focuses on COVID-19 response, and meetings of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee and Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee.

As you all know, this is the time of year when the chamber team is gearing up for the Annual Holiday on Main Street celebration. Despite these uncertain times, the chamber and the City of Middletown are still looking to bring a little Magic to Middletown, and we are working hard to develop interactive, safe and socially distant events that will help get the community in the holiday spirit. The Holiday of Main Street Planning Committee, led by Chairman Al Santostefano, has come up with a series of events called, “The Magic of Middletown!” The Magic of Middletown will begin with a virtual tree lighting which will be released on Friday, November 27, and will be followed by socially distant events on November 28, December 5 and December 12. We will also host a Dashing through Downtown Holiday Parade on Friday, December 4, which will feature a decorated car parade that will travel around the great City of Middletown. There is no doubt that after 34 years, Holiday on Main Street has become a signature event for our city. We look forward to continuing this important tradition, all while keeping our citizens safe.

Switching gears a bit, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the work of the Portland Air Line Trail (P-ALT) Committee, which had done a great job with the development of a 2.3 mile trail that follows part of the original Air Line Trail that operated the "Ghost Train" from New York to Boston. An agreement with Eversource Energy allows the P-ALT to use the Eversource "right-of-way" and connect to the East Hampton trail at Depot Hill Road. In 2016 the Town of Portland was awarded a Recreational Trail Grant from the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Portland matched the grant with the purchase of 82 Middle Haddam Road, a 23-acre site that provides a parking area and an entrance to the trail. The grant and the town’s match provided the resources needed to construct the trail, a parking area, and 0.4 mile connector that opened in 2018. When the East Hampton portion is completed in the next couple of years, the trail will be expanded to over 22 miles and will end in the Willimantic area. The P-ALT committee is now working on the next phase, which will connect to the intersection of Route 66 and Route 17, with a long-term goal of ending downtown and connecting to Middletown and points west. The committee, along with Portland Economic Development, have been able to place a QR Code on kiosks that provide links to local Portland businesses, including restaurants, gas stations and other local recreational facilities to visitors coming from other areas of Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. I want to take a moment to thank everyone involved for doing an outstanding job with the development of this important local attraction. I especially want to thank Rosario “Riz” Rizzo for his leadership on this project, and for getting us this important information for the chamber column.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to remind our community that the Community Health Center is offering free COVID-19 testing, seven days a week, from 8:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., at its 19 Grand Street facility in Middletown. This service is available for drive up or walk up. Testing is critical to combating the pandemic that we all continue to deal with, and I would like to thank Mark Masselli and his team for their great work on the front lines of this crisis.

I unfortunately must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Phyllis Amato at the age of 96. Phyllis led an amazing life and she made her family so proud along the way. Phyllis was a wonderful partner to her husband, Vinny, and was critical to the success of the family business, Amato’s Toy and Hobby. Phyllis was kind, graceful and loved her family above all else. Our thoughts and prayers are with her entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that she led a life well lived. Phyllis Amato will be missed by many.

Chamber has 3 exciting business openings set for Middletown

November 9, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Before previewing another busy chamber week, I want to begin this week’s column by once again acknowledging the importance of Veterans Day which is this Wednesday, Nov. 11. Our Veterans have done so much for our nation and our community, and they have our unending thanks and admiration. Last Monday, the chamber team executed an outstanding Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Virtual Member Breakfast Meeting. We were honored to have Major General Fran Evon, Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard, as keynote speaker, and it was our pleasure to honor the Guard with the AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award. We also honored Jerry Augustine of Middletown with the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award. Jerry is a deserving recipient of this award as a result of his sterling record of military and community service. I want to once again thank Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece and his team for sponsoring this important event, and Chairman Phil Cacciola along with our outstanding Support the Troops Planning Committee for their great work as always. The chamber will be well represented at the Veterans Day ceremonies being held throughout Middlesex County on Wednesday.

I also want to note that it was my pleasure to attend last Wednesday’s performance of Middletown Unified Theater at Middletown High School. My friend Tony Petruzzello and his castmates put on an inspirational performance from start to finish, and I congratulate them all on a job truly well done. It is amazing that this outstanding local initiative is celebrating 10 years of performances by students of all abilities, and I thank Karen Nocera and the entire Middletown Unified Theater team for their dedication and great work. Keep it up!

On Thursday afternoon, it was a pleasure, and indeed an honor, for me to say a few words at the official dedication of a tree and plaque at Palmer Field in honor of my friend, the late Tom Serra. As I noted last week, Tom was a giant in the City of Middletown, and his impact will be felt for many years to come. I would like to thank Bill Russo for organizing the event and for initiating this dedication to Tom. Palmer Field looks better than it ever has, and I know Tom would be proud.

On the business development front, I look forward to attending three exciting celebrations this week in the City of Middletown. On Tuesday morning, I will join Mayor Ben Florsheim, Chamber Chairman Tom Byrne and other local dignitaries for the 10th Anniversary Celebration of Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits. Pam Steele has done a fantastic job with this important local business. She has also made a major impact on this community, and we are proud to have her as Chairwoman of our Central Business Bureau (CBB), and as a member of our Executive Committee. We look forward to celebrating ten years, and toasting to many more. On Thursday morning, we will head to 195 Main Street to celebrate the new location of Cinder + Salt. Rachel DeCavage and her team are moving a little further south on Main Street, but they will continue to provide eco-friendly and sustainable clothing for guys, ladies and children. We wish Rachel all the best, and will continue to support her as best we can. Finally, we look forward to heading out to South Main Street on Thursday afternoon for the official Grand Opening of Neil’s Donuts. Neil’s offers New York style donuts and other bakery items such as pastries, danish, muffins, breakfast sandwiches, coffee and more. Neil’s has had quite an impact in Middletown since it opened, with lines stretching around the store. We are excited to have them, and look forward to working with their entire team as they work to grow their brand in this important commercial corridor in our city.

In addition to these important highlights, this week also features meetings of the chamber’s Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee, the Metro Chamber Executive Work Group, Business and Education Advisory Council, Health Care Council Steering Committee and the latest installment of the Key Bank Workshop Series, "It's Not Just a Logo: The Basics of Branding." As always, www.middlesexchamber.com has all of the important details. We look forward to another productive week.

Finally, I would like to close this week’s column by congratulating the City of Middletown on the passage of the 21st Century Infrastructure Development Bond Program which was approved by a wide margin as part of last Tuesday’s election. The chamber has been a big proponent of this program since it was announced, and we look forward to working with city leaders as this important process moves forward. As I noted in the leadup to the vote, The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce believes that the 21st Century Infrastructure Development Bond Program is critical to our future economic development prospects in Middletown and in Middlesex County. We are blessed with a central location, a vibrant downtown and close proximity to the Connecticut River. It is time we capitalize on these strengths so we can continue to move this city and this region forward. On behalf of the chamber, I thank Mayor Florsheim, the Common Council, and Planning, Conservation and Development Director Joe Samolis for their hard work and vision for a bright future for our city.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Middletown to honor late Tom Serra with tree planting

November 2, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached an important week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation, the week that includes Election Day.

Election Day is not only a day when we choose our elected officials, but it is a symbol of our democracy, and it represents our commitment to a peaceful transfer of power and responsibility. It is very important that we do our civic duty, visit our polling stations, and participate in the election process. We are very lucky to live in a nation where we choose our leaders at the ballot box, and we should all take seriously our responsibility to vote on Election Day. On behalf of the chamber, I want to once again thank all of the candidates from across our region for their willingness to run and to serve in public office.

Of course, the ability to hold free and fair elections is of course only possible because of our veterans and those who serve our country at home and around the world. Veterans Day, a special day that is designed to honor all the veterans that have served this nation with distinction and bravery, is coming up next Wednesday, Nov. 11. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce continues to support our active duty, reserves, and guard personnel, and the many local veterans that have served in the United States Armed Forces. This Monday, Nov. 2, the chamber will hold its 19th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting, sponsored by Middlesex Health. This event, being held virtually for the first time in its history, will begin at 8:00 a.m. The chamber looks forward to welcoming Major General Francis J. Evon, Jr., Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard, as keynote speaker. Two awards will be presented at the event, the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award, and the AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award. The William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award is presented annually to a Veteran of the United States Armed Forces, in recognition of his or her distinguished service to the citizens of Connecticut and selfless commitment to public service. This year’s recipient is Gerald E. “Jerry” Augustine of Middletown. The AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award is presented annually to a business or organization that supports active duty military personnel, veterans, and their families through employment, philanthropy, spousal support, and other means. This year’s recipient is The Connecticut National Guard. I again want to congratulate and thank both of these deserving recipients. Finally, I want to thank Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece and his team for sponsoring this important event, and Chairman Phil Cacciola along with our outstanding Support the Troops Planning Committee for their great work.

In addition to the Support the Troops event, I look forward to important meetings this week of the chamber’s Executive Committee, the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee, the Metro Chamber Executive Work Group, the chamber’s Portland & East Hampton Division, Central Business Bureau and Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. I also look forward to participating in an event that is being run in partnership with Liberty Bank and the UConn School of Business on Thursday afternoon. Led by John Elliott, Dean of the UConn School of Business, the event will focus on Succession and Technology while running a family owned business. The session will feature a variety of experts who will cover best practices for adapting to current events and other topics.

Thursday afternoon also features a visit to Palmer Field for the official dedication of a tree and a plaque in honor of Tom Serra. As I have noted many times since his passing, Tom Serra was many things to many people. He dedicated himself to public service throughout a long and distinguished career as an educator, a principal, a mayor, a member of the Middletown Common Council, and a supporter of countless community initiatives. The tree and plaque at Palmer Field will honor the impact he had on local athletics. Tom was a giant, and I look forward to attending the event on Thursday, and saying a few words about my friend who I miss every day.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop and other local dignitaries at a Grand Opening celebration for Catherine & Co. Salon and Day Spa in Westbrook on Friday afternoon. We wish Owner Catherine Stowik and her entire team nothing but the best as they work to grow their business right here in Middlesex County. Please check out this exciting new shoreline salon.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Elmer Chiarappa at the age of 95. Elmer was a terrific local businessman who owned, along with his wife, E. Chiarappa Jewelry on Main Street in Middletown for an amazing sixty-five years. They were strong supporters of our chamber which I appreciate very much. He also served our nation with honor in the US Navy during World War II, and served his community in a variety of ways throughout his life. More important than all of this to Elmer however, was his devotion to his family. Our thoughts are prayers are with all of them at this difficult time. Elmer E. Chiarappa was a good man, and he will be missed.

A major event is coming up fast

October 26, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week is on tap, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

On the chamber meeting front, this week features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, our Arrigoni Bridge & Saint John Square Project Committee, All Middletown Division, and Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council. The Westbrook and All Middletown Division meetings will feature the final two chamber legislative candidate forums for 2020. I would like to once again thank all of the candidates in Middlesex County that are seeking public office. We appreciate their support of these forums, and their willingness to run and to serve. The Arrigoni Bridge & Saint John Square Project Committee is tasked with making sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday. This week also features meetings of the Metro Chamber Executive Work Group on Tuesday, and the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE) on Thursday. I will attend Tuesday’s virtual meeting with my fellow chamber executives from around the state, and chamber VP’s Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond will attend Thursday’s virtual CACCE meeting. I continue to appreciate the great work of our chamber colleagues from all over the State of Connecticut. A busy week of virtual chamber gatherings wraps up on Thursday night with a special Halloween presentation from the chamber’s Women’s Leadership Collaborative titled, Ghosts and Legends of the Connecticut River Valley. Attendees will learn about the legends, ghosts, and myths of the Connecticut River Valley from WLC Chairwoman Lauren Middleton and the New England Legends Podcast. This is a safe and fun way to celebrate Halloween in this unique and challenging year of 2020. I thank Lauren and the entire WLC for its continued good work.

This week is also shaping up to be a busy week on the business development front. Tuesday afternoon features a Ribbon Cutting Celebration for Body of Needs in Middletown. I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele and other local dignitaries for the event. Body of Needs day spa offers a combination of massage and body treatments. They are a welcome addition to Main Street and we wish Kevin Chapman and his team nothing but the best as they move forward with this new local business. On Wednesday, Jeff Pugliese will travel to Southington for the Grand Opening celebration of ProShield Glass Tinting’s new location. ProShield Glass Tinting has over 25 years of industry experience installing distinctive looks that enhance the appearance of any glass. We appreciate their commitment to our chamber, and look forward to supporting them at their new location. Finally, on Thursday, I will join a number of local dignitaries for a Ribbon Cutting celebration at The Central, 363 Main Street. Trevor Davis and his team have been investing in this important downtown building for many years now, and the commercial space inside is full of tenants that are contributing to the vibrancy of our downtown. I look forward to checking out the updates to the building, and celebrating its success on Thursday morning.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column by offering a preview of a major chamber event that is coming up fast. The 19th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting will be held next Monday, Nov. 2. The Member Breakfast Meeting, being held virtually for the first time, is sponsored by Middlesex Health. We look forward to welcoming Major General Francis J. Evon, Jr., Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard, as keynote speaker. Two awards will be presented at the event, the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award, and the AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award. This year’s recipient of the Pomfret Award is Gerald E. “Jerry” Augustine of Middletown. Jerry is a deserving recipient who has made us all proud with his service to country and community. This year’s recipient of the AT&T Award is The Connecticut National Guard. The chamber is so proud of the work that the Connecticut National Guard has done during this very challenging 2020. From pandemic response, to storm response, and more, the guard has been there for the citizens of our state. We are so grateful for their efforts, at home, and around the world. Thanks to the wonderful support of Middlesex Health, all veterans and troops that are currently serving can attend this event free of charge. Please call the chamber to register, 860-347-6924 or email info@middlesexchamber.com. Whenever I mention our Support the Troops event, I have to thank Phil Cacciola and his outstanding committee for their year-round effort to make this event work, along with Vin Capece and Middlesex Health for making it possible. We look forward to another great one.

Have a safe and healthy Halloween, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

‘Keeping Cool During COVID’ talk on tap this week

October 19, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

October is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy chamber week includes a number of important meetings that will be held through virtual means. Tuesday morning features the latest session of our KeyBank Workshop Series. The session is titled, "Keeping Cool During COVID”, and it is presented by Courtney Spencer of Courtney Spencer Coaching. Courtney will discuss the impact of stress on the brain, body and productivity, and will teach ways to both manage the stress and improve your work and life despite the craziness of the world around you. Attendees will also leave with a "tool-kit" that they can implement immediately. Courtney is an attorney, transformational life coach and speaker, and her passion is to help people conquer overwhelm and design a life that they love. We look forward to another great session. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com for more information.

While my team is busy executing that important seminar, I will be attending meetings of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County Board of Directors, and Metro Chamber Executives Work Group which includes chamber CEO’s from throughout the state. I continue to value our strong partnerships with both of these groups, and look forward to two more productive meetings.

Looking ahead to Wednesday afternoon, the chamber is excited to host a Virtual Open House from 3:30-4:30 p.m. This important event will provide information to our members on how to maximize their membership. Chamber staff and Chamber Ambassadors will be on hand to discuss the various benefits, resources and opportunities that are available throughout our organization. We look forward to a very productive session.

As I have noted in previous editions of this weekly column, the chamber is hosting legislative candidate forums at our county-based divisions throughout the month of October. So far, we have conducted productive virtual forums with our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, our Portland and East Hampton Division, our Cromwell Division, our Durham and Middlefield Division, and our Killingworth Division, and look forward to upcoming meetings of our East Haddam and Haddam Division this Thursday, our Westbrook Division next Tuesday, and our All Middletown Division next Wednesday. I would like to once again thank our members for supporting these forums, and our candidates for their willingness to run and serve.

On Thursday afternoon, our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee will meet for the final time before our 19th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held on Monday, November 2, 2020 at 8:00 a.m. This year, we will be going virtual, but that will not stop us from honoring the veterans who have served our country so well, and showing our unwavering support for those who are currently serving. This year’s Keynote Speaker is Major General Francis J. Evon, Jr., The Adjutant General of the Connecticut National Guard and the top military officer in the state. In addition to having Major General Evon address our virtual audience, we will also be honoring the Connecticut National Guard for the great work it has done on so many fronts during this very challenging year. They have been instrumental in building the field hospitals in our state, they have been instrumental in getting the state’s testing capacity up, and after the Tropical Storm that hit our state in early August, the National Guard was right there leading the response. As always at this event, we will also be presenting the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award. This year’s recipient is Jerry Augustine of Middletown. Jerry has a sterling military record but perhaps an even better community service record. We look forward to honoring his service. We are so fortunate to have an outstanding planning committee led by former Army Colonel Phil Cacciola who works year-round on the planning and execution of this event. I will have much more to share on this important chamber event in the coming weeks, but it is safe to say that we are excited about it. As always, I thank Vin Capece and the team at Middlesex Health for sponsoring the event.

I am afraid I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of David Kittle at the age of 76. David was a wonderful man and all of us who knew him are saddened by his passing. He served his county with honor in the U.S. Coast Guard, and led a distinguished professional career at Southern New England Telephone. In recent years, he was a fixture in his beloved home town of Westbrook, and at chamber events throughout the county. David’s wife, Darlene Briggs, is a Past Chair of our chamber and one of our strongest and most dedicated supporters. We are so grateful for her longtime support and friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Darlene, and David’s entire network of family and friends. May they take comfort in the fact that he led a life well lived, and that he always made them proud. David Kittle will be missed.

VFW post to be honored for 100 years of service

October 12, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week is on tap, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

First, on the business development front, I look forward to attending a special grand opening celebration on Tuesday morning for Bella Noir Caribbean Restaurant & Lounge on Saybrook Road in Middletown. Bella Noir Caribbean Restaurant & Lounge has a vast menu of culinary delights, utilizing the freshest ingredients to bring homemade dishes straight to your table. On behalf of the chamber, I wish Maggie Pierre Louis and her entire team nothing but the best as they move forward with this new local business. We look forward to working with them.

Also on Tuesday, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. The metro chambers collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses, and these meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration and joint advocacy for the business community. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities.

A busy Tuesday wraps up in the evening with a virtual meeting of the chamber’s Automotive Council, an important group that meets regularly to discuss issues pertaining to the auto industry. Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) Deputy Commissioner Tony Guerrera will visit with the group once again for an important discussion. I appreciate Tony’s support of our council, and I thank our co-chairs, Rich Jukonski and Mike Turner, along with staff liaison Lorenzo Marshall for their continued good work on this front.

As I mentioned last week, the chamber is once again hosting legislative candidate forums at each of our county-based divisions throughout the month of October. This year, due to COVID-19, these forums are being held through zoom. These are not debates, but forums that are designed to connect the candidates to the business community in Middlesex County. These forums continued last week with successful meetings of our Portland & East Hampton Division on Wednesday, and Cromwell Division on Thursday. This week features meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division on Wednesday, and our Killingworth Division on Thursday. I would like to once again thank all of the candidates who are running for legislative office not only for supporting these important forums, but for their willingness to run and to serve in these very challenging times.

The main event of the week is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon when we will welcome UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach Dan Hurley to a Special Virtual Luncheon, sponsored by ConnectiCare. This important chamber event will feature a large crowd of chamber members from a wide variety of industry sectors. Coach Hurley is about to begin his third season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and will provide us with some insight on his leadership and management style. Coach Hurley will also cover what it has been like to manage the program during this very challenging 2020. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring, and Coach Hurley for joining us during what is a very busy time for him and his staff.

Looking ahead to Wednesday evening, I appreciate the invitation to attend the official launch of the Middletown High School Aerospace & Manufacturing Center. Manufacturing, particularly in the aerospace field, is so important to this region and to our state. I applaud Middletown High School for creating this center, and our chamber looks forward to working with the students, faculty and staff on the development of a deep and capable workforce within this vital industry sector.

On the workforce development front, the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee meets on Thursday morning via an online platform. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

Thursday afternoon features the October meeting of the chamber’s Board of Directors. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber board features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. This meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, President and Owner of Connecticut Rentals, Inc. We look forward to another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Tom for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization.

Thursday evening brings me to the City of Middletown Council Chambers for a special celebration honoring the VFW Post 583 for 100 years of service to our community. I look forward to representing a grateful chamber as we say thank you to these veterans for their service to our nation and to their fellow citizens.

On Friday morning, I will attend a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity & Accountability Initiative. This important effort, led by Workforce Alliance Chairwoman Robin Golden and President Bill Villano, brings together a variety of stakeholders from throughout the alliance’s 30 town service area. I look forward to working with all of them as we continue our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient and vibrant State of Connecticut. I will have more information on this important initiative in future editions of the chamber column.

Looking ahead to the weekend, I look forward to attending the Gilead Community Services Connect for a Cause Quizine 2020 event at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland on Sunday. I applaud CEO Dan Osborne and his team for their creativity, and for keeping this tradition going during a challenging year. I also thank them for the invitation, and for their good work in our community.

I would like to close this week’s column by asking chamber members and all other interested parties to save the date for the 19th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held, virtually, on Monday, November 2, 2020 beginning at 8:00 a.m. This event is sponsored by Middlesex Health. Each November, we gather to honor the veterans who have served our country so bravely, and show our unwavering support for the troops who are currently serving. The Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Breakfast has become a key part of Veterans’ Week in the State of Connecticut. The event attracts over 500 people each year, and the guest list includes top military personnel in the State of Connecticut including representatives from the Connecticut Military Department, the US Navy Sub Base, the US Coast Guard Academy, a number of Veterans’ Organizations including American Legion Posts, VFW Posts, the local Jewish War Veterans Post, the local Catholic War Veterans Post, Veterans of the Vietnam War, the local Chapter of the Disabled American Veterans and many more. In normal times, the event includes the participation of the First Company Governor’s Foot Guard, the Pledge of Allegiance and the Star-Spangled Banner which are performed by local high school students, and the presentation of the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award to a Middlesex County Veteran that has shown a selfless commitment to country and community. We hope to continue these important traditions, albeit in a slightly different way, for this year’s event. This year’s Keynote Speaker is Major General Francis J. Evon, Jr., The Adjutant General. In addition to having Major General Evon address our virtual audience, we also want to honor the Connecticut National Guard for the great work it has done on so many fronts during this very challenging year. Our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee, led by its Chairman, Phil Cacciola, is working very hard to make this event happen. This group will meet this Monday to continue planning for the event. I appreciate their efforts, and will have much more on this important chamber event as we get closer.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County. Have a great week!

October to focus on equality, cancer awareness, manufacturing

October 5, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week is on tap for the chamber team. However, before getting into the details of the meetings, events and activities scheduled for this week and beyond, I want to begin this week’s column by congratulating Vinnie LaBella and his team at LABCO Welding on 50 years of continuous business in Greater Middletown. After completing eight great years in Rockfall, LABCO moved to the Industrial Park in Middletown over 42 years ago. LABCO has expanded five times, has doubled its employment over the years, and has served as an outstanding corporate citizen in our city and beyond. I am very grateful that LABCO has been a member of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce for over 40 years. They are an outstanding local company, and we are lucky to have it in Middletown and in Middlesex County. Thank you, Vinnie LaBella and LABCO Welding for your commitment to our community. Here’s to 50 more!

Another busy chamber week kicks off on Monday with a virtual meeting of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. In addition to reports from key chamber members and staff, the meeting will feature a presentation from Mayor Ben Florsheim and the city’s Director of Planning, Conservation and Development, Joe Samolis, on the $55,000,000 21st Century Infrastructure Development Bond Program that will appear before Middletown voters as a referendum question on November 3, 2020. Mayor Florsheim and Director Samolis gave a similar presentation at last Thursday’s meeting of the chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB). After the presentation on Thursday, CBB voted to support this important initiative, and send it up to the Executive Committee for its review. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, President and Owner of Connecticut Rentals, Inc. We look forward to another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Tom for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization.

On the business development front, I look forward to attending two grand opening celebrations this Tuesday. First, at 11:00 a.m., I will join Middlefield First Selectman Ed Bailey and other local officials for the Grand Opening Celebration of TriCircle, Inc. TriCircle is an organization that provides resources for individuals and their families affected by substance use disorders. I look forward to formally welcoming TriCircle to Middlefield and to Middlesex County, and look forward to working with its Founder, Ana Gopoian, Board President Ray Demers, and its entire team as they engage in this critically important work. Later in the day, at 2:00 p.m., I will join Chester First Selectwoman Lauren Gister and other local officials at the celebration for The Hive in downtown Chester. The Hive hosts shared space including a conference room, coworking space, private offices, and event space. It is also developing a community of entrepreneurs, and we look forward to working with The Hive’s Founder, Briana Jewczyn, on the development of a connected innovation eco system here in Middlesex County. As I have noted many times, attending these grand openings, ribbon cuttings, and other celebrations of business is one of the most rewarding aspects of this chamber job. I look forward to both events on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. The metro chambers collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses, and these meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration and joint advocacy for the business community. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities.

Now that we are in the month of October, the chamber is once again hosting legislative candidate forums at each of our county-based divisions. This year, due to COVID-19, these forums are being held through zoom. These are not debates, but forums that are designed to connect the candidates to the business community in Middlesex County. These forums kicked off last Friday at the October meeting of our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. That meeting went very well, and we look forward to similar forums this week. Our Portland and East Hampton Division forum will be held on Wednesday, and our Cromwell Division forum will be held on Thursday. I thank the candidates, and our members, for their support of these important conversations.

Looking ahead to Thursday evening, I look forward to attending the annual meeting of the Middlesex Health System Board of Corporators which will be held virtually for the first time. As I have noted many times, Middlesex Health, under the leadership of CEO Vin Capece and a committed Board of Directors, is an outstanding medical network in our state. This anchor of Middlesex County not only provides professional medical care, it is a real economic driver and a true community partner. I would like to again thank Vin for his support of our chamber and of so many important community initiatives.

On the virtual luncheon front, excitement is continuing to build for our October event featuring UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday, Oct. 14. This virtual luncheon with the coach, sponsored by our friends at ConnectiCare, will feature a large crowd of chamber members from a wide variety of industry sectors. Coach Hurley is about to begin his third season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and will provide us with some insight on his leadership and management style. Coach Hurley will also cover what it has been like to manage the program during this very challenging 2020. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring, and Coach Hurley for joining us during what is a very busy time for him and his staff.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that the month of October is a celebration of many important things. First, on the business side, October is Manufacturing Month. Manufacturing is a critically important industry sector in Middlesex County and throughout our great state. We will continue to support our member manufacturers through this difficult period for our economy. On the equality front, October is LGBTQIA History Month. The day of the inaugural Middletown Pride event held in June of 2019 was a fabulous day in Middletown. The event had a strong economic impact, but more importantly, Middletown Pride showed the world that Middletown is a vibrant and inclusive community, a community that we are proud to be a part of. We look forward to expanding its impact in 2021, and thank the City of Middletown, Wesleyan University and Russell Library for their collaboration and support. Finally, on the health front, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Breast cancer has impacted all of us in some way, shape or form. We must continue to work together to make strides against this deadly disease. The chamber will continue to be a constructive partner on all of these fronts, and the sun will continue to shine in Middlesex County.

Have a great week!

DOT Arrigoni Bridge project update is Tuesday

September 28, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but October is upon us in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

This week is another busy one in our region which features a number of important meetings and events.

On Tuesday morning, our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee will meet for the first time in 2020. The Support the Troops Committee is tasked with planning and executing the chamber’s annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting that is held every November. The main agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting is planning for the 19th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held, virtually, on Monday, November 2, 2020 beginning at 8:00 a.m. Each November, we gather to honor the veterans who have served our country so bravely, and show our unwavering support for the troops who are currently serving. The Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Breakfast has become a key part of Veterans’ Week in the State of Connecticut. I will have much more on this important event in the coming weeks, but as always, we are very grateful to our committee Chairman, Phil Cacciola, and all of its members for their great support. More to come!

Also on Tuesday morning, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. The metro chambers collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses, and these meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration and joint advocacy for the business community. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities. On Tuesday afternoon, our Arrigoni Bridge Project Committee will meet via zoom. The meeting will feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but the associated work that is taking place in downtown Middletown. As I have noted before, the main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects, especially on Main Street in Middletown and in Portland, and we will continue to be a constructive partner until their conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday.

On Tuesday evening, I look forward to attending the Middlesex YMCA’s 133rd Annual Meeting which is being held via zoom. The Middlesex YMCA continues to do great work in the community through wellness, child care, and on many other fronts. I look forward to joining the event, and thank Michele Rulnick and her team for their continued good work.

Moving to later in the week, a very important meeting of the chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB) is scheduled for Thursday morning, Oct. 1. The meeting will feature a presentation from Mayor Ben Florsheim and the city’s Director of Planning, Conservation and Development, Joe Samolis, on the $55,000,000 21st Century Infrastructure Development Bond Program that will appear before Middletown voters as a referendum question on November 3, 2020. This will be the main agenda item of Thursday’s CBB meeting. The October CBB meeting will also feature an update on the Arrigoni Bridge and Downtown Middletown construction projects, and other reports as time allows. All chamber members that are located in the City of Middletown are invited to attend. We look forward to a very productive meeting.

Speaking of the upcoming election, the chamber will once again be hosting legislative candidate forums at each of our county-based divisions through the month of October. This year, due to COVID-19, these forums are being held through zoom. These are not debates, but forums that are designed to connect the candidates to the business community in Middlesex County. Candidates will have the opportunity to introduce themselves and talk about their campaign. The chamber members in the virtual audience will have the opportunity to ask questions of the candidates about important business issues or anything else they deem relevant. All candidates for Senate and House seats that represent these towns are invited to attend. These forums kick off this Friday at the October meeting of our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division.

On the virtual luncheon front, excitement is continuing to build for our October event featuring UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach Dan Hurley on Wednesday, Oct. 14. This virtual luncheon with the coach, sponsored by our friends at ConnectiCare, will feature a large crowd of chamber members from a wide variety of industry sectors. Coach Hurley is about to begin his third season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and will provide us with some insight on his leadership and management style. Coach Hurley will also cover what it has been like to manage the program during this very challenging 2020. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring, and Coach Hurley for joining us during what is a very busy time for him and his staff.

Interested parties should also save the date for the next session of our KeyBank Workshop Series which is scheduled for Tuesday Oct. 20 at 8:00 a.m. The session is titled, "Keeping Cool During COVID”, and it is presented by Courtney Spencer of Courtney Spencer Coaching. Courtney will discuss the impact of stress on the brain, body and productivity, and will teach ways to both manage the stress and improve your work and your life despite the craziness of the world around you. Attendees will also leave with a "tool-kit" that they can implement immediately. Courtney is an attorney, transformational life coach and speaker, and her passion is to help people conquer overwhelm and design a life that they love. We look forward to another great session. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com for more information.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to mention the chamber’s MEWS+ effort which is continuing to move forward. The MEWS+ is our effort to develop and maintain an innovation eco system and entrepreneur support network in Middletown and in Middlesex County. I would like to once again thank the State of Connecticut through CT Next, the City of Middletown, Pratt and Whitney, Wesleyan University, Liberty Bank and Middlesex Health for their continued support of this important effort. The MEWS+ will continue to work to attract and retain entrepreneurs through mentorship, events, networking, investment and more. Please keep an eye out for some exciting MEWS+ announcements in the coming weeks.

I would like to close this week’s column by congratulating the City of Middletown’s Assistant General Counsel, Christopher Forte, who recently won the first-ever Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity Award from the International Municipal Lawyers Association. The chamber was honored to work with Chris on the inaugural Middletown Pride event which was held in June of 2019. Middletown Pride was a great day in Middletown, from the parade down Main Street, to the festival on the South Green, to the beautiful weather and the positive and uplifting vibe of the event, Middletown Pride was top notch. The event had a very strong economic impact on a number of fronts, but more importantly, and beyond the economics of the situation, Middletown Pride showed the world that this is a vibrant and inclusive community, and one that we are honored to be a part of. Chris Forte led the effort to take Middletown Pride from an idea to a reality. I appreciate his efforts and the impact he has had on this community. The chamber team is ready to roll for Middletown Pride 2021, and we will work with Chris and the city’s LGBTQIA committee to make sure the event comes back bigger, better, and prouder than ever before.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

A number of important meetings and events this week

September 21, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Fall is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week is another busy one in our region which features a number of important meetings and events. On the chamber division front, our Westbrook Division meets on Tuesday, and our East Haddam & Haddam Division meets on Thursday. We look forward to two productive meetings that will focus on local issues of importance in these three key member towns. Also on Tuesday morning, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities. On Tuesday afternoon, I will head out to A&A Office Systems in Middletown for a meeting with the company’s new General Manager, Paul Lee. I look forward to working with Paul and his team moving forward, and appreciate the opportunity to meet with him at the A&A facility. On the workforce development front, the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors meets on Thursday morning via an online platform. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. It serves the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

Wednesday morning, September 23, features an important virtual workshop on opioids titled, “Epidemic within the Pandemic.” This important discussion will include general information on the effects of opioids, ways to prevent opioid addiction, awareness and treatment options, and the different levels of care and virtual support that are currently available. We have a distinguished lineup of speakers ready to go including: Middletown Public Health Manager Kevin Elak, Dr. Michael Kalinowski of Middlesex Health and the Durham Wellness Coalition, Margaret O’Hagan Lynch of Connecticut Valley Hospital’s Addiction Services Division (ASD), Dr. Jonathan Craig Allen who is Medical Director at Rushford Center, and Dr. Hamilton Giani who is a fellowship-trained psychiatrist at the Middlesex Health Center for Behavioral Health. This important event, supported by the City of Middletown, is an initiative of the chamber’s Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC). MCSAAC, chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, works to reduce substance abuse in Middlesex County through grassroots and community activities. Please consider joining us for this very important free education webinar. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In addition to the morning webinar, excitement is also building for a Special Chamber Virtual Luncheon featuring UConn President Tom Katsouleas, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Sponsored by People’s United Bank, the event will focus on UConn’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and more generally, on President Katsouleas’ efforts to spark innovation and expand UConn’s impact on our state’s economy. After previously serving as executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, Tom began his new role at UConn just over a year ago. We look forward to another productive, and successful virtual event. For more information on the Virtual Luncheon, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Rounding out the week, I look forward to attending the Grand Opening celebration for Sweet Jean’s Café in East Hampton on Friday afternoon. Sweet Jean’s, located right in the center of East Hampton, offers bountiful options for breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner. We wish Aaron Tyler and his team nothing but the best moving forward, and thank them for their commitment to East Hampton and our region.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to provide some information on the Next Gen. Sector Partnership initiative that the chamber is involved in. Next Gen. Sector Partnerships is a state led initiative that is being executed at the regional level. The starting point is organizing a group of economic development, workforce, education and chamber people to identify the key industries to focus on. These stakeholders will first focus on identifying key industry sectors, and will then work together to establish formal partnerships that will eventually lead to a more vibrant, and resilient, regional and statewide economy. I will have more details on this important program in the near future, but I am happy that the chamber is involved in these important conversations.

In closing, I would like to put a bow on the 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament which was held last Wednesday at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. While the event looked a little different from previous years due to COVID-19 precautions, it was once again a huge success. We are so grateful to all of our sponsors and supporters, our Golf Committee Chairman Dante Fazzina and all of the committee members, all members who donated gifts and prizes, and the terrific team at Lyman Orchards who did a fantastic job. Lyman Orchards is not only a destination for some of the best golf in the state, but it is a critical tourist attraction in our region. We appreciate the continued professionalism of CEO Gary Jalbert and his outstanding team. Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank the chamber staff for its great work on the golf tournament. Chamber Vice President Johanna Bond and team member Danielle Aletta worked very hard on the tournament, and they executed a flawless event. I am proud of them both and appreciate their great work. We are already looking ahead to the chamber’s 38th Annual Golf Tournament, scheduled for May 14, 2021.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County. Have a great week!

UConn president to keynote next Middlesex chamber event

September 14, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The final week of summer is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy chamber week kicks off on Monday with a virtual meeting of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. This meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, President and Owner of Connecticut Rentals, Inc. We look forward to another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Tom for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our Human Resources Steering Committee, Killingworth Division, Board of Directors, Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee, Legislative Committee, and Affordable Housing Committee.

The main event of the week is the sold out, 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 16 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. This event will of course be executed with great care, and will follow all COVID-19 guidelines that are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. As I have noted many times, this is a major event for our organization. I would like to again offer a heartfelt thank you to all of our sponsors and supporters, our Golf Committee, all members who donated gifts and prizes, the terrific team at Lyman Orchards, and my hard-working chamber staff. Chamber Vice President Johanna Bond has done a fantastic job with this tournament for many years. As I noted last week, she is supported by the great work of Danielle Aletta who does so much in support of our operation. I appreciate their effort, and that of our entire staff, and their dedication to this event and to our chamber. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield on Wednesday, and look forward to another great day on the course. A key part of the tournament every year is the presentation of our 2020 Robert Briggs “Good Guy” Award which is presented annually in recognition of contributions made to the community and to the chamber's Golf Tournament. We look forward to honoring our 2020 recipient, Teresa Opalacz, who is another in a long line of deserving recipients of this award. Teresa is a longtime friend and supporter of our chamber, and of our Golf Tournament. She is a Past Chair of our organization, a former Distinguished Citizen Award winner, and the current Chair of our Strategic Planning Committee. We appreciate her unending support, and look forward to honoring her commitment on Wednesday in Middlefield.

Next week is also shaping up to a busy one for me and the chamber team. Wednesday morning, September 23, features an important virtual workshop on opioids titled, “Epidemic within the Pandemic.” This important discussion will include general information on the effects of opioids, ways to prevent opioid addiction, awareness and treatment options, and the different levels of care and virtual support that are currently available. We have a distinguished lineup of speakers ready to go including: Middletown Public Health Manager Kevin Elak, Dr. Michael Kalinowski of Middlesex Health and the Durham Wellness Coalition, Margaret O’Hagan Lynch of Connecticut Valley Hospital’s Addiction Services Division (ASD), Dr. Jonathan Craig Allen who is Medical Director at Rushford Center, and Dr. Hamilton Giani who is a fellowship-trained psychiatrist at the Middlesex Health Center for Behavioral Health. This important event, supported by the City of Middletown, is an initiative of the chamber’s Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC). MCSAAC, chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, works to reduce substance abuse in Middlesex County through grassroots and community activities. To register for this free education webinar, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In addition to the morning webinar, excitement is also building for a Special Chamber Virtual Luncheon featuring UConn President Tom Katsouleas, scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. Sponsored by People’s United Bank, the event will focus on UConn’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and more generally, on President Katsouleas’ efforts to spark innovation and expand UConn’s impact on our state’s economy. After previously serving as executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, Tom began his new role at UConn just over a year ago. I will have more on this event in next week’s column, but it is safe to say we look forward to another productive, and successful virtual event.

Before closing, I want to send out another special shout out to the chamber’s recently established “Big 6.” The Big 6 is a group of dedicated and engaged chamber members who meet on a bi-weekly basis to discuss through the current status of the chamber’s financials. Thanks to the leadership of this group, and the ongoing efforts of our staff, our chamber is in a strong position and poised for the future. These important meetings include the participation of chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Vice Chairwoman Tamera “TJ” Jackson, Immediate Past Chairman Don DeVivo, Past Chair Jay Polke, Past Chair and current Chair of Chamber Strategic Planning Teresa Opalacz, and Past Chair and current Chamber Treasurer Rick Morin. The Big 6 met last Wednesday for another productive meeting. In addition to the Big 6, our Strategic Planning Committee has been meeting on a regular basis through virtual means. The goal of this committee is to create a more resilient, versatile and forward-looking chamber that is able to adapt to future conditions. All of this work is also being supported by our legislative co-chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook. I am forever grateful for the dedication and support of all of these individuals.

The fall us upon us, the chamber is on the move, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County.

Labor Day lauds working men and women

September 7, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

This week, here in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation, we celebrate Labor Day. Every year around Labor Day, I take some time to talk about the importance of the holiday which is designed to provide a day of rest for working men and women. In addition to honoring the commitment and dedication of hard-working Americans, Labor Day also represents the traditional end of summer and serves as an ideal time to chart a path for the rest of the year. The chamber's far-reaching membership allows me to observe the outstanding diversity in the Middlesex County workforce. The men and women of the Middlesex community provide a great example for our young people, especially in this very challenging year. Despite the many differences in occupations, there is a definite common theme among those in our county and statewide workforce, everyone works hard. A job in any field requires a personal commitment and a lot of time and effort. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has continued to implement successful workforce development programs throughout the past year. As a result of our great working relationships with a number of key partners, the chamber is able to serve as a bridge that connects job seekers to employers. A strong workforce is the key to a strong economy, and the chamber is proud of its workforce development initiatives. Enjoy your Labor Day Middlesex County, but let us not forget our fellow citizens who are currently looking for work, and let’s never forget those who serve our country in a variety of ways. Also, I would be remiss if I did not note that this Friday represents the 19th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country. May the families who lost loved ones on that terrible day find peace and comfort, not only on Friday, but every day. We still remember.

Despite the fact that this is a short week, it is still a busy one for our team. On Tuesday, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual for the time being. This session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will cover the definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment, and will share other important best practices to follow. This training session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers which have become more stringent in recent years. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for partnering with us on this important initiative.

Speaking of important working groups and partnerships, I continue to appreciate my weekly virtual meetings with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. This week’s meeting is scheduled for Tuesday morning. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities. On Thursday, I will join my fellow members of the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee for an important virtual meeting regarding economic recovery. As we continue to adapt to the realities of this global pandemic, the chamber will continue to do its best to be a constructive partner on everything from emergency management, to economic development, to workforce development and more.

This week’s chamber calendar also features virtual meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, and our Holiday on Main Street Planning Committee. Holiday on Main Street is coming up fast, and while it will look a different this year because of COVID-19, we still look forward to providing a safe a joyous holiday celebration for our wonderful community. Finally, the week wraps up on Friday with a meeting of the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) Advisory Board. I look forward to another productive meeting with my fellow board members and Acting CEO Lakisha Hyatt and members of her team. Another busy week is upon us, and the chamber team is ready to roll.

Members and other interested parties should also note that this Sunday, Sept. 13, marks the second and final installment of the chamber’s Killingworth Division Summer Concert Series. Sunday’s event, featuring a performance by The Green Stamps, will be a nice follow up to a great performance by the Meadows Brothers back in August. This two-part concert series, sponsored by AO & Company, is held on the second Sunday of each month in August and September at Parmelee Farm. I thank Darin Offerdahl and the entire team at AO & Company for its support of this community concert series in our newest member town.

Looking ahead to next week, excitement continues to build for our sold out, 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, September 16 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. This event will of course be executed with great care, and will follow all COVID-19 guidelines that are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. As I have noted many times, this is a major event for our organization. I would like to again offer a heartfelt thank you to all of our sponsors and supporters, our Golf Committee, all members who donated gifts and prizes, the terrific team at Lyman Orchards, and my hard-working chamber staff. Chamber Vice President Johanna Bond has done a fantastic job with this tournament for many years. She is supported by the great work of Danielle Aletta, who is a jack of all trades in our office, and I appreciate their effort and dedication to our chamber. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield next Wednesday, and look forward to another great day on the course.

In closing, I ask that everyone save the date of Wednesday, September 23rd for a Special Virtual Member Luncheon featuring UConn President Tom Katsouleas. Sponsored by People’s United Bank, the event will focus on UConn’s response to the COVID-19 crisis, and more generally, on President Katsouleas’ efforts to spark innovation and expand UConn’s impact on our state’s economy. After previously serving as executive vice president and provost of the University of Virginia, Tom began his new role at UConn just over a year ago. I will have much more as we get closer, but it is safe to say we look forward to another productive, and successful virtual event.
Summer may be winding down, but the sun is still shining on Middlesex County. Have a great week!

Chamber launches Middlesex Information eXchange

August 31, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week is on tap for the chamber team as we come up on Labor Day here in Middlesex County.

This week features virtual meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau (CBB), Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, and Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) Advisory Committee. The MCSAAC meeting will be dedicated to an important session we have planned for Wednesday, September 23rd titled, “Epidemic within the Pandemic.” This virtual workshop will include general information on the effects of opioids, ways to prevent opioid addiction, awareness and treatment options, and the different levels of care and virtual support that are currently available. MCSAAC, chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, works to reduce substance abuse in our region through grassroots and community activities. Sadly, we have seen a recent uptick in overdoses and other instances of drug abuse in recent months as a result of the pandemic. The chamber will continue to work with our partners to address these issues that are not only important to the business community, but of course to the community at large. We look forward to another productive week.

Looking beyond this week, our calendar has a number of other important events and activities scheduled for the month of September.

On Tuesday, September 8, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual for the time being. This session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will cover the definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment, and will share other important best practices to follow. This training session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers which have become more stringent in recent years. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important initiative.

Next Tuesday evening features the September meeting of the Automotive Council, an important chamber group that meets regularly to discuss issues pertaining to the auto industry. Recent speakers at Automotive Council meetings include the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), and the President of the CT. Auto Retailers Association. I thank our co-chairs, Rich Jukonski and Mike Turner, along with staff liaison Lorenzo Marshall for their good work with the council.

The main event of the month is scheduled for Wednesday, September 16 in Middlefield, as the sold out 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament will be held at Lyman Orchards Golf Club. This event will of course be executed with great care, and will follow all COVID-19 guidelines that are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. As I have noted many times, this is a major event for our organization. I would like to again offer a heartfelt thank you all of our sponsors and supporters, our Golf Committee, all members who donated gifts and prizes, the terrific team at Lyman Orchards, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond who does a wonderful job with this tournament on an annual basis. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield on September 16, and look forward to another great day on the course.

Before wrapping up with some thoughts on tourism, I want to take a moment to announce a brand-new chamber initiative. Middlesex Information eXchange (MIX) is essentially a series of industry specific groups that are designed to facilitate important recovery-based conversations. Businesses will be matched up with others from their industry sector, and together they will explore important topics such as best practices post COVID-19, the best options for financial relief, human resources and workforce optimization, personal protective equipment, and much more. The Middlesex Information eXchange (MIX) will work to support restaurants, manufacturers, retail establishments, nonprofit organizations, small owner managed services, tourist attractions, and more. Now more than ever, the business community needs to focus on growth and resilience. Don’t just survive, thrive! More to come on this important initiative.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on tourism as the sun sets on summer and we look towards the fall. Chamber members and readers of this column know that I have been a strong and vocal supporter of the tourism industry for many years. It is a critically important sector in our region and in our state. We are so fortunate in Middlesex County to have beautiful landscapes, the Connecticut River, vibrant downtowns, Long Island Sound, a central location with access to major highways, a plethora of food and entertainment options, a nice mix of urban and rural experiences, and some of the best people you will ever want to meet. We also have some of the best tourist attractions anywhere. From the Goodspeed Opera House, to Essex Steam Train and Riverboat, Lyman Orchards, Waters Edge Resort and Spa, Saybrook Point Inn, Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort, TPC at River Highlands, The Durham Fairgrounds, Gillette’s Castle, The Griswold Inn, The Connecticut River Museum, and much, much more, Middlesex County truly has it all. We are also very fortunate to have the Central Regional Tourism District headquartered at the chamber office in Middletown. Chamber VP Johanna Bond serves as Executive Director of the district, and she, along with Sierra Lopez from the chamber team, has been working very hard on planning for the fall tourism season. Stay tuned for exciting and creative fall itineraries, information on the best spots to check out the fall foliage, venues that are hosting micro weddings and other creative and safe events, and much more in the coming weeks.

The summer may be winding down, but the chamber calendar is hot as ever. Have a great week!

Chamber hosts another successful youth work program

August 24, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Late August in Middlesex County means it is time to wrap up another successful installment of the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program.

Every year since 2006, the chamber has placed Middletown students into summer employment through this community work program. We are fortunate to have the capacity, through our dynamic membership, to place these youngsters into subsidized employment in a wide variety of professional fields for six weeks in the summer months, working 20 hours per week. Six weeks might not seem like a long time, but it provides a solid foundation and a great glimpse into what life in the workforce is like, and the effort that is required to thrive in it. Program applicants are put through a comprehensive pre-employment screening process which considers their hobbies, interests, work experience, future plans, comfort level on the computer and on the phone and other important factors such as transportation and availability in the summer months. Our host sites come from the public sector, the non-profit sector, and most notably the private sector. This program teaches our young people not only the fundamentals of employment, such as getting to work on time and ready to contribute, but also the pride that comes with putting in a solid work week and receiving a paycheck that was earned through hard and honest work. This year, over 60 Middletown youngsters were placed into summer employment. I want to take a moment to once again thank the over 25 businesses and organizations in Middletown that served as host worksites this summer. It is critical that we have host worksites from a wide variety of industry sectors that are willing to step up and provide the work and supervision that is necessary to truly make this an effective workforce development initiative. I would also like to take a moment to once again thank our 2020 team of funding partners for their great contributions to this program. Without them, this program would simply not be possible. Our 2020 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Jarvis Products Corporation, Stone Investment Properties, and Middlesex United Way. Finally, I want to thank Chamber Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Marshall for his work on this important program that is truly developing the future of our local workforce. Placing 60 young individuals into constructive employment is a challenge in a normal year. Of course, we all know, 2020 is not a normal year. Lorenzo, with the support of our staff, persevered and once again did a fantastic job. I appreciate his strong effort and leadership.

This week’s chamber calendar is packed once again as our team continues to be on the move. Our Westbrook Division, Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and East Haddam and Haddam Division all meet this week. The Arrigoni Bridge Committee meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, will feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but the associated work that is taking place in downtown Middletown. As I have noted before, the main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects, especially on Main Street in Middletown and in Portland, and we will continue to be a constructive partner until their conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday.

Also on Tuesday, I look forward to my first meeting as a member of the Board of Directors for the Community Foundation of Middlesex County. President and CEO Cynthia Clegg and her team do great work in our community, and I look forward to supporting those important efforts moving forward. Finally, later in the day on Tuesday, I look forward joining Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, State Sen. Norm Needleman, and DECD Commissioner David Lehman for a Small Business Roundtable on Facebook Live. All three of these public officials have done a very good job responding to this COVID-19 crisis, and I look forward to a productive discussion which will hopefully provide some valuable insight for our members.

In addition to our leaders at the state level, our municipal leaders throughout Middlesex County have responded to this COVID-19 crisis with strength, resolve and true leadership. In Middletown, Mayor Ben Florsheim continues to lead an organized and professional response for the city. I look forward to Wednesday morning’s weekly status meeting, led by the Mayor, which will once again feature reports on everything from current cases of COVID-19 in our community and the medical response, to how the education community is responding, to police and fire, to support for seniors and our most vulnerable residents, to the impact on the economy and much more. These virtual meetings are always productive and informative for all who participate and we appreciate being involved.

On Thursday, I will join my fellow members of the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee for an important virtual meeting regarding economic recovery. As we continue to adapt to the realities of this global pandemic, the chamber will continue to do its best to be a constructive partner on everything from emergency management, to economic development, to workforce development, and much more. Speaking of important working groups and partnerships, I continue to appreciate my weekly virtual meetings with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities.

Switching gears, and as the end of August nears, planning for the month of September is kicking into high gear. Members and other interested parties should save the date of Sunday, September 13, for the final installment of the chamber’s Killingworth Division Summer Concert Series featuring a performance by The Green Stamps. The performance by the Meadows Brothers back in August was terrific, and it was enjoyed by many residents and visitors to town. This two-part concert series, sponsored by AO & Company, LLC, is held on the second Sunday of each month in August and September at Parmelee Farm. I again want to thank AO & Company, Parmelee Farm, and the Town of Killingworth for its support of this important concert series. We look forward to seeing you at the farm!

Later that week, on Wednesday, September 16, the sold out 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament will be held at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. This event will of course be executed with great care, and will follow all COVID-19 guidelines that are designed to keep everyone safe and healthy. As I have noted many times, this is a major event for our organization. I would like to again offer a heartfelt thank you all of our sponsors and supporters, our Golf Committee, all members who donated gifts and prizes, the terrific team at Lyman Orchards, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond who does a wonderful job with this tournament on an annual basis. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield on September 16, and look forward to another great day on the course.

Finally, I ask members and other interested parties to save the date of Wednesday, September 23rd for a virtual workshop on opioids titled, “Epidemic within the Pandemic.” This important discussion will include general information on the effects of opioids, ways to prevent opioid addiction, awareness and treatment options, and the different levels of care and virtual support that are currently available. The event is an initiative of the chamber’s Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, which works to reduce substance abuse in Middlesex County through grassroots and community activities. I will have much more on this important virtual forum as we get closer, but please save the date.

The Sunday of summer is moving right along, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Making regional economy as resilient as possible is goal

August 17, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Amazingly, we have reached the middle of August in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. Despite the fact that we are collectively navigating an unprecedented year, the chamber is on the move, and we will continue to work hard every day in support of the business community in our region.

This week, another busy one for our chamber, features a variety of important meetings and activities for the benefit of our members.

Tuesday morning features my important weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities. Also on Tuesday, I look forward to sitting down with Al Santostefano about what the 2020 edition of Middletown’s Holiday on Main Street might look like. Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, we look forward to executing a great community event at the end of the year, and I will continue to provide updates in this column and through other means as these conversations continue. Speaking of Middletown events, this week also features a meeting regarding the 2021 version of Middletown Pride. I look forward to sitting down with Middletown Pride Creator Christopher Forte as we begin to envision what will certainly be a fantastic event next June.

On Wednesday evening, our Golf Committee will meet via zoom to continue planning for this year’s 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament. This year’s sold out event is now scheduled for Wednesday, September 16, at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. We look forward to a great day out on the course in mid-September, and will certainly have much more information as we move through the summer. I thank all of the members of our Golf Committee for their dedication to the chamber’s tournament which is a very important event for our organization. More to come!

A busy Thursday kicks off with the August meeting of the chamber’s newest county-based division, the Killingworth Division. Back in April of 2019, the chamber established a formal partnership with the Killingworth business community, and the division has been very active ever since. We look forward to another productive meeting which will cover a variety of important topics including the Killingworth Concert Series, sponsored by AO & Company. Thursday morning also includes a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee. In light of recent national events, this group has developed a renewed focus on diversity, equity and inclusion. I look forward to continuing these important conversations and sharing the perspective of the business community in Middlesex County.

Thursday afternoon features the August meeting of the chamber’s Board of Directors which will be held once again via zoom. Led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, the meeting will feature reports from chamber committee chairs and key staff on the many important ways in which we work to support the business community in Middlesex County. Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece, Liberty Bank CEO David Glidden, and Essex Savings Bank CEO Greg Shook will provide updates from the health care and banking sectors. In addition to these important updates, the meeting will feature remarks from David Lehman, the Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). Commissioner Lehman has done a fantastic job throughout this crisis. He has listened to the business community, has been very responsive, and has served Gov. Lamont and our state very well. I thank him for taking the time to visit with our group, and look forward to our continued good work together moving forward.

The week closes on Friday morning with the August meeting of our Legislative Committee. This important chamber group will review the recent special session of the CT. General Assembly, and will look ahead to the upcoming legislative elections in November. I thank the members of that committee for their continued support and dedication to our chamber.

Switching gears a bit, I want to take a moment to mention that our Arrigoni Bridge/Saint John Square Project Committee continues to meet on a monthly basis. These meetings feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but the associated work that is underway in downtown Middletown. As I have noted before, the main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects, especially on Main Street in Middletown and in Portland, and we will continue to be a constructive partner until their conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. I also want to thank Assistant District Engineer Mohammed Bishtawi and the team at DOT, and Mohawk Northeast Project Director Tim O’Connell and his team for moving these projects in a positive direction. I will continue to provide updates as we move forward.

Before closing, I want to acknowledge the great work of our local officials, public works crews, police, fire, Eversource line workers and tree crews, and everyone else who had a hand in responding to Tropical Storm Iasias which had a major impact in our region and throughout the state. I also want to remind our membership, and the community at large, that our chamber is taking the lead in trying to make our regional economy as resilient as possible in the face of the many threats that face us. We started this effort a few years ago to protect local jobs and the local tax base, and to promote increased employer and employee awareness of natural and man-made hazards. We are encouraging our member businesses to develop emergency preparedness and business continuity plans because we believe that if we are able to insulate regional business community from the many threats out there, the better off we all will be. The chamber Economic Resilience plan is a living document that now must be looked at through the lens of COVID. However, it is a good starting point, and we will redouble our efforts to make our community more resilient as we move forward. Eversource has been our partner in this economic resilience effort since the beginning. It is time for all of us to plan and prepare together, so we can protect what we have worked so hard to build.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of two well respected gentlemen in our community.

Vincent Bitel Jr. passed away recently at the age of 72. I got to know Vin through his work at his family’s business, The Rogers Manufacturing Company, where he had a long and successful career including over 25 years as its President. Vin was good to everyone he came in contact with, from his family, to his friends, and especially to his employees, who held him in the highest regard. He was also a supporter of our chamber, along with a number of community-based causes in our region. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Denise, and his entire family at this difficult time. Vincent Bitel Jr. will be missed by many.

Our thoughts are also with the family of Ernest F. “Ernie” Peterson who passed away in early August just shy of his 95th birthday. Ernie Peterson was a longtime friend and another strong member of our chamber. More importantly, he was a patriot, and he served our country with honor in the U.S. Navy with service in World War II. Ernie went on to become Owner and President of Peterson Oil in Portland which was founded by his father. In addition to our chamber, Ernie supported a wide variety of groups in Portland and beyond. He also served on a number of boards and commissions in and out of government, and they were all lucky to have him. Ernest Peterson led a life of pride and service, and he will be remembered fondly by all who knew him. We will always be grateful for his service to country and community.

Chamber, partners working hard on economic recovery

August 10, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Another packed week of events and activities is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

I would like to begin this week’s column by noting that on Tuesday afternoon, our Women’s Leadership Collaborative will hold the third and final installment of “Learn to Lead Through Uncertainty”, a personal discovery series. This session will focus on “Excellence Under Pressure”, and attendees will learn how to shift their thinking to effectively lead others in these turbulent times. I want to take a moment to once again thank our Women’s Leadership Collaborative for their great work on the development of this series. This important chamber group is led by its Chairwoman, Barbara Taylor-Hatje of Morgan Stanley, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond on the staff side. We also continue to be grateful to Citizens Bank for its support of the Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and look forward to more exciting content in the coming months.

Also on Tuesday of this week, I look forward to two important meetings dealing with COVID-19 mitigation and recovery in Connecticut. In the morning meeting, I will join leaders from throughout the state to discuss the distribution of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to the business community. Effective PPE distribution is critical, and it will be critical for quite some time. We look forward to working with our partners throughout the state to make sure that businesses have what they need to keep their employees, their customers, and their families, safe and secure. In a similar vein, on Thursday I will join my fellow members of the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee for an important virtual meeting regarding economic recovery. As we continue to adapt to the realities of this global pandemic, the chamber will continue to do its best to be a constructive partner on everything from emergency management, to economic development, to workforce development, and much more.

Speaking of important working groups and partnerships, I continue to appreciate my weekly virtual meetings with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work and leadership in their respective communities. This meeting is also part of what is shaping up to be a very busy chamber Tuesday.

On the chamber division and council front, the chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, and Health Care Council Steering Committee. As I have noted in previous weeks, the chamber divisions and councils are continuing to meet right through the summer, and we were receiving very positive feedback on that decision. These division and council meetings will continue, albeit virtually in the near term, right through the end of the calendar year and beyond.

Switching gears to business development, on Wednesday afternoon the MEWS+ will present the latest installment of its Midweek Marketing Workshop Series. This week’s session will focus on “Measuring Your Marketing: What to Measure.” In this webinar, the MEWS+ team will focus on the metrics you should be monitoring for your website, your email and social media channels, and benchmark against industry-specific metrics as a guide. Midweek Marketing is a nine-week interactive webinar series that shares smart, effective marketing strategies with startups and small business owners who want to grow and get more impact from their marketing efforts. The MEWS+ fosters a culture of innovative entrepreneurship through high-quality services, affordable workspace, and the connections required to catalyze the entrepreneurial, startup, and small business communities in Middletown and Middlesex County. We are proud of this important chamber effort, and look forward to growing it, despite the challenges of 2020, as we move forward.

The week wraps up on the workforce development front, as Friday morning features a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. It serves the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

Before closing with some thoughts of a personal nature, I want to send out a special shout out to the chamber’s recently established “Big 6.” The Big 6 is a group of dedicated and engaged chamber members who meet on a bi-weekly basis to discuss through the current status of the chamber’s financials. Thanks to the leadership of this group, and the ongoing efforts of our staff, our chamber is in a strong position and poised for the future. These important meetings include the participation of chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Vice Chairwoman Tamera “TJ” Jackson, Immediate Past Chairman Don DeVivo, Past Chair Jay Polke, Past Chair and current Chair of Chamber Strategic Planning Teresa Opalacz, and Past Chair and current Chamber Treasurer Rick Morin. I am forever grateful for their dedication to our chamber. The Big 6 meets this Wednesday afternoon.

I am afraid I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of two well respected individuals in our state.

Salvatore “Sam” Carabetta passed away recently at the age of 94. Sam was a lifelong resident of Meriden, but was also a known commodity in the City of Middletown. Along with his brothers, Sam was the founder of Carabetta Brothers Builders. The family owns over 1600 apartments in Middletown, and over 10,000 throughout New England. Beyond his success in business, Sam was also a proud veteran with service in World War II. He was also a supporter of our chamber, and of countless community initiatives in Meriden and in Middletown. Sam Carabetta led a life well lived, and he will be missed by all who knew him. I have enjoyed my recent conversations with Bill Corvo about Sam’s life and impact. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Carol, and his entire family at this difficult time. We are grateful for his service to country, and to community.

Finally, I want to also acknowledge the life of Richard Nelson “Oz” Griebel, who recently passed away at the far too young age of 71. Oz Griebel led a very successful professional career which included stints as CEO of Bank of Boston’s operations in Connecticut, head of the Metro Hartford Alliance, and two-time candidate for Governor of Connecticut. I got to really know Oz during his tenure at Metro Hartford, which at the time functioned as the capital region’s chamber of commerce. Oz had a deep passion for this state, and he always stressed the importance of jobs and economic development to policy makers at all levels of government. In recent years, he stressed a true non-partisan message, and pushed for a series of election reforms. Oz Griebel was taken too soon, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends at this difficult time. He was a true champion for Connecticut, and he will be missed.

PURA meeting on boosting energy efficiency open to public

August 3, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The first week of August is upon us, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy chamber week kicks off on Monday with a virtual meeting of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. This meeting will be led by our newly installed Chairman, Tom Byrne, President and Owner of Connecticut Rentals, Inc. We look forward to another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Tom for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau (CBB), Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, and Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) Advisory Committee. We look forward to another busy and productive week of chamber meetings.

On Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to joining Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop and other local officials for a Ribbon Cutting Celebration at The Westbrook Inn B&B in honor of its new owners, Meri Wick and Marcus Little. Nestled between the Connecticut shoreline and the Connecticut River Valley, this beautifully restored Victorian home with ten guestrooms is the perfect destination for a Middlesex County getaway. We wish Meri and Marcus nothing but the best moving forward, and thank them for their strong commitment to our region.

Switching gears to energy, Thursday morning features a special listening session on energy affordability that we are conducting in partnership with the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). This session, held via Zoom, is one of many listening sessions across the state that will attempt to engage those commercial and industrial customers most impacted by high energy costs, and to establish long-term solutions to improve energy affordability for all of Connecticut’s businesses. In its ongoing energy affordability proceeding, PURA is working with key stakeholders to identify barriers and pinpoint potential solutions around energy affordability for all customer classes in Connecticut. They reached out to the chamber for help with outreach to the business community in Middlesex County. This virtual event is open to the public, and registration information can be found on our website, www.middlesexchamber.com. Energy affordability is of course a critical issue to the business community, and I thank PURA for its partnership on this important forum.

On the workforce development front, I am happy to share that Monday marks the beginning of Week Five of the 2020 Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. As I have noted in previous weeks, this program features almost 60 youth participants working at over 25 host worksites throughout the city. Thanks to the leadership and support of Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, and a number of terrific private funders, we are able to run this important program in an otherwise very challenging year. I thank all of them, once again, and on behalf of the chamber, for their unbelievable support. Our 2020 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Jarvis Products Corporation, Stone Investment Properties, and Middlesex United Way. In addition to the team of funders, I also want to once again take a moment to thank the businesses and organizations in Greater Middletown that are serving as host worksites this summer. It is critical that we have host worksites stepping up to the plate to provide the work and supervision that is necessary to truly make this an effective workforce development initiative. All of these local supporters are providing a quality work experience to youngsters who need it, and in most cases, it is their very first work experience. Chamber Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Marshall has done a great job with this important program that is truly developing the future of our local workforce. I will continue to provide updates as the program nears its conclusion.

Before covering a few important community initiatives, I want to remind everyone that our Golf Committee is continuing its planning for this year’s 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament on Wednesday, September 16, at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. We look forward to a great day out on the course in mid-September, and will certainly have much more information as we move through the rest of the summer.

On the community front, I want to take a moment to shout out the Middletown Police Department’s Over the Edge event which will take place at Mohegan Sun on September 6th. This important fundraiser will help support thousands of Special Olympics athletes right here in Connecticut. Participants in “Over the Edge” will be rappelling over 30 stories down Mohegan Sun’s Sky Tower. It will certainly be worth my donation when I see Acting Chief Mike Timbro rappel down the tower. I thank the Middletown Police for supporting this important cause, and for their continued good work in our community. I also want to acknowledge St. Vincent de Paul Middletown (SVDM), who is partnering with Goodwill Industries on Middletown’s Community Clothing Program (MCCP) initiative. This partnership has been created to assist people in our community that do not have sufficient access to clothing. This initiative also involves many other community partners including members of the faith community, individuals and businesses. This is just another great example of what a community can do together to solve a real problem, in this case, the availability of clothing for those in need. I thank SDVM Director of Marketing & Development Peter Keast for making us aware of this important effort.

The conclusion of this week’s chamber column will honor two important individuals who recently passed away in our community.

This Friday, I will attend a Celebration of Life for Louis Petruzzello at the Falcon’s Pavilion. Lou passed away in May after a terrible bicycle accident. As I noted back then, he was many things to many people. He was a great athlete, a fixture at the YMCA and throughout the community, a supporter of countless community-based initiatives, a friend to many, and someone who truly loved the city of Middletown. He was also a great husband and father, and a true family man. Lou is dearly missed in this community, and I look forward to celebrating his life on Friday with many other friends and family members.

Finally, I want to acknowledge the recent passing of Gerald “Gerry” Flynn Jr. who left us on July 23. Gerry was also many things to many people, and without question, a hero to his family. He had a great 36-year career with the City of Middletown, and was someone who was very well respected throughout this community. He was a longtime supporter of high school athletics, and a great supporter of me during my tenure at Xavier High School. He truly was one of the real good guys in Middletown, and his loss is being felt throughout the city. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Charlotte, his children, and his entire family at this difficult time. Gerry Flynn led a life well lived, and Middletown was lucky to have him as one of its own.

Middlesex chamber supporting businesses, community during COVID

July 27, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but the month of August arrives this week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

While the chamber calendar continues to be packed with events and activities, I want to focus this week’s chamber column on our COVID-19 response. As I have noted many times, our chamber is a dynamic business organization with over 2,150 members in and around our service area. We represent businesses from all industry sectors and of all sizes, from Fortune 500 companies, to micro businesses. Throughout this COVID-19 crisis, we have worked extra hard to be a resource to not only the business community, but to the community at large.

First and foremost, it was important for us to make sure that our online presence was adapting to the difficult times we are all facing. Under the leadership of chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, we created a Coronavirus Tool-Kit with the motto, “Plan, Prepare, Don’t Panic.” This tool kit provides a single online location where businesses can monitor the crisis while accessing a host of resources from a variety of different sources. Whether it is accessing PPE for your employees, finding information about emergency planning or relief funds available, information on best practices for employers, or accessing the many webinars that the chamber has conducted over the past several months, the tool kit has it all. This important resource will continue to be updated on a regular basis as we move forward. Please take a moment to check it out.

On the government relations front, the chamber has worked constructively with public officials at all levels of government throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Examples include: weekly Community Forums with elected officials and regional stakeholders; weekly virtual meetings with Emergency Management and Public Health Officials; assisting municipalities with PPE distribution to the local business community; working with municipalities on regulatory issues such as zoning and curbside pickup; and hosting legislative forums with members of the Connecticut General Assembly. We have also held several key Town Hall style discussions, through virtual means, with various government leaders from the federal, state and local levels. The chamber values its relationships with our partners in the public sector, and we will continue these efforts as we move forward.

On the technical assistance front, we have held several virtual sessions with professional business advisors from the Connecticut Small Business Development Center throughout this crisis. These sessions covered important topics such as: best practices for applying for relief funds, the differences between the relief packages available, how to access forgiveness, and how you can best position your business moving forward. We also developed the Tuesday Tips campaign, a new weekly workshops series featuring a versatile team of attorneys from various fields of law. These professionals have helped cut through some of the confusion regarding the business community’s response to COVID-19, and have provided a valuable legal perspective on a number of fronts. I continue to appreciate the support of Pullman & Comley, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, and Reid and Riege, who have all provided this critical content from the legal community to our membership.

With respect to social media, the chamber continues to be active on all platforms, and we are working hard every day to make our online presence more effective and more dynamic. Beyond the chamber platforms, our staff has created a special social media campaign, called SHOUT IT OUT!, which provides the opportunity for local businesses to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members. From the outset, our goal has been to show support for the restaurants, retail establishments, and the business community as a whole, and to demonstrate that we are, indeed, all in this together. This program is ongoing and continues to grow on a daily basis. As it currently stands, we have over 1,300 followers that have shared over 4,000 specialty posts highlighting business hours, services and specials from across the state, along with current job opportunities.

Before closing, I want to remind everyone that the chamber’s reLAUNCH Campaign is officially underway. reLAUNCH serves as a catalyst to assist the Middlesex Chamber community with recovering and emerging from COVID-19 through innovation, communication and collaboration. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/relaunch to view what is essentially a resource guide which covers everything from communications and PR, to marketing, to human resources, to workforce development, to best business practices, to signage, to access to financing, and much more. This will be a living guide that will grow as more information comes in and more restrictions are lifted.

Finally, I want to take a moment to thank our dedicated chamber leadership, and my terrific chamber staff, for their unbelieve work throughout this process. From our current Chairman, Tom Byrne, to our Immediate Past Chairman, Don DeVivo, and our entire Executive Committee, everyone has stepped up to the plate to support our chamber and our community. Our Strategic Planning Committee, led by Teresa Opalacz, meets on a weekly basis to review our strategic objectives and continue our efforts to move the chamber forward. Chamber Vice Presidents Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, our Controller, Steve Ciskowsi, and our entire staff, have worked very hard throughout this crisis, and I am so grateful for their effort and their dedication. There is no doubt that this COVID-19 situation has caused major damage to public health and to our economy. However, as I have repeatedly noted, it has also brought out the best in our community, and for that, I am immensely proud. We are blessed to be a part of a wonderful community here in Middlesex County. It is inspiring to see people coming together to reach a common goal, get through this crisis healthy and stable, and ready to come back stronger than ever. We hope you will join us in this effort.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Middletown welcomes new golf, CBD, ballet, wellness businesses

July 20, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The summer is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

In addition to a number of virtual events and activities on the chamber calendar, this week features four exciting grand opening celebrations throughout our region. On Monday morning, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield, and Portland Development Planner Mary Dickerson at the Grand Opening of Chris Cote’s Golf Performance Center. This brand-new performance facility, at the intersection of route 17 and 17A in Portland, is designed for custom golf club fitting, coaching with the Northeast Performance Institute, and includes a 400-yard-long driving range. I congratulate Chris and Donna Cote, and their entire team, on the expansion of their business, and I thank them for their commitment to Portland and to Middlesex County. On Tuesday morning, Tom and I will join Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim for the Grand Opening of Ekklesia School of Ballet. Ekklesia Contemporary Ballet is a professional dance company comprised of artist-theologians whose goal is to create spaces where art and faith can flourish. We wish Elisa Schroth and her team nothing but the best with this new local business, and we look forward to supporting her as we move forward. The Grand Opening tour continues on Wednesday with an event at the new Gaylord Physical Therapy in Cromwell. Located at 50 Berlin Road, this brand-new facility offers orthopedic physical therapy, one on one evaluation with evidence-based treatment, post-operative therapy, and telehealth services. Tom and I look forward to joining Cromwell town leaders at the event, and we look forward to working with Doreen Stevenson, Regional Manager for Outpatient Services & Business Development, and their entire team as we move forward. Finally, Friday features the Grand Opening celebration for Your CBD Store on South Main Street in Middletown. Your CBD Store offers quality, hemp-derived products, with the goal of enhancing one’s health and wellness. We also look forward to working with Steve Nardiello and his entire team, and look forward to the event on Friday which will include Mayor Florsheim and other community leaders. As I have noted many times, watching the development and growth of new businesses is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job, and I look forward to many more Middlesex County grand openings in the coming weeks and months.

In addition to these exciting events, this week also features important virtual meetings of the chamber’s Westbrook Division, Westfield Division, and East Haddam & Haddam Division. The chamber’s divisions are meeting through the summer so we can continue to provide our members with the most up to date information on the COVID-19 situation in our state. I continue to appreciate the great support of our division chairs throughout the county, along with the chamber members that support these productive meetings.

While our focus here at the chamber continues to be Middlesex County, we also continue to engage with our partners throughout the state on a wide range of important issues. I value our relationship with our fellow chambers of commerce in Connecticut, and appreciate my weekly virtual meetings with the leaders of the seven metro chambers in our state. The metro chambers collectively represent thousands of businesses, and these meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration and joint advocacy for the business community. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers for their good work, and their leadership in their respective communities.

Switching gears to workforce development, Thursday morning features a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. They serve the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

Before closing, I want to note that Monday marks the beginning of Week Three of the 2020 Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. As I noted last week, this program features almost 60 youth participants working at over 25 host worksites throughout the city. Thanks to the leadership and support of Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, and a number of terrific private funders, we are able to run this important program in an otherwise very challenging year. I thank all of them, once again, and on behalf of the chamber, for their unbelievable support. Our 2020 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Jarvis Products Corporation, Stone Investment Properties, and Middlesex United Way. In addition to the team of funders, I also want to once again take a moment to thank the businesses and organizations in Greater Middletown that are serving as host worksites this summer. It is critical that we have host worksites stepping up to the plate to provide the work and supervision that is necessary to truly make this an effective workforce development initiative. All of these local supporters are providing a quality work experience to youngsters who need it, and in most cases, it is their very first work experience. Chamber Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Marshall has done a great job with this important program that is truly developing the future of our local workforce. I will continue to provide updates as the program progresses.

I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of John T. DeNunzio at the age of 99. John DeNunzio was many things to many people. He had a lifelong passion for sports, and he had a sterling athletic career as a young man. He served our country with honor through his service in the Army Air Corps during WWII. John flew as a radio operator on a B-17 with the 6th Emergency Air Sea Rescue Unit in the 5th Air Force in the Pacific Theater, and served three-and-a-half years as a sergeant. He went on to become an industrial arts teacher in Connecticut public schools for 39 years, and a devoted coach for 38 of those 39 years. John was an outstanding coach, as evidenced by his selection as the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Baseball Coach of Year in 1979, his induction into the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame in 1992, and his induction into the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2010, John DeNunzio Baseball Field was dedicated at the new Middletown High, and in 2016, the CIAC Baseball Championships were dedicated in his honor. Every year at the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Dinner, I would see numerous former athletes greet him warmly, and express their gratitude for the impact he had on them. I was very honored to have coached two of his sons at Xavier, John and Charlie. In addition to education and athletics, John was firmly committed to his hometown of Durham, where he, and his wife Catherine, supported a variety of community causes during their 65 years in the town. More important than all of this, John was first and foremost a family man, and our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Catherine, his children, grandchildren, extended family, and everyone who he touched along the way. John T. DeNunzio led a life well lived, and he had a major impact on both young and old. We appreciate his service to country and community, and we will certainly remember him fondly.

Area welcomes three new wellness businesses

July 13, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The summer is marching right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

This Tuesday, July 14, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual due to COVID-19. This week’s session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will be held via zoom beginning at 8:00 a.m. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment, and will share other important best practices to follow. This session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers which have become more stringent in recent years. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com for more details and for registration information. As I noted last week, this important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to once again thank their entire team for its strong support. The sexual harassment prevention training in July will be followed up by a session in August on “How to Reduce Waste and Improve Information Flow within Office Processes.”

The main event of this week is scheduled for Wednesday, and we look forward to welcoming back Dr. Edison Liu, President and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, for a Virtual Member Luncheon sponsored by Whittlesey. The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit organization focusing on mammalian genetics research to advance human health. Its mission is to discover precise genomic solutions for disease and empower the global biomedical community in the shared quest to improve human health. The Jackson Laboratory is doing amazing work in the genomic research field, and its entry into the state of Connecticut has proven to be a major economic development initiative. This is a timely visit for Dr. Liu who was awarded the President’s Public Service Medal after leading Singapore's scientific response to the 2003 SARS crisis. Prior to his time at the Jackson Laboratory, Dr. Liu was the founding executive director of the Genome Institute of Singapore (2001-2011), and was the president of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) from 2007-2013. We look forward to a very informative event on Wednesday, and I want to thank Dr. Liu for speaking, and Whittlesey Managing Partner and CEO Drew Andrews and their entire team for its sponsorship and support. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Switching gears to workforce development, I am happy to report that week two of the chamber’s Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program is officially underway. This program features almost 60 youth participants working at over 25 host worksites throughout the city. Thanks to the leadership and support of Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, and a number of terrific private funders, we are able to run this important program in an otherwise very challenging year. I thank all of them, once again, and on behalf of the chamber, for their unbelievable support. Our 2020 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Jarvis Products Corporation, Stone Investment Properties, and Middlesex United Way. In addition to the team of funders, I also want to once again take a moment to thank the businesses and organizations in Greater Middletown that are serving as host worksites this summer. It is critical that we have host worksites stepping up to the plate to provide the work and supervision that is necessary to truly make this an effective workforce development initiative. All of these local supporters are providing a quality work experience to youngsters who need it, and in most cases, it is their very first work experience. I will continue to provide updates as we move through the summer, but rest assured, this program is developing the future of our local workforce.

This busy chamber week also features other important events and activities for the benefit of our members.

On Tuesday afternoon, our Women's Leadership Collaborative presents the first installment of its new Personal Discovery Series, Learn to Lead Through Uncertainty. This first installment is titled, “Shake it Out, Not Off!” This session will explore ways to use our bodies to clear out uncomfortable feelings rather than trying to push them aside or muddle through them. Attendees will learn techniques that will help them thrive in this ever-changing world. I want to take a moment to thank our Women’s Leadership Collaborative (WLC) for their great work on the development of this series, and on many other fronts. This important chamber group is led by its Chairwoman, Barbara Taylor-Hatje of Morgan Stanley, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond on the staff side. Finally, I want to thank Citizens Bank for its support of the Women’s Leadership Collaborative. Keep an eye out for more exciting announcements from the WLC.

On Wednesday afternoon, the chamber will host a webinar titled, COVID-19 & The New Normal: Helping Your Business Survive the Challenges & Thrive After Reopening. Attorneys from Reid and Riege, P.C. will participate in a timely webinar that will cover key issues for businesses to consider after reopening during the COVID-19 pandemic. Topics will include: Contract Performance: Commercial Lease Considerations & Options in Light of COVID-19, COVID-19 Lawsuits:  Pursuing or Facing a Grievance, Litigation:  Exposure Liability & Insurance Coverage, Reorganization & Bankruptcy:  Turning Things Around vs. Liquidation. We look forward to another productive session, and I thank Reid and Riege, P.C. for its continued support.

In addition to a packed week of content rich online events, this week’s chamber calendar also features meetings of our Human Resources Steering Committee, Killingworth Division, and Recovery Employment Program (REP) Steering Committee. The Recovery Employment Program is designed to support individuals working through recovery. A job coach is provided to help guide them through the process of job training and eventual employment. Charles Mitchell, chamber employee and REP job coach, is doing a great job with this important program, and I thank him, and the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS) for supporting this important work.

While many of our meetings continue to be held virtually, we are excited that Grand Openings for some of our new businesses have resumed in person. These gatherings are of course held in a safe manner, and all proper protocols are followed. Last week, grand opening events were held for Peaceful Chaos Yoga in Cromwell, and Mindbrakes in Middletown. Peaceful Chaos Yoga is a tiny, cozy, and peaceful space that recently opened in Cromwell, and we wish Owner Jeannine Marron and her team nothing but the best as they move forward. Mindbrakes, located in Main Street Market in Middletown, provides alternative pathways to a healthy lifestyle through education, support, products and services. We also wish Vivian Bergamotto all the best, and look forward to working with her moving forward. Finally, this coming Thursday, we look forward to the Grand Opening for the Nutrition Spot on College Street in Middletown. Specializing in smoothies and energizing beverages, the Nutrition Spot is off to a great start with this important downtown business. We wish Beth Gyngell and her team all the best moving forward. I am happy to be joined at these grand opening events by chamber and community leaders, and we look forward to many more.

Before closing, I ask that everyone please save the dates for two important chamber events that have been rescheduled to the month of September. Our Annual Dinner will be held on Wednesday, September 9, and our 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament is now scheduled for Wednesday, September 16, at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. We will have much more on these major events as we get closer, but please save the dates.

In closing, I ask that everyone continue to stay positive and continue to work together. I have no doubt that we will come through these difficult times, and will be stronger on the back end.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Plans set for 37th annual golf tournament at Lyman Orchards

July 6, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The summer is off and running in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Before previewing the many events and activities that are scheduled for this week and for the remainder of July, I want to take a moment to recap a special virtual ceremony that was held last week. Last Tuesday evening, a Program Completion Ceremony for the 2020 Side Street to Main Street Business “Know-How" Program was held via zoom. Business "Know-How" was designed as a preparatory companion course to the award-winning entrepreneurial Side Street to Main Street Minority Business & Leadership Development Program, and is specifically targeted to assist, motivate, and prepare minority small business owners in the community who have had no formal business training. Thanks to the strong support of Eversource, this program, celebrating its ninth year, has led to the development of a number of minority owned businesses in our community. At the virtual celebration on Tuesday night, the program sponsor was represented by the President of the Eversource Foundation, Theresa Hopkins-Staten. I appreciate Theresa’s strong and consistent support of our chamber, and her personal interest in this important program. City of Middletown Director of Human Relations Faith Jackson, who was instrumental in the founding of the Side Street to Main Street Minority Business and Leadership Development Program over 22 years ago, also offered remarks to the graduates, as did Mayor Ben Florsheim, and chamber Chairman Tom Byrne.  In addition to all of these community leaders, I would like to thank Jim Jackson, facilitator of Business “Know-How” Program, and Jennifer De Kine, chamber staff liaison. The great work of Jim and Jennifer make this program what it is, a successful and effective tool that has encouraged the development of small, minority-owned businesses, which are now part of the central fabric of the Middlesex County business community.

Switching gears from business development to workforce development, I am proud to announce that this week marks the start of the work experience for the 2020 Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. The chamber is proud of all of its workforce development initiatives, but this program is especially important because it deals with our youth population. Thanks to the leadership and support of an outstanding group of program funders, we are able to put over 50 students to work once again this summer in constructive employment environments throughout the city. Program funders include: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Liberty Bank Foundation, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Jarvis Products Corporation, Stone Investment Properties, and Middlesex United Way. In addition to the team of funders, I also want to take a moment to thank the over 20 businesses and organizations in Middletown that will serve as host worksites this summer. It is critical that we have host worksites stepping up to the plate to provide the work and supervision that is necessary to truly make this an effective workforce development initiative. All of these local supporters are providing a quality work experience to youngsters who need it, and in most cases, it is their very first work experience. In addition to the work experience, this program teaches other critical skills that our participants will use in all of their future endeavors. Back in late June, chamber Workforce Development Director and Youth @ Work Program Coordinator Lorenzo Marshall led two important orientation sessions which covered how to properly fill out tax withholding forms, correctly fill out a time card, our Employee Code of Conduct, proper work attire and etiquette, and more. As I have noted in the past, this program is truly developing the future of the workforce, and we appreciate everyone’s strong support. I will continue to provide updates on the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program as the summer progresses.

This week, another busy one for the chamber, kicks off on Monday with a zoom meeting of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. This meeting will be led by our newly installed Chairman, Tom Byrne, President and Owner of Connecticut Rentals, Inc. We look forward another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Tom for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council, Real Estate Council, Golf Committee, Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), and Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. We look forward to another busy and productive week of chamber meetings.

On Wednesday evening, our Golf Committee will meet via zoom to continue planning for this year’s 37th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament. This year’s event is now scheduled for Wednesday, September 16, at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. We look forward to a great day out on the course in mid-September, and will certainly have much more information as we move through the summer.

A final note on this week, I look forward to my weekly meeting on Tuesday with my fellow executives from Connecticut’s eight metro chambers of commerce. 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.

As you can see from this week alone, the chamber is truly on the move.

Looking beyond this week, our calendar has a number of important events and activities scheduled for the rest of July. On Tuesday, July 14, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual for the time being. Our next session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will cover the definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative.

On the virtual event front, we look forward to welcoming back Edison Liu, M.D., president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, for a Virtual Luncheon, sponsored by Whittlesey, that is scheduled for Wednesday, July 15. The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit organization focusing on mammalian genetics research to advance human health. This is a timely visit for Dr. Liu who was awarded the President’s Public Service Medal after leading Singapore's scientific response to the 2003 SARS crisis. We look forward to an informative event on July 15, and I want to thank Whittlesey Managing Partner and CEO Drew Andrews and their entire team for its support of this event, and of our chamber. I will have more on this major event in next week’s column. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In closing, stay positive, keep going, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

Wishes for safe, happy, healthy Independence Day

June 29, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

This week, here in Middlesex County and around our great country, we celebrate Independence Day. The
Fourth of July holiday is synonymous with patriotism, fireworks, and enjoying the summer weather with family and friends. While we enjoy these celebrations and take pride in our national heritage, we should all take a moment to recognize the servicemen and servicewomen of the United States Armed Forces who protect this independence on a daily basis. I know that Memorial Day and Veterans Day are dedicated to those we lost and to those who have served, but we must also honor them on the day that we celebrate the birth of our nation. The chamber is proud to have an active and engaged Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee under the leadership of Retired Army Colonel, Phil Cacciola. We are also privileged to work so closely with the many Veterans Organizations in Middlesex County and throughout the state. I hope that we all keep our servicemen and servicewomen in our thoughts and prayers, not only today, but every day. It has been a very tough stretch on a number of fronts, but this community is strong and resilient, and we will continue to persevere. I wish everyone in Middlesex County a safe, happy and healthy Independence Day, because America is certainly worth celebrating.

Last week was a sprint from start to finish for the entire chamber team. On Tuesday morning, the chamber’s 2020 Travelers Championship Member Breakfast, featuring PGA Tour Pro Tony Finau, was held virtually for this first time in its history. The event was sponsored by Travelers Companies and I thank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Schnitzer, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette, and their entire team for its continued support of our chamber and of this outstanding tournament. I would also like to thank Tony for speaking to our chamber. He did a great job and proved himself to be a gentleman and somebody who truly cares about community causes. While the tournament had to be played without fans this year, it was a still great success and it continues to be a critical piece of our economic and community infrastructure. In addition to Alan, Andy, and Tony, we also have to once again recognize the year-round effort put forth by Tournament Director Nathan Grube and his team. They are a team of true professionals, and we continue to appreciate their great work. We are already looking forward to the 2021 Travelers Championship. Let the countdown begin!

This week is another busy one for our chamber, as it features important meetings of our Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, and Real Estate Council. The Arrigoni Bridge Committee meeting will feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but the associated work that is taking place in downtown Middletown. As I have noted before, the main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects, especially on Main Street in Middletown and in Portland, and we will continue to be a constructive partner until their conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday.

On the workforce development front, the chamber’s Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program is about to begin its work experience phase. Every year since 2006, the chamber has placed Middletown students into summer employment through this work program. We are fortunate to have the capacity, through our dynamic membership, to place these youngsters into subsidized employment in a wide variety of professional fields for six weeks in the summer months, working 20 hours per week. Six weeks might not seem like a long time, but it provides a solid foundation and a great glimpse into what life in the workforce is like, and the effort that is required to thrive in it. Program applicants are put through a comprehensive pre-employment screening process which considers their hobbies, interests, work experience, future plans, comfort level on the computer and on the phone and other important factors such as transportation and availability in the summer months. Our host sites come from the public sector, the non-profit sector, and most notably the private sector. This program teaches our young people not only the fundamentals of employment, such as getting to work on time and ready to contribute, but also the pride that comes with putting in a solid work week and receiving a paycheck that was earned through hard and honest work. I once again want to thank Program Coordinator Lorenzo Marshall for his great work on this important community development initiative. I will have much more on this program as we move through the summer, and if anyone has any questions or is interested in serving as a host worksite, please contact Lorenzo at the chamber office.

Looking ahead, the chamber has a number of important events and activities scheduled for the month of July. First of all, the chamber’s county-based divisions will continue to meet throughout the summer months of July and August. This is a change from previous years, but we believe it is important for us to be able to share real time data and updates with our members as we continue to navigate this crisis. On Tuesday, July 14, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual for the time being. Our next session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will cover the definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative. On the virtual event front, we look forward to welcoming back Edison Liu, M.D., president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory, for a Virtual Luncheon that is scheduled for Wednesday, July 15. The Jackson Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit organization focusing on mammalian genetics research to advance human health. This is a timely visit for Dr. Liu who was awarded the President’s Public Service Medal after leading Singapore's scientific response to the 2003 SARS crisis. We will have much more on this important event as we get closer, but please save the date. Also, please keep an eye out for the possibility of a rescheduled Citizens Bank Summer Fun Run in month of August. More to come on that front as well.

On the economic development front, the Town of Cromwell announced last week that Amazon will occupy a state of art 400,000 square foot fulfillment center in town. This project will create hundreds of new, full time jobs, and will add to the town’s tax base. This is a huge win for Cromwell and for Middlesex County. I congratulate Mayor Enzo Faienza, Town Manager Tony Salvatore, Director of Planning and Development Stuart Popper, and everyone else who had a role in making this happen. Cromwell continues to buzz with economic development activity, and we look forward to our continued good work together, and look forward to working with the Amazon team as they establish a strong presence in our region.

Finally, I want to note again that thanks to the generosity of Ted Rossi and The Rossi Group, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has free Medical Face Masks (non-sterile) available for businesses and organizations in Middlesex County. Face coverings, combined with social distancing and other important measures, can reduce the risk of contracting and/or transmitting COVID-19. If you are interested in picking up masks for the protection of your employees, please contact Haley Stafford at the chamber at 860-347-6924 or Haley@middlesexchamber.com. I thank Ted and his team once again for their support and leadership in our community.

Another great and community minded company, Tower Laboratories of Centerbrook, donated some important PPE for use by the chamber team over the past few months. Tower’s Owner/President, Norm Needleman, is a longtime chamber supporter who has gotten into politics in recent years and now serves as both State Senator from the 33rd District, and First Selectman of Essex. I thank him for not only his support of our organization, but for his commitment to Essex, to Middlesex County, and to our beloved state. It is all very much appreciated.

As I noted last week, it is in this spirit of cooperation, partnership and mutual support, that we will get through this together, and will be stronger in the end.

Happy Fourth!

Chamber’s youth jobs program set to launch

June 22, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but we have officially reached the summer in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

The beginning of summer in Middlesex County is of course synonymous with one of the best tournaments on the PGA Tour, the Travelers Championship. This year’s tournament is once again packed with an outstanding player field which includes Keegan Bradley, Patrick Cantlay, Paul Casey, Jason Day, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka, Marc Leishman, Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm, Chez Reavie, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Webb Simpson, Jordan Speith, Justin Thomas, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Tony Finau, who will serve as guest speaker at Tuesday morning’s Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. We plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting virtually, and we look forward to welcoming Tony Finau as guest speaker. Tony is an exciting player on the tour who has big time golf experience through his role in recent versions of the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup. He also played in a number of majors and other tournaments in his professional career. I thank Tony for playing in this year’s tournament, and for taking the time to speak at our virtual event. In a normal year, the Travelers Championship is a major economic generator that fills our area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. This year’s event is of course different, but we still appreciate the fact that the tournament will be played, and appreciate the impact that it continues to have on our state. It is hard to believe, but this is now the 14th year that Travelers has served as title sponsor of the event. I would like to take a moment to once again thank Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Alan Schnitzer, Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette, and the entire Travelers family for their strong and continued support. We also have to once again recognize the year-round effort put forth by Tournament Director Nathan Grube and his team. While it may not be a typical year on the course at the TPC at River Highlands, we wish the players and the tournament staff nothing but the best for another successful week in Cromwell.

This busy chamber week also features other important events and activities for the benefit of our members. Tuesday afternoon includes the next installment of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign which features weekly presentations from our colleagues in the legal profession. This session, presented by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., is titled “Connecticut is Re-Opening, Are you Truly Ready?” This webinar will focus on practical considerations for getting back to business, including: Employment Law, Government Relief, Taxes, and Obtaining Forgiveness Under the Paycheck Protection Program. On behalf of the chamber, I thank the following UKS attorneys for their support of this session: Christopher L. Brigham, Valerie F. Ferdon, Richard M. Dighello, Donald R. Seifel and our friend, and Past Chamber Chairman, Richard D. Carella. On Wednesday afternoon, the MEWS+ presents the second installment of its Midweek Marketing Workshop Series which will focus on How to Create a Simple, Agile Marketing Plan for your Start-up and Small Business. On Thursday, the MEWS+ will host a webinar titled "Covid-19 and the Workplace: HR Considerations.” This important session will focus on everything from employees returning to work, to managing a remote workforce, and everything in between from an HR perspective. I thank the MEWS+ team for their continued great work in support of our regional startups and entrepreneurs. In addition to a packed week of content rich online events, this week’s chamber calendar also features meetings of our East Haddam and Haddam Division and our Women’s Leadership Collaborative. As you can see, the chamber is truly on the move.

Speaking of on the move, and now that the summer is officially underway, the chamber’s Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program is about to begin. Every year since 2006, we have placed Middletown students into constructive summer employment through this important program which teaches our young people not only the fundamentals of employment, such as getting to work on time and ready to contribute, but also the pride that comes with putting in a solid work week and receiving a paycheck that was earned through hard and honest work. I thank Program Coordinator Lorenzo Marshall for his great work on this important community development initiative. I will have much more on this program as we move through the summer, and if anyone has any questions or is interested in serving as a host worksite, please contact Lorenzo at the chamber office.

Speaking of important community workforce development programs, the chamber’s Recovery Employment Program, continues to produce very positive results despite the COVID-19 crisis. This program is designed to support individuals working through recovery, and a job coach is provided to help guide them through the process of job training and eventual employment. Charles Mitchell, a member of the chamber team and REP job coach, is doing a great job with this important program. I thank him for his efforts and am thrilled to have him as part of the chamber team. I would like to also thank the following employers who have stepped up to hire REP clients, even during this pandemic. They are: Middlesex Health Care Center, Staples, Value Land Services, Home Depot, and Bishop’s Auto Parts in Middletown, Perma Treat in Durham, and Shop Rite and Wal Mart in Cromwell. I thank them all for their support. Finally, I want to thank Commissioner Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon and Prevention and Health Promotion Director Carol Meredith from the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, and the REP Steering Committee, for their strong support of Charles and of this initiative. It is really making a difference.

In closing, while it continues to be a tough time in Middlesex County as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, I firmly believe that we are heading in the right direction and that we are on the verge of a strong resurgence. I look forward to working with my fellow members of the newly formed DEMHS Region 2 Recovery Steering Committee. This group of regional stakeholders will focus on long term recovery for our business community and our community at large. While public health remains most important, it is time to do the difficult but necessary work that will lead us on the path to economic recovery. I will have much more on the work of this important group as we move forward.

Speaking of important working groups and partnerships, I continue to appreciate my weekly virtual meetings with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state. 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. These partnerships are more important now than ever before, and I thank my fellow chambers of their good work and their leadership in their respective communities.

Finally, thanks to the generosity of Ted Rossi and The Rossi Group, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has free Medical Face Masks (non-sterile) available for businesses and organizations in Middlesex County. Face coverings, combined with social distancing and other important measures, can reduce the risk of contracting and/or transmitting COVID-19. If you are interested in picking up masks for the protection of your employees, please contact Haley Stafford at the chamber at 860-347-6924 or Haley@middlesexchamber.com. On behalf of the chamber, I would like to thank Ted Rossi and The Rossi Group for their generosity, for their support of the chamber, and for their leadership in our community.

It is in this spirit of partnership and mutual support, that we will get through this together, and will be stronger in the end.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County! Have a great week.

New chairman joins leadership team

June 15, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached the middle of June in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Speaking of on the move, I want to take a moment to put a bow on this past Sunday’s “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'.” This virtual Car Cruise event, powered by NAPA, was a great event that raised funds for very important community programs including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. The virtual cruise route was specially designed to pass the Middletown Police Department, Fire and Emergency Personnel, and Middlesex Health so we could properly thank and celebrate the folks who have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis since the beginning. On behalf of the chamber, I would like to thank all of those who had a hand in making this unique event happen during this very difficult year, especially those who entered their cars and participated in the cruise. I appreciate the support of NAPA and all of the event sponsors, I am grateful for the work of Event Chairman Joe Santaniello and his outstanding committee, and I also want to acknowledge Dan Nocera, Ed McKeon and everyone else who had a hand in making the technical side of this virtual event work. We would of course be remiss if we did not also thank the City of Middletown for its strong and continued support of this and of all city events. The Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works Department, Parking Department, and all other city personnel that supported the event were outstanding as usual. Finally, I want to thank the chamber staff who put a lot of time and energy into this event. Chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, and team members Sandy Heinly-Canning, Haley Stafford and Sierra Lopez worked very hard to make this event a success, and I very much appreciate their dedication and hard work. While we certainly hope to be back on Main Street next year, this community came together once again in an innovative way to make this year’s cruise work, and we are very proud.

Before previewing what is another busy chamber week, I want to also review what was a very successful Virtual Member Luncheon held last Thursday featuring Gov. Ned Lamont and DECD Commissioner David Lehman. This event was sponsored by Liberty Bank, and I appreciate the strong and continued support of David Glidden and his entire team. Gov. Lamont and Commissioner Lehman covered a number of important topics dealing with reopening, guidelines for events, managing unemployment claims, and the possibility of a special session of the General Assembly. I thank them both for taking the time to participate in the event, and look forward to working with them as we transition from mitigation to recovery in Middlesex County and throughout our state.

Moving to this week, our KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday morning with a session titled, “Developing a Digital Content Calendar." Presented by Lauren Middleton, owner of Forest City Marketing, the session will focus on the basics of creating an easy digital marketing content calendar for your website and social media. The seminar will cover how to pick content, how to create it, and where and when to post it. Lauren does a great job with her business, and we appreciate not only her willingness to lead this session, but her strong support of our chamber.

On Wednesday, the chamber will host a Special Dialogue with the Delegation Legislative at 12:00 p.m. This event is sponsored by Connecticut Water. The chamber hosts a number of legislative events during a typical session of the Connecticut General Assembly but most of those events had to be cancelled this year due to the COVID-19 crisis. We hope that this virtual event, held via Zoom, will be an opportunity for our members to reconnect with their elected representatives in the General Assembly. We look forward to a productive discussion and thank our legislators for joining us for this important event. I also want to thank Connecticut Water for sponsoring this important chamber event. Connecticut Water President Maureen Westbrook, who serves on our Executive Committee, is a longtime and strong supporter of our organization. We appreciate her continued leadership and support.

Also on Wednesday afternoon, the MEWS+ presents the first installment of its Midweek Marketing Workshop Series which will focus on How to Create a Simple, Agile Marketing Plan for your Start-up and Small Business. In this webinar, the MEWS+ team will focus on the basics of how to put together a basic marketing document that will cover most of your early business marketing needs including the format of your marketing plan, simple rules to follow, understanding your products and services, understanding your audience, working out what channels to use and creating an action plan. I thank the MEWS+ team for their continued great work in support of our startups and entrepreneurs.

In addition to a packed week of content rich online events, this week’s chamber calendar also features meetings of our Westbrook Division, Human Resources Steering Committee, LEAD CT Steering Committee, Killingworth Division, Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee, and Board of Directors.

As you can see, the chamber is truly on the move.

Looking ahead to next week, our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will take place, via an online portal, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. We plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting virtually, and we look forward to welcoming PGA Pro Tony Finau as guest speaker. Tony is an exciting young player on the tour who has big time golf experience through his role in recent versions of the Ryder Cup and the President’s Cup. He also played in a number of majors and other tournaments in his professional career. I thank Tony for playing in this year’s tournament and for speaking at our virtual event. I would also like to thank Travelers Companies once again for their outstanding support of our chamber, and of so many community-based initiatives in our state. I will have much more on this year’s Travelers Championship in next week’s chamber column.

I would like to close this week’s column by noting that the chamber’s Annual Meeting will be held this Thursday afternoon. Our Annual Meeting, usually held in conjunction with our Annual Awards Dinner, marks the official changeover in the leadership of the chamber’s Board of Directors. As of Thursday, DATTCO President Don DeVivo will hand the reigns over to Tom Byrne, President of Connecticut Rental Centers, Inc. Don has done a great job throughout his tenure as chamber chairman. We were cruising right along and having a strong chamber year when the COVID-19 crisis hit in March. Over the course of the past few months, during a difficult time for his own company, Don showed his true character and commitment to our organization. He has led virtual meetings of our Executive Committee and Board of Directors, he has stayed in constant touch with me and our staff, and has performed like the true leader that he is. We are grateful for all of his work and his unending support of our chamber. Don will stay on our Executive Committee and we look forward to our continued good work together. As sad as we are to see Don’s tenure as chairman end, we are very excited to welcome Tom into this important leadership role. Tom is another stalwart of the Middlesex County business community, and someone that has demonstrated a real commitment to our chamber. I thank them both for their leadership and their friendship. We are also excited to welcome Tamera “TJ” Jackson as incoming Vice Chair of the chamber. TJ is the current owner and operator of Firefly Ventures CT LLC, and she brings a wealth of experience from her days in the auto industry where she served as owner of the former Jackson Chevrolet in Middletown. Prior to that, she served in various capacities at General Motors. TJ will serve as Vice Chair for one year, and will take over as Chamber Chairwoman starting next June. She is another great leader in our community, and we look forward to working with her over the next few years.

We will all come through this together, and will be stronger in the end.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Racism will not be tolerated

June 8, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Last Monday, the chamber’s Executive Committee voted unanimously to send a statement addressing the recent events that have occurred throughout our nation. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce stands firm in condemning the events surrounding the death of George Floyd and extends our sympathy to his family and to the grieving nation. The chamber has had a long record of being a steadfast leader and embraces inclusivity in every aspect of business, life and community. Racism occurs in many forms and should not be tolerated. We need to stand up together, work together, talk together to unite each other as brothers and sisters no matter what a person’s race or gender or profession. At the same time, we condemn the violence and destruction that has marred the message of the protesters and damaged many businesses and communities. We acknowledge that this is a sensitive and volatile situation and commit that as business leaders we will honor our longstanding values and urge that everyone continue to focus on being respectful and working together peacefully through these challenging times to keep our communities safe for everyone.

In addition to the challenges resulting from George Floyd’s death and subsequent events throughout the country, we also continue to navigate the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis. Despite all of this, I continue to be very optimistic about the future of our city, our county, our state, and our nation. Rest assured, the sun will continue to shine on Middlesex County.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team as we continue to work every day to support our regional business community. Tuesday afternoon includes the next installment of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign which features presentations from our colleagues in the legal profession. This session, presented by Pullman & Comley, its titled, “How Bankruptcy Can be Used to Rehabilitate Your Business.” As the State of Connecticut starts to open up parts of its economy during the pandemic, businesses are still facing extreme difficulty in meeting their financial obligations. This webinar will focus on strategies for many businesses seeking relief under the Bankruptcy Code. Join co-presenters Irve J. Goldman and Jonathan A. Kaplan of Pullman and Comley's Bankruptcy, Creditors' Rights and Financial Restructuring practice, for this informative webinar. On behalf of the chamber, I would like to once again thank our colleagues at Pullman & Comley for their great support of this Tuesday Tips initiative, and of our chamber. The rest of the week features meetings of the chamber’s Durham and Middlefield Division and Business and Education Advisory Committee on Wednesday, Cromwell Division and Health Care Steering Committee on Thursday, and Legislative Committee and Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) on Friday.

The main event of the week will be held on Thursday afternoon as we welcome Gov. Ned Lamont and DECD Commissioner David Lehman for a Special Virtual Member Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This Special Virtual Luncheon is expected to focus on the gradual reopening of Connecticut’s economy, which is underway, and what precautions will be necessary for the foreseeable future. I thank both Gov. Lamont and Commissioner Lehman for taking the time to visit with our members. Both of them have been working around the clock since this COVID-19 crisis began back in March, and we very much appreciate their efforts and their dedication to our state. I also thank Liberty Bank for sponsoring this important event, and for its unwavering commitment to our community. Advance registration required. Please register online: www.middlesexchamber.com.

Our Middletown Car Cruise Planning Committee has been meeting on a weekly basis as it gears up for “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'.” This event is powered by NAPA. We have been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received from the community about this creative event which is scheduled for this coming Sunday, June 14th. “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'” will be a fantastic virtual event that will celebrate and cheer on the many American heroes who have been serving on the front lines through this difficult period. The route has been designed to pass the Middletown Police Department, Fire and Emergency Personnel, and Middlesex Health. We ask all who participate to honk as they drive by as a show of appreciation and support for these heroic efforts. We are expecting a number of vehicles, but please note that we will be following the social distancing guidelines outlined by the State of Connecticut. This event will benefit Middletown youth programs, including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. Please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com anytime for all of the latest and most up to date information. I want to once again take a moment to thank Alicia Beal and the entire team at NAPA Genuine Parts Company for their great support of this event and of our chamber. I also want to send out a special thank you to Joe Santaniello who serves as Chairman of the Cruise Night Planning Committee. Joe is a longtime friend and supporter of our chamber, and he has done a great job in this important leadership role as chairman of this committee. We very much appreciate his volunteer efforts, and those of the entire committee, and thank them all for their continued support of our chamber and our community. We look forward to a great event!

Next week will be another busy chamber week for our team and our members. The week will be highlighted by a chamber hosted Dialogue with the Delegation Legislative Event, sponsored by Connecticut Water, on Wednesday June 17, 2020 at 12:00 p.m. We hope that this virtual event, held via zoom, will be an opportunity for our members to reconnect with their elected representatives in the General Assembly. Our chamber holds a number of annual legislative events during a normal legislative session. Most of those events had to be cancelled this year, but we would still like to keep the lines of communication open, and we look forward to a productive discussion with these important elected leaders. We are still working to develop an agenda, and I will be sure to have much more on this important event in next week’s column.

In another example of the chamber team adapting to a difficult situation, our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will take place, via an online portal, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. We plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting virtually, and we look forward to welcoming an exciting PGA player as keynote speaker. I will have much more on this exciting chamber event as we get closer, including the formal announcement of the speaker, but please save the date and save the dates for another exciting week of professional golf right here in Middlesex County. I would like to thank Travelers Companies once again for their outstanding support of our chamber, and of so many community-based initiatives in our state. More to come!

I will close this week’s column by reminding readers, once again, that the chamber’s reLAUNCH Campaign is officially underway. reLAUNCH serves as a catalyst to assist the Middlesex Chamber community with recovering and emerging from COVID-19 through innovation, communication and collaboration. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/relaunch to view what is essentially a resource guide which covers everything from communications and PR, marketing, human resources, workforce development, best business practices, signage, access to financing and much more. This will be a living guide that will grow as more information comes in and more restrictions are lifted. I would like to once again thank our Strategic Planning Committee, led by Teresa Opalacz, and chamber VP Johanna Bond for all of their great work on this important product.

Have a great week Middlesex County. Please remember that we are all in this together. I have no doubt that our city and our county will persevere, and that we will be standing strong in the end. Stay safe!

Businesses Facing COVID Should Know ‘Tide is Turning’

June 1, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

June has arrived in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. However, as was the case with March, April and May, it is not a typical Middlesex County June as we all continue to collectively grapple with the COVID-19 crisis. I continue to be very proud of my chamber team which has done a great job for our membership and for the business community at large during this difficult time. Last week featured well run, and productive meetings of the chamber’s Westbrook Division, East Haddam and Haddam Division, Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and Middletown Car Cruise Planning Committee. We also held another very successful Tuesday Tips workshop, and an important session on PPP Forgiveness with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center.

The calendar moves full steam ahead this week with a host of important meetings, events and activities conducted through online portals. It kicks off on Monday with a zoom Executive Committee meeting led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. We look forward another productive meeting, and I thank our members for hanging in there with us. In addition to the Executive meeting, chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our LEAD CT Steering Committee, Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, Real Estate Council and Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. We look forward to a busy and productive week of chamber meetings.

Next Thursday, June 11, features an important Virtual Chamber Member Luncheon with keynote speakers Gov. Ned Lamont and DECD Commissioner David Lehman. Both of these gentlemen have been working around the clock since this COVID 19 crisis began back in March. They are doing a very good job under very difficult circumstances, and we look forward to hearing their thoughts about how far we have come, and where we go from here. The event will focus on the gradual reopening of Connecticut’s economy which is underway, and what precautions will be necessary for the foreseeable future. I thank both Gov. Lamont and Commissioner Lehman for taking the time to visit with our members, and Liberty Bank for their sponsorship of this important chamber event. Liberty Bank CEO David Glidden and his team have also been working extremely hard in recent weeks, and we always appreciate their efforts and their unwavering commitment to our community.

Our Middletown Car Cruise Planning Committee has been meeting on a weekly basis as it gears up for “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'.” This event is powered by NAPA. We have been heartened by the overwhelmingly positive feedback we have received from the community about this creative event which is scheduled for Sunday, June 14th. “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'” will be a fantastic virtual event that will celebrate and cheer on the many American heroes who have been serving on the front lines through this difficult period. The route has been designed to pass the Middletown Police Department, Fire and Emergency Personnel, and Middlesex Health. We ask all who participate to honk as they drive by as a show of appreciation and support for these heroic efforts. We are expecting a number of vehicles, but please note that we will be following the social distancing guidelines outlined by the State of Connecticut. This event will benefit Middletown youth programs, including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. I will certainly have more to share in next week’s chamber column, but you can visit www.cruisenightonmain.com anytime for more information. I want to take a moment to thank Alicia Beal and the entire team at NAPA Genuine Parts Company for their great support of this event and of our chamber. We look forward to a great event!

In another example of the chamber team adapting to a difficult situation, our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will take place, via an online portal, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. We plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting virtually, and we look forward to welcoming an exciting PGA player as keynote speaker. I will have much more on this exciting chamber event as we get closer, including the formal announcement of the speaker, but please save the date and save the dates for another exciting week of professional golf right here in Middlesex County. I would like to thank Travelers Companies once again for their outstanding support of our chamber, and of so many community-based initiatives in our state.

Switching gears a bit, I want to take a moment to congratulate Jeff Polke, Dan Grace, and the entire team at GCI Outdoor of Higganum on a very successful Memorial Day weekend on QVC. GCI’s Kickback Rocker was the special of the day on QVC, and it was featured over a 24 hour stretch on the popular home shopping television network. We are fortunate to have this innovative and terrific company right here in Middlesex County, and we appreciate their support of our chamber and of many community initiatives.

I also want to take a moment to remind everyone that the chamber’s reLAUNCH Campaign is officially underway. reLAUNCH serves as a catalyst to assist the Middlesex Chamber community with recovering and emerging from COVID-19 through innovation, communication and collaboration. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/relaunch to view what is essentially a resource guide which covers everything from communications and PR, marketing, human resources, workforce development, best business practices, signage, access to financing and much more. This will be a living guide that will grow as more information comes in and more restrictions are lifted. I would like to once again thank our Strategic Planning Committee, led by Teresa Opalacz, and chamber VP Johanna Bond for all of their great work on this important product.

Before closing, I want to again urge our COVID weary community to hang in there and trust that we are going in the right direction. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has known since the beginning that this is first and foremost a public health crisis, but we never stop thinking about our regional economy and the health of our businesses. This chamber is working every day with our partners at the federal, state, and local levels, and we are doing our best to support the business community in Middlesex County in every conceivable way. The tide is turning in our favor, but we must remain vigilant and smart, and we must continue to work together. I am so proud of and have so much faith in this community, and I know we will be standing strong in the end.

I must unfortunately close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of George M. Eames III of Durham at the age of 94. George Eames led a terrific professional career, and he was an outstanding supporter of me, and of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. He worked for Durham Manufacturing Company for 47 years, serving as Treasurer, President, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. He also supported a host of community initiatives throughout his life, mostly in his beloved home town of Durham. Our chamber was honored to present George with our Distinguished Citizen Award in 1990, an honor very well deserved. George was instrumental in the process that led to me becoming president of the chamber in 1983. I will always be grateful for his friendship and support. Our thoughts and prayers are with George’s wife, Lee, to whom he was married for an amazing 73 years, and his entire family at this difficult time. George M. Eames III led a life well lived, and he will be missed by many.

Memorial Day Time for Remembrance, Reflection, Pride

May 25, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached Memorial Day in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. Every year at this time, I try to focus on the true meaning of this holiday and what it represents. This year, that true meaning is more important than ever. Memorial Day is for remembering the men and women who died while serving in the United States Armed Forces. It is important that we honor that ultimate sacrifice not only today, but every day of the year. We are truly lucky to live in a country where so many of our citizens are willing to serve, and they are the reason that we are able to enjoy the freedom that we hold so dear. Over one million Americans have lost their lives protecting this sacred freedom. These men and women, and their families, continue to have our unending thanks and admiration. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce is proud to count a number of local veteran’s organizations as members. Our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee, under the leadership of Phil Cacciola, does a great job throughout the year. We appreciate their support of our chamber but more importantly, we honor their service to our nation. Memorial Day is a time for remembrance, reflection and pride. So, before we enjoy a beautiful day with family and friends, let us again pause to recognize and honor the true meaning of Memorial Day. This year, let’s also keep in mind those who have been lost as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. We are all in this together, and it is in that spirit, that we honor our most sacred holiday, Memorial Day.

This week is another busy one for our chamber, as it features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, East Haddam and Haddam Division, Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council, and Cruise Night on Main Planning Committee.

The Arrigoni Bridge Committee meeting will feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but the associated work that is underway in downtown Middletown. As I have noted before, the main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the projects, especially on Main Street in Middletown and in Portland, and we will continue to be a constructive partner until their conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday.

Tuesday afternoon includes the next installment of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign which features weekly presentations from our colleagues in the legal profession. This session, presented by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., is titled “Positioning Your Business for Success When Connecticut Re-Opens.” This webinar will focus on practical considerations for getting back to business, including: Employment Law, Government Relief, Taxes, and Obtaining Forgiveness Under the Paycheck Protection Program. On behalf of the chamber, I thank the following UKS attorneys for their support of this session: Christopher L. Brigham, Valerie F. Ferdon, Richard M. Dighello, Donald R. Seifel and our friend, and Past Chamber Chairman, Richard D. Carella. We are also looking forward to Tuesday evening, when the chamber’s Side Street to Main Street BUSINESS “KNOW-HOW” returns with Program Class 9, Session 2. Business “KNOW-HOW” is an intensive four session entrepreneurial program which provides practical knowledge for starting and building a small business. This is the first time that this important chamber initiative will take place through an online portal. I want to once again thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important economic community development program.

On Wednesday afternoon, the MEWS+ will host an in important webinar titled, "From Social Distancing to Social Enterprise: How Your Business Can Have Impact in a Post-COVID World.” We look forward to another productive MEWS+ session where participants will gain actionable ideas that will help their companies thrive after COVID-19. I thank Makaela Kingsley, Director of Wesleyan University’s Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship, for leading the session, and for her longtime support of the MEWS+ initiative.

The Cruise Night Planning Committee meeting on Friday will focus on a new kind of Car Cruise in Middletown in the age of COVID-19. Excitement is gearing up for “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin'.” This event is powered by NAPA. We hope that you will join us on Sunday, June 14th, for a fantastic virtual event that will celebrate and cheer on the many American heroes who have been serving on the front lines through this difficult time. The route has been designed to pass the Middletown Police Department, Fire and Emergency Personnel, and Middlesex Health. We ask all who participate to honk as they drive by as a show of appreciation and support for these heroic efforts. We are expecting a number of vehicles, but please note that we will be following the social distancing guidelines outlined by the State of Connecticut. This event will benefit Middletown youth programs, including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. We are very excited about this creative idea, and will have much more information to share over the next few weeks. Please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com for more information.

In another example of the chamber team adapting to a difficult situation, our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will take place, via an online portal, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. We plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting virtually, and we look forward to welcoming an exciting PGA player as keynote speaker. I will have much more on this exciting chamber event as we get closer, including the formal announcement of the speaker, but please save the date and save the dates for another exciting week of professional golf right here in Middlesex County. I would like to thank Travelers Companies once again for their outstanding support of our chamber, and of so many community-based initiatives in our state.

Before closing, I want to acknowledge that recent announcement that Middletown Pride 2020 has been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis. The day of the inaugural Middletown Pride event held last June was a fabulous day in Middletown. We were so looking forward to building on that success, but we have collectively made the responsible decision to cancel this year’s event. The chamber looks forward to working with the City of Middletown, Wesleyan University, and other local stakeholders to make sure Pride comes back better than ever next year. The City of Middletown’s LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee and the Middletown Pride Planning Committee will be celebrating Pride Month this June through virtual means. For more information, please visit www.middletownpride.org, and follow Middletown Pride on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

Finally, I want to close by noting once again how proud I am of this resilient community for the way it has handled this unprecedented, and very difficult situation. Phase 1 of the reopening of Connecticut’s economy is underway. There are of course some strict guidelines and controls in place for businesses that plan to reopen, including: 50% capacity limits, cleaning and disinfection protocols, face mask requirements, and limits on the size of meetings and social gatherings. All businesses that plan to reopen are required to self-certify prior to Wednesday through an online system on the Department of Economic and Community Development’s (DECD) website. We are working every day to support our members, and the business community at large, as they navigate this important process. Any business that needs assistance on reopening should contact the chamber office right away. We are here to help. I also want to remind everyone that the chamber’s reLAUNCH Campaign is officially underway. reLAUNCH serves as a catalyst to assist the Middlesex Chamber community with recovering and emerging from COVID-19 through innovation, communication and collaboration. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/relaunch to view what is essentially a resource guide which covers everything from communications and PR, marketing, human resources, workforce development, best business practices, signage, access to financing and much more. This will be a living guide that will grow as more information comes in and more restrictions are lifted. I would like to once again thank our Strategic Planning Committee, led by Teresa Opalacz, and chamber VP Johanna Bond for all of their great work on this important product.

Have a great week, enjoy Memorial Day, but always remember its true meaning. Stay safe, keep going, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

1st Wave of Business Openings Begins this Week

May 18, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

May continues to steam ahead in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

This Wednesday, May 20, has been an important date on the horizon for many weeks in our home state of Connecticut, as it marks the start of a gradual reopening of the state’s economy. Hair salons and barbershops, outdoor museums and zoos, offices, remaining retail, and restaurants (outdoor dining only) are allowed to reopen on Wednesday. There are of course some strict guidelines and controls in place for businesses that plan to reopen, including: 50% capacity limits, cleaning and disinfection protocols, face mask requirements, and limits on the size of meetings and social gatherings. All businesses that plan to reopen are required to self-certify prior to Wednesday through an online system on the Department of Economic and Community Development’s (DECD) website. We look forward to supporting our members, and the business community at large, as they navigate this important process. It is our hope that this first wave will be successful, and that we will continue to hit important public health related benchmarks that will lead to a further reopening of the economy. Any business that needs assistance on reopening should contact the chamber office right away. We are here to help.

While we continue to gear up for a re-opening in Middlesex County, the chamber team continues to do a great job for our membership and for the business community at large. This week is another busy one on the virtual meeting and webinar front. We had to postpone last Tuesday’s webinar featuring Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro due to her participation in important meetings in Washington D.C. on the next round of COVID-19 related federal stimulus legislation. That session has been rescheduled to this Tuesday at 11:00 a.m. Congresswoman DeLauro has a very important role on the House Appropriations Committee, and we look forward to hearing an update from DC on all of these important matters.

This week’s installment of our Tuesday Tips campaign features a session titled, “Paycheck Protection Program: Where are We Now? An Up to Date Guide.” Tuesday Tips has featured weekly presentations from our colleagues in the legal profession who have repeatedly provided extremely valuable content. This week’s session will be led by Pullman and Comley, and we continue to appreciate their great support of this important chamber initiative.

On Wednesday afternoon, we look forward to a chamber hosted webinar featuring Deputy Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo from the Connecticut Department of Labor. We reached out to DOL because we have a number of members who are having issues with the unemployment application process through the Department of Labor’s website. Our businesses also have concerns about their laid off employees who are currently collecting unemployment, and the process surrounding their return to work. Finally, we are hearing many concerns from individuals who are self-employed about the unemployment application process. I appreciate the quick response from Commissioner Kurt Westby and Deputy Commissioner Bartolomeo, and we look forward to a productive session on Wednesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission (MCRC) will meet via an online portal. MCRC is partnering with the City of Middletown on a Bridge Loan Program for city businesses, and it is also exploring ways to make a county wide impact through its revolving loan fund. I want to take a moment to acknowledge the around the clock efforts of Middlesex County’s municipal officials that make up this important commission. They are working extra hard for their communities during this crisis. It is recognized and appreciated.

Thursday afternoon includes a webinar on reopening led by attorneys from Reid and Riege, P.C., John R. Bashow and Adam T. Boston, and Rob Levandoski, who is a Certified Industrial Hygienist with Fuss & O'Neill. This session, “Are you Ready to Open in this New World?”, will address important issues surrounding the reopening of your business, including complying with rules and guidelines, and how to create a successful COVID-19 response plan. We appreciate the participation of these high-level industry professionals during what is undoubtedly a very busy time for them and their respective teams.

A busy week of webinars wraps up on Friday with a session led by the Connecticut Small Business Development Center. “The Inside Scoop on PPP Loan forgiveness: What it is and How to Navigate it”, will explore updated SBA guidelines for PPP loan forgiveness and other important issues. I want to once again thank Matt Pugliese, Associate State Director of the Connecticut Small Business Development Center, and Jim Jackson, our resident Middlesex County Business Advisor with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center. They have both been terrific resources for the business community since the beginning of this process, and we appreciate their efforts very much.

In addition to a packed week of content rich webinars, this week’s chamber calendar also features meetings of our Human Resources Steering Committee, Golf Committee, Killingworth Division, Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee, Board of Directors, and Cruise Night on Main Planning Committee. As you can see, the chamber continues to be on the move.

Looking ahead, we have two exciting and creative events to announce for the month of June. As you know, Middletown’s annual Cruise Night on Main has been postponed until next year, but for this year, we are going virtual. We are proud to introduce “Start your Engines to Sunday Funday-Middletown is Virtually Cruisin.” This event is powered by NAPA. We hope that you will join us on Sunday, June 14th, for a fantastic virtual event that will celebrate and cheer on the many American heroes who have been serving on the front lines through this difficult time. The route has been designed to pass the Middletown Police Department, Fire and Emergency Personnel, and Middlesex Health. We ask all who participate to honk as they drive by as a show of appreciation and support for these heroic efforts. We are expecting a number of vehicles, but please note that we will be following the social distancing guidelines outlined by the State of Connecticut. Supporters are also welcome to watch the event from the comfort and safety of their own home. This event will benefit Middletown youth programs, including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. We are very excited about this creative idea, and will have much more information to share as we get closer. Please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com for more information.

I am also excited to announce that this year’s Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will take place, via an online portal, on Tuesday, June 23, 2020. This year’s Travelers Championship will go on as scheduled, although it will unfortunately have to be played without fans due to COVID-19. I will have much more on this exciting chamber event as we get closer, but please save the date and save the date for another exciting week of professional golf right here in Middlesex County. I would like to thank Travelers Companies once again for their outstanding support of our chamber, and of so many community-based initiatives in our state. More to come!

Before closing, I want to remind everyone that the chamber’s reLAUNCH Campaign is officially underway. reLAUNCH serves as a catalyst to assist the Middlesex Chamber community with recovering and emerging from COVID-19 through innovation, communication and collaboration. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/relaunch to view what is essentially a resource guide which covers everything from communications and PR, marketing, human resources, workforce development, best business practices, signage, access to financing and much more. This will be a living guide that will grow as more information comes in and more restrictions are lifted. I would like to thank our Strategic Planning Committee, led by Teresa Opalacz, and chamber VP Johanna Bond for all of their great work on this important product.

I also want to acknowledge the recent announcement that the Durham Fair will not be held in 2020. I know this was a very difficult decision for Dan Miramant and his outstanding team of committed volunteers. The Durham Fair is an institution in Middlesex County and in the State of Connecticut, and it is easily one of the largest fairs in North America managed entirely by unpaid volunteers. The fair has not been cancelled since World War II, a fact that further emphasizes the massive impact that this virus has had in our community. All of us in this community continue to appreciate the year-round volunteer efforts of the Durham Fair Agricultural Association, and we look forward to the fair coming back stronger than ever in the fall of 2021.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who had a role in last Thursday’s Masks for Heroes event that was held at Middletown High School. Masks for Heroes is a grassroots volunteer group that has now distributed over 1,000,000 surgical masks across the state, including over 35,000 in Middletown. The event was very well organized and executed, and I congratulate all involved and thank them for a job very well done.

Stay safe, keep going, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

Chamber ready to support businesses as May 20 approaches

May 11, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The month of May is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

While we all continue to navigate the unprecedented challenges presented by the COVID-19 crisis, I continue to be very optimistic about the future of our city, our county, our state, and our nation. Make no mistake however, the business community and the community at large are still hurting. The public health crisis, while trending in the right direction, is still a very serious issue, and we must take seriously the threat it continues to pose. Recently released economic data and unemployment figures are staggering and scary. However, as I have noted many times, we are a resilient people, and I know we will reverse those numbers through hard work, teamwork, ingenuity, and perseverance. The date of May 20 has been part of the public conversation in our state for some time now. Gov. Ned Lamont and his team continue to target that important date as the start of a gradual reopening of Connecticut’s economy. This chamber stands ready to work with our partners at the federal, state, and local levels, and we look forward to supporting the business community in Middlesex County in every conceivable way as we move forward. Let us come together once again to face down a common threat, and let the sun continue to shine on Middlesex County.

While planning for a re-opening in Middlesex County is very much underway, the chamber team continues to operate in virtual mode, and it continues to do a great job for our membership and for the business community at large. Last week featured well run, and productive meetings of the chamber’s Executive Committee, LEAD CT Steering Committee, Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau (CBB), and Real Estate Council. The Portland and East Hampton Division and the CBB meetings were both very productive, as they featured great reports from local leaders on COVID response and an update on the Arrigoni Bridge and Saint John Square construction projects. I appreciate everyone’s continued support of, and dedication to, these important monthly chamber meetings.

Last Monday evening featured the second virtual meeting of the Middletown Common Council. I applaud the Mayor and the Council for another productive meeting under challenging circumstances, and I especially appreciate their support of economic relief measures including the responsible deployment of CDBG money in the city, and an innovative Middletown Bridge Loan Program which will be executed in partnership with the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission (MCRC). There is more work to be done on these fronts, but I know that the business community appreciates the strong message that is sent by these actions.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team as we continue to work every day to support our regional business community. Tuesday, May 12th is a packed chamber day from the morning into the evening. The latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series takes place on Tuesday morning via an online portal. CT. Small Business Development Center Counselor Jim Jackson will lead a session titled, “Strategic Planning Demystified.” This presentation will break down strategic planning into clear steps that lead to focused progress and predictable outcomes that any size organization can achieve. I thank Jim for leading this session, and again thank our friends at KeyBank for their continued support of this critical chamber Workshop Series. Later in the morning, at 11:00 a.m., our webinar tour with members of the Connecticut Congressional Delegation continues with a session featuring Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro. Congresswoman DeLauro has a very important role on the House Appropriations Committee, and we look forward to hearing her thoughts on what a future round of federal stimulus legislation might look like. We look forward to a productive session, and I thank Rosa for taking the time out to visit with our members. Tuesday afternoon includes the next installment of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign which features weekly presentations from our colleagues in the legal profession. This session, presented by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., is titled “Positioning Your Business for Success When Connecticut Re-Opens.” This webinar will focus on practical considerations for getting back to business, including: Employment Law, Government Relief, Taxes, and Obtaining Forgiveness Under the Paycheck Protection Program. On behalf of the chamber, I thank the following UKS attorneys for their support of this session: Christopher L. Brigham, Valerie F. Ferdon, Richard M. Dighello, Donald R. Seifel and our friend, and Past Chamber Chairman, Richard D. Carella. We are also looking forward to Tuesday evening, when the chamber’s Side Street to Main Street BUSINESS “KNOW-HOW” returns with Program Class 9, Session 1. Business “KNOW-HOW” is an intensive four session entrepreneurial program which provides practical knowledge for starting and building a small business. This is the first time that this important chamber initiative will take place through an online portal. I want to once again thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important economic community development program. Finally, Tuesday evening also features the May meeting of the chamber’s Automotive Council, which will also be meeting through an online portal for the first time. We look forward to a busy, but productive chamber Tuesday.

The rest of the week features meetings of the chamber’s Durham and Middlefield Division on Wednesday, Cromwell Division and Health Care Steering Committee on Thursday, and Legislative and Affordable Housing Committees on Friday. The division meetings will once again feature COVID related reports from our municipal leadership, along with reports from public health officials in each town. To close the loop on this week, I want to note that the MEWS+, the chamber’s effort to develop an innovation eco-system, will host a session on Thursday afternoon which will focus on “The Six Core Approaches for Marketing Your Small Business in this New COVID-19 World.” In this virtual workshop, Rebecca Mead of INQ Creative will share six core approaches to marketing your business in this modern era, and will discuss the challenges of navigating the COVID-19 “new normal." We expect the MEWS+ to play a key role for our entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and micro businesses moving forward, and we look forward to a productive session on Thursday.

Before closing, and as I do on a weekly basis, I want to once again urge the business community to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available at this time. Another reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which contains a wealth of information including recordings of the many webinars that we have hosted since the beginning of this crisis. As I have also noted repeatedly, our outstanding chamber team has created a special social media campaign which provides the opportunity for local businesses to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to. This campaign has seen hundreds of posts about economic and community support activity that is taking place in our region, and has close to 1300 members as of the end of last week. On the restaurant front, I will note again, that the chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting Middlesex County restaurants that are open for pick up orders. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support these local restaurants if you are able to do so safely. This is also true for many of our outstanding retail establishments who continue to employ innovative ways of staying open and operational. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

Finally, it is with a heavy heart, and a deep sense of sadness, that I close this week’s chamber column by acknowledging the recent passing of Louis Petruzzello who died as a result of a tragic accident on May 1st. Louie was many things to many people. He was a great athlete, a fixture at the YMCA and throughout the community, a supporter of countless community-based initiatives, a friend to many, and someone who truly loved the city of Middletown. Louie was a kind and gentle man, and someone who exuded strength, humility, and grace throughout his life. Most importantly however, Louie was a devoted husband and father, and a true family man. His wife Deb, and his son Tony, are adored throughout this community and beyond. Tony lifts the spirits of everyone he meets, and I want him to know that we will all be there to support him, his mother, and all of Lou’s family and friends at this difficult time. Deb and Tony are, and will continue to be, in our thoughts and prayers. It goes without saying that this entire community is mourning Louie’s death right along with them. I hope they can take comfort in the fact that he led a life well lived, and I know that they are immensely proud. Louis Petruzzello will be missed by many.

We plan for brighter days ahead

May 4, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but May is upon us in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

After what has been a long and difficult stretch for the business community and the community at large, I am cautiously optimistic and that if we hang in there and see this through, we are on the verge of a responsible and gradual reopening of our economy. Last week, Gov. Ned Lamont announced the beginnings of a four-stage strategy, with important conditions, that will hopefully lead us on the road to recovery. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has known since the beginning that this is first and foremost a public health crisis, and that a consistent decline in COVID related hospitalizations and an increase in testing capabilities is critical to any relaunch plan. However, we never stop thinking about our regional economy and the health of our businesses. This chamber stands ready to work with our partners at the federal, state, and local levels, and we look forward to supporting the business community in Middlesex County in every conceivable as we move forward. The tide is turning in our favor, but we must remain vigilant and smart, and we must continue to work together. I am so proud of and have so much faith in this community, and I know we will be standing strong in the end.

Even as we plan for brighter days ahead, the chamber team continues to operate in virtual mode, and it continues to do a great job for our membership and for the business community at large. Last week featured well run, and productive meetings of the chamber’s Westbrook Division, Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and Nominating Committee. On the webinar front, we hosted a series of successful events including the latest installments of the KeyBank Workshop Series and Tuesday Tips campaign, and another session with the CT. Small Business Development Center on relief options available through federal stimulus legislation. On Friday afternoon, our chamber leadership team held its weekly meeting through zoom which focused on our support activities for the business community during this crisis, and a comprehensive strategy for the chamber moving forward. I would like to thank all of these chamber leaders for their unwavering support and dedication. The team includes Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, Vice Chairman Tom Byrne, Immediate Past Chairman Jay Polke, Strategic Planning Chair Teresa Opalacz, and Treasurer Rick Morin.

The calendar moves full steam ahead this week with a host of important events and activities conducted through online portals. It kicks off on Monday with a zoom Executive Committee meeting led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. We look forward another productive meeting, and I thank our members for hanging in there with us. In addition to the Executive meeting, chamber staff will be busy this week executing important meetings of our LEAD CT Steering Committee, Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, and Real Estate Council. We look forward to a busy week of chamber meetings.

The Tuesday Tips campaign is back this week with another important session, this one titled, "Surviving the COVID-19 Crisis: Strategies for Landlords and Tenants." In this webinar, Pullman & Comley’s Retired Judge Robert Holzberg will moderate a panel discussion including Real Estate Attorney Geoff Fay, Financial Restructuring Attorney Jonathan A. Kaplan, and Property Tax and Valuation Attorney Laura Cardillo focused on preparing landlords, tenants and bank lenders for some of the key challenges they will face moving forward. I continue to appreciate the support of Pullman & Comley, who has been alternating weeks with Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, to bring this critical content from the legal community to our membership. These sessions have been very well received, and they will continue as we move forward. The MEWS+, the chamber’s effort to develop an innovation eco system in our region, is also gearing up for a busy week. COLLISION, a MEWS+ led pitch competition, will host the latest installment of Wesleyan Incubator Demo Day on Tuesday evening. Over a dozen aspiring student entrepreneurs will pitch their social benefit business ideas via zoom. Students will share their pre-recorded pitches and conduct a live Q&A following each pitch. On Thursday, the MEWS+ will host a webinar titled, "I'm a Business Owner- Can I Ever Retire?” This session will be led by Ann Pellegrini, Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor with Edward Jones. We look forward to two productive sessions, and I continue to be proud of this ascendant chamber initiative which will become even more important in the context of COVID recovery. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, the chamber will host an online visit from Mark Hayward, District Director of Connecticut and Rhode Island’s SBA offices, who will provide an update from the federal side with respect to PPP, EIDL, and other relief measures. I thank the Office of Congressman John Larson for helping us schedule this important meeting with Mark.

Switching gears a bit, I want to take a moment to note how proud I am of our Real Estate Council which recently delivered a box of over 600 get well letters to patients at Middlesex Health. Our Real Estate Council has been such an active chamber group for many years, and I am not surprised that its members stepped up to support our community during this very challenging time. I know the gesture was very much appreciated by the team and the patients at Middlesex Health, and I thank our Real Estate Council Co-Chairs, Juliet Cavanaugh and Nancy Currlin, along with chamber VP Johanna Bond who has served as staff liaison to this important chamber council for a long period of time. This is just another example of our chamber being a business organization, but even more importantly, a community organization.

Before closing, and as I do on a weekly basis, I want to once again urge the business community to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available at this time. Another reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which contains a wealth of information including recordings of the outstanding webinars that we have hosted since the beginning of this crisis. As I have also noted repeatedly, our outstanding chamber team has created a special social media campaign which provides the opportunity for local businesses to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to. This campaign has seen hundreds of posts about economic and community support activity that is taking place in our region, and has over 1350 followers as of the end of last week. On the restaurant front, I will note again, that the chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting Middlesex County restaurants that are open for pick up orders. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support these local restaurants if you are able to do so safely. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

Finally, I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Phil Redford at the age of 91. Many of us knew Phil as the longtime owner of Middletown Plate Glass Company, Inc. which he acquired in 1967. The company was started by Phil’s grandfather in 1874 as Redford Paint & Glass. Phil Redford was a fixture in this community and he supported a variety of local causes throughout his life including the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. He served with honor in the United States Army, for which we are all grateful, and he was a strong and dignified man. Our thoughts and prayers are with Phil’s family at this difficult time. Phil Redford will be missed by many.

On a closing note, stay safe, stay healthy, and keep going. Have a great week, Middlesex County. Brighter days are ahead.

Online meetings mean chamber can still serve businesses

April 27, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Amazingly, the calendar turns from April to May this week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. It has now been over six weeks since we all started to collectively deal with this COVID-19 situation which has caused major damage to public health and to our economy. However, as I have repeatedly noted, it has also brought out the best in our community, and for that, I am immensely proud. I would like to take a moment to offer my weekly shout out from the chamber to all of those who are working so hard to effectively manage this crisis. From our friends on the front lines at Middlesex Health and other medical facilities, to our first responders, to our public officials who are working so hard, to our friends who are serving the neediest among us, we say, once again, thank you.

On the chamber front, I continue to be so proud of my terrific staff who is providing top level service to our membership, and to the business community at large, at a time when it is needed the most. Last week was another busy one which featured well-run and productive meetings of our East Haddam & Haddam Division, and a number of our industry-based councils and committees. All of these meetings are being held via online portal, or in some cases, via conference call. Our staff also continues to plan, and execute, informative webinars for the benefit of the business community. Last week featured a session on financial planning during a financial downturn led by Pullman and Comley, and a session hosted by the MEWS+ which detailed how the chamber’s response is helping the entrepreneur community in Middlesex County. Finally, on Friday afternoon, we were joined by Congressman John Larson for an interactive webinar on the newly passed federal stimulus bill which includes, among other measures, over $300 billion for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). I thank Congressman Larson for joining us, and we look forward to staying in touch with his office as we move forward. Each of these chamber led events featured over 50 attendees, and in the case of the Congressman’s session, we had almost 100. All of our webinars have been very well received by the businesses who participated, and we will continue to organize these important sessions for as long as it is necessary.

The chamber calendar marches on this week with more important content for the benefit of the business community. On Monday, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series features a session titled, “The Ultimate Guide to Hosting an Online Webinar." Some of the key components include: how to choose between a web meeting and a webinar, the new security features of the zoom platform, best practices for participating in a web event, alternatives to zoom, how to effectively livestream, and some best practices with respect to licensing and other product specific information. We continue to appreciate the support of KeyBank, who has been right there with us as we have transitioned from an in person, to a virtual workshop series. The chamber’s very successful Tuesday Tips campaign, which features weekly webinars with top legal professionals, continues on Tuesday with a session led by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. titled, “Positioning Your Business for Success When Connecticut Re-Opens.” This webinar, beginning at 2:00 p.m., will focus on practical considerations for getting back to business including: employment law, making your business safety complaint, navigating the intersection of the SBA and CARES Act relief, relief certification and the False Claims Act, tax law, and obtaining forgiveness under the Paycheck Protection Program. The program will feature an opportunity for questions and answers with UKS attorneys Christopher L. Brigham, Valerie F. Ferdon, Richard M. Dighello, Donald R. Seifel and Richard D. Carella. We thank them all for taking the time to provide this critical content. Wednesday afternoon features another chamber hosted webinar with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center. This session, featuring CTSBDC Associate State Director Matt Pugliese and Middlesex County Business Counselor Jim Jackson, will address the newly passed federal stimulus legislation. Specifically, the webinar will outline any changes or updates that have or will be made to PPP and EIDL, and will detail what a businessperson should do if they already applied but have not yet received funding. I thank Jim and Matt for joining us once again, and look forward to a great session.

Other chamber meetings on the calendar this week include the Westbrook Division, Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, the Arrigoni Bridge Committee, our Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and our Nominating Committee which will select chamber officer candidates for next year. The Arrigoni Bridge Committee meeting will feature updates from DOT and from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, on not only the bridge project itself, but on the work that is continuing in Saint John Square. The main goal of the committee is to make sure that access to the bridge is not compromised during the construction, and that emergency and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. The chamber is of course also monitoring the economic impact of the project, and will continue to be a constructive partner until its conclusion. I once again want to thank Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger and Portland Public Works Director Bob Shea who are serving as co-chairs of this important chamber committee. We look forward to another productive meeting on Tuesday.

On Thursday afternoon, chamber Vice Presidents Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond will represent us on an important 60-minute webinar focused on reactivating the state’s pandemic-stricken economy. This webinar is hosted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA.) The Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, established by Gov. Ned Lamont, is busy developing guidelines and recommendations for our state. This webinar will begin with DECD Commissioner David Lehman who will provide an overview of the administration’s approach and priorities. Attendees will also hear from four members of the advisory group’s business subcommittee which includes CBIA President Joe Brennan, CT. Retail Merchants Association President Tim Phelan, EBP Supply Solutions CEO Meredith Reuben, and Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce President Garrett Sheehan. This is a very important topic for all of us, and our team will be sure to share the details of the webinar with the Middlesex business community.

Before closing, and as I do on a weekly basis, I want to once again urge the business community to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available at this time. Another reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we are updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. As part of the tool kit, you can access all of the outstanding webinars that we have hosted since the beginning of this crisis. They contain very helpful information on everything from the CARES Act, to legal advice, accounting advice, best practices for working virtually, and much, much more. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to. This campaign has seen hundreds of posts about economic and community support activity that is taking place in our region, and has over 1300 followers as of the end of last week. On the restaurant front, I will note again, that the chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting Middlesex County restaurants that are open for pick up orders. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support these local restaurants if you are able to do so safely. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

Finally, I want to take a moment to again send out best wishes on behalf of the chamber to our entire community. This is undoubtedly a very difficult and even unprecedented time. However, I continue to believe that we will come through this, together, and we will be stronger on the other side. The sun always shines in Middlesex County, and we will never waiver on that.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and keep going. Have a great week.

Strength, resolve, true leadership mark city's COVID-19 response

April 20, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

An unprecedented April is moving right along in Middlesex County, and throughout our great nation.

The chamber team, along with all of our partners in the community, is doing its best to provide support and guidance during this very difficult stretch. Everyone is working very hard, as a team, and it is truly inspiring. Our friends at Middlesex Health and other front-line facilities are literally putting their lives on the line to treat sick patients, and to help slow the spread of COVID-19. This also holds true for our first responders and other professionals in the community. We are so grateful for their efforts, and we always will be. Our municipal leaders throughout Middlesex County have responded to this crisis with strength, resolve, and true leadership. In Middletown, Mayor Ben Florsheim continues to lead an organized and professional response for the city. The status calls held at various points throughout the week are productive and informative for all who participate. They feature reports on everything from current cases of COVID-19 in our community and the medical response, to how the education community is responding, to police and fire, to support for seniors and our most vulnerable residents, to the impact on the economy, and much, much more. I continue to be very proud of the chamber team who is providing top level service to our membership, and to the business community at large, at a time when it is needed the most. Last week was another busy one which featured well run, and productive meetings of our Killingworth Division, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee, Affordable Housing Committee, and Strategic Planning Committee. The board meeting was especially productive, as it featured reports from the leaders of two of our member banks, remarks from DECD Deputy Commissioner Glendowlyn Thames, and a report from Middlesex Hospital CEO Vin Capece. As part of his report, Vin noted how much he and his team appreciated the surprise fire truck brigade that descended on the hospital facility last Tuesday. The gesture was meant to boost morale and show gratitude for the great work of the Middlesex Health team, and it was very successful. The board meeting also featured a unanimous motion, that the chamber develop a letter to Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation urging decisive action on additional stimulus legislation to support the business community. The letter, which was sent last Friday, stressed that the need for additional federal resources is massive, and it is immediate. We have members that are doing their best to develop and submit applications for the relief packages that are available, but the reality is, there is simply not enough money available at this time to mitigate the economic damage that is resulting from the COVID-19 crisis. We will continue to work with our elected leaders at all levels on an economic recovery plan for the business community in our region. In addition to all of these successful chamber meetings held last week, our team also executed helpful webinars featuring leaders from the banking, accounting, legal, and business counseling fields. We are fighting hard to support our businesses, and to be a good community partner, and you can bet that those efforts will continue.

This week includes more important content for the benefit of the business community in Middlesex County. Tuesday afternoon features the fourth installment of the chamber’s new Tuesday Tips campaign, which provides critical information from the legal community via informative webinars. We look forward to another informative conversation titled, “Planning Strategies for Individuals Looking Beyond the Current Crisis.” Attorneys from Pullman & Comley’s Tax and Trusts & Estates practices will cover: Beneficial Income Tax Changes for Individuals in the CARES Act, Why this is a good time to work on your estate plan, and Valuable Estate Planning Opportunities in the Current Financial Downturn. I want to thank the following members of the Pullman & Comley team for taking the time out of their busy schedules to delivery this important information to the chamber audience: Hon. Robert L. Holzberg (ret.), Lee Hoffman, D. Robert Morris, Alan Parker, and Lauren Davies. We look forward to a terrific session. Also, on Tuesday, the MEWS+ will host a special webinar titled, "Readying for Recovery: Resources for Middlesex County Businesses.” This session will provide the MEWS+ community, made up of startups, entrepreneurs and micro businesses, with the opportunity to learn more about how the chamber can be a resource for them now, and in the future. I will join my VP’s, Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, for in depth discussion on the chamber’s activities during this crisis, and how we plan to recover and come back stronger than ever. This week’s chamber calendar also features a meeting of our East Haddam and Haddam Division on Thursday morning, and other important online gatherings of our industry-based councils and committees. On the workforce development front, I am proud to note that our Professional Training and Development Program is transitioning from in person classes to an online platform. These programs are free to the public, and are designed to provide skills training for job seekers, and for employees that are looking to grow in their professional capacity. More information can be found on our website, www.middlesexchamber.com. The chamber is on the move, and we don’t plan to stop anytime soon.

With respect to the large downtown events that the chamber and the city produce on an annual basis, we continue to have regular conversations about how to proceed. The city, the chamber, and Wesleyan University recently announced, that the second annual Middletown Pride celebration has been re-scheduled for Saturday, August 29, 2020. The event will once again be a demonstration and celebration of the history, lives and contributions of Middletown’s LGBTQIA residents. Middletown Pride will consist of a parade down Main Street, followed by a festival on the South Green and its surrounding areas. The parade will begin at 2:00 p.m., the festival will kick-off immediately after its conclusion and will run until 8:00 p.m. The festival will once again feature live entertainment, delicious food, a wide variety of vendors, information booths, and a lot of family friendly fun. The Middletown Pride team, led by Assistant General Counsel Christopher Forte, will continue to monitor the situation presented by COVID-19, and will take appropriate action in light of all federal, state and local guidelines to safeguard the well-being of its participants. More to come on that front. We will have additional announcements in the coming days regarding Cruise Night on Main and other events that so many people look forward to on an annual basis. I can assure you, we are all doing our best.

Before closing, I want to once again urge the business community to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available at this time. Another reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we are updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to. This campaign has seen over 1200 posts about economic activity that is taking place in our region, an amazing stat that I am very proud of. On the restaurant front, I will note again, that the chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting Middlesex County restaurants that are open for pick up orders. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support these local restaurants if you are able to do so safely. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong. Finally, all of the terrific webinars that the chamber team has put together have been recorded and put on our website. I encourage you to take advantage of this critically important content. This is without question, an extremely challenging time for all of us. However, this community is showing its true colors in so many ways. We are resilient, we are strong, we are in it together, and I have no doubt, that we will get through this and will be stronger on the back end.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Frank Perrotti at the age of 88. Frank was a longtime supporter and friend of mine, and of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. Many of us knew him through this ownership of Perrotti's Farm & Garden Center in Middlefield, which he ran for over 30 years. I was honored to coach two of his sons at Xavier during their high school days. They were excellent football players, and even better kids. Frank’s daughter, Mary Ann, is an outstanding supporter of the chamber through her leadership role at Liberty Bank. She is a member of numerous chamber committees, supports all of our events, volunteers to support our programs and community initiatives, and supports us in countless other ways. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mary Ann, and Frank’s entire family at this difficult time. Frank Perrotti made a major impact throughout his life, and he will be missed by many.

Middlesex County business community will bounce back

April 13, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached mid-April in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. However, as we all know, it is not a typical mid-April. In normal times, I would be using this week’s chamber column to preview our Business and Education Partnership Breakfast, our Career Fair Expo, and many other spring events happening in our community. However, that is unfortunately not the case this year, as the public health and economic fallout resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be top of mind for all of us. These are difficult times for our community and for communities across the United States. We are concerned about the health of our family, friends and colleagues, and we are concerned about the economy in Middlesex County and beyond. There are still so many unknowns about this situation. We don’t know how long it will take for the public health crisis to subside. We don’t know how long businesses will be closed or only able to operate on a limited basis. We don’t know how long it will be before we can hold events that bring us all together in the spirit of cooperation and fellowship. There are, however, a few things that I have always known, and that have been reinforced over the past few weeks. First of all, we are blessed to be a part of a wonderful community. People in Middlesex County truly care about one another and the community at large. Political party affiliations and other labels are out the window, and everyone is coming together to reach a common goal, get through this crisis healthy and stable, and ready to come back stronger than ever. The business community in our region is really hurting, but it is resilient, and it is not going anywhere. We are all in this together, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County.

As I have noted in previous weeks, the outstanding staff at the chamber continues to provide top level service to our membership at a time when it is needed the most. The chamber remains operational, and has transitioned to video conference meetings for the near future. Last week featured well run, and productive meetings of our Executive Committee, LEAD CT Steering Committee, Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council Steering Committee, and Real Estate Council. On Monday afternoon, we partnered with Congressman Joe Courtney on a webinar focusing on the CARES Act, the federal stimulus legislation which was recently passed and signed into law. We will continue to set up these important conversations with Members of Congress and other key leaders at the federal, state and local levels. This week also features excellent web-based content for the benefit of the business community in Middlesex County. On Monday afternoon, the first virtual session of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place through a webinar titled, “PPP & More – What is Best for Your Business or Non-Profit.” Members and other interested parties are welcome to join us for an in-depth discussion with an experienced panel including: James Barger, Connecticut & Massachusetts Market President for KeyBank, Drew Andrews, CPA, Managing Partner and CEO of Whittlesey, and Brian Kerrigan, J.D., a Partner with Whittlesey. Tuesday afternoon features the third installment of the chamber’s new Tuesday Tips campaign which provides critical information from the legal community via informative webinars. We look forward to another informative conversation titled, “Looking Ahead – Getting Back to Business.” Hosted by Attorneys Rich Carella, Chris Brigham, Kevin McEleney and Donald Doeg of Updike Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., this webinar will focus on looking ahead and anticipating issues related to getting your business back to operations, including: Landlord / Tenant Law and the re-opening of businesses and offices, Employment Law and the re-hiring of employees, Insurance Law, and business interruption claims. A busy week wraps up on Friday with a special zoom-based Town Hall webinar with Matt Pugliese, Associate Director of the CT. Small Business Development Center, who will provide real time updates on the funding opportunities that are available to businesses in our region and throughout the state. We look forward to excellent presentations from our esteemed guests who will help us cut through some of the confusion surrounding the COVID-19 relief packages. I thank all of them personally, and on behalf of the chamber, for taking the time to lead these important discussions. In addition to all of these important webinars, this week features virtual meetings of the chamber’s Killingworth Division, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee, and Affordable Housing Committee. Also, our Strategic Planning Committee has been holding virtual meetings on a weekly basis which has been so helpful during this period. I appreciate the commitment of these active and engaged chamber leaders who make up this important committee. As you can see, the chamber is, and will stay, on the move.

Before closing, I want to once again urge the business community to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available at this time. Another reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we will be updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to. I will note again, that the chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting Middlesex County restaurants that are open for pick up orders. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support these local restaurants if you are able to do so safely. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

Finally, I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Vin Volpe at the age of 91. Vin Volpe led an amazing life, and he helped so many people along the way. He grew up in Waterbury, but fortunately for us, he found his way to Middlesex County through his professional career. As a six-year-old boy in the 1930’s, Vin joined his older siblings Dorothy and Leo on the Vaudeville circuit as the Volpe Trio. His family knew at that time that he was destined to make a major impact in his life. After high school, he enlisted in the US Army where he served in Trieste, Italy in the 1940’s. In fact, he got a U.S. Army Freedom Team Salute for his service in World War II. Those of us in Middlesex County know Vin as the longtime President of Jarvis Products in Middletown. A temporary summer job at Jarvis in the 1950’s eventually led to an incredible 65-year career with the company. Vin built Jarvis into a powerhouse through ingenuity, commitment, and good old-fashioned hard work. Thanks in large part to Vin’s efforts, Jarvis has a truly global reach, and it is a company that Middletown and Middlesex County are truly lucky to have. In addition to this success in business, Vin supported countless community causes throughout his life. I will forever be grateful for his support of the chamber, and for our personal friendship that lasted many years until his passing. While all of this was so important to Vin, nothing was more important than his wonderful family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Susanne, his children, grandchildren, colleagues at Jarvis, and his vast network of friends at this difficult time. Vin Volpe was old school, he led by example, and he will be missed by many. We are all grateful for his service to our country, and to our community. We will remember him fondly.

Be well, Middlesex County, brighter days are ahead.

More important than ever to support local businesses

April 6, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

March has turned to April in Middlesex County and across our great nation. These continue to be tough times for the business community and for the community at large as we all grapple with the fallout from the COVID-19 situation. I continue to be very inspired and proud of the efforts of my chamber team, and by the strong and continued leadership of our public officials during this crisis. From our local leaders on the municipal level in Middlesex County, to our governor and legislative delegation at the state level, and to our partners at the federal level, everyone is stepping up to do whatever they can to be a constructive partner during this difficult period. I am also very proud of the resilience and the faith that is being shown by our membership at this time. While everyone is impacted in some way, we are seeing countless examples of individuals stepping up and offering help of some kind, in some way, and we are seeing it every day. We are so grateful for the efforts of Vin Capece and his amazing team at Middlesex Health. They, along with our first responders, are true professionals, and they are doing remarkable work on the front lines of this crisis in our region. As I noted last week, they continue to have our thanks, today, and every day.

As I also noted last week, the outstanding staff at the chamber continues to provide top level service to our membership at a time when it is needed the most. The chamber remains operational, and has transitioned to video conference meetings for the near future. Last week featured well run, and productive meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, our Environment and Infrastructure Committee, our Central Business Bureau, and our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. I appreciate all of the support of our members who are jumping onto these important online meetings and calls.

 

On Wednesday afternoon, we were honored to be joined for a special zoom meeting with U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal. Sen. Blumenthal did a great job breaking down the Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act, and he provided some important insight for our members into which programs might be most appropriate for them and for their industry sector. I very much appreciate the fact that he took the time out to visit with our members during this tough time for all of us. The senator’s staff recorded the conversation and has sent it to our staff. It is available on the chamber website if you are interested. From the chamber’s end, the meeting was led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo, and our Legislative Committee Co-Chair, Rich Carella, who both did an excellent job steering the conversation. This Monday, April 6, the chamber is holding another zoom meeting with U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney who represents Connecticut’s second congressional district. We plan to follow the same format as the meeting with Sen. Blumenthal, and look forward to another productive discussion for the benefit of our members. I also thank Congressman Courtney for his willingness to join us, and for staying in constant touch with our team.

Sticking with the zoom theme for a moment, a very productive webinar was held last Friday afternoon featuring Jim Jackson, CT Small Business Development Counselor, who went over in detail the many small business relief options that are available through the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). He was able to cut through some of the confusion and answered important questions about the difference between disaster loans, the PPP Loans, EIDL, how to access relief if you are an existing SBA borrower, how to access professional business counseling during this crisis, and best practices for the application process. Jim is an excellent resource that we are fortunate to have in Middlesex County, and I appreciate his continued hard work in support of his clients and of the entire business community in our region.

This week is sure to be another busy one for the chamber team and for our membership. It kicks off on Monday with a zoom Executive Committee meeting led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo. As I have noted many times over the years, the chamber’s Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community through this crisis. We look forward another productive meeting, and I thank our members for hanging in there with us.

Tuesday afternoon features the second installment of the chamber’s new Tuesday Tips campaign which provides critical information from the legal community via informative webinars. This week’s session on the CARES Act will be led by the Hon. Robert Holzberg (ret.), and three of his partners from Pullman and Comley. The title of the webinar is “The CARES Act in Bite Size Portions”, and it will focus on providing practical answers to the three most frequently asked questions about the federal package:

  • Is my business eligible for assistance under the Paycheck Protection Program?
  • What does my business need to know about unemployment and family leave policies?
  • What are my obligations to workers who have Covid-19 or whose family members are sick?

Tuesday Tips will alternate on a weekly basis between Pullman and Comley, and Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C., two outstanding members of ours from the legal field. We are grateful to both firms for their support of this initiative, and of our chamber.

In addition to the Executive Committee and the session with Congressman Courtney, this week features virtual meetings of our LEAD CT Steering Committee, Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council Steering Committee, and Real Estate Council. The chamber will continue to deliver for our members, and we will all get through this together.

I continue to urge our members to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available to you, or will become available to you in the coming days. Just a reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we will be updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to.

As I noted last week, this is of course a tough time for all industry sectors, but particularly for our area restaurants, many of whom are staying open for takeout orders. The chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting the restaurants that are open for business at this time. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support them if you are able to do so safely. It is also a good time, if you are able, to support the local business community through the purchase of gift cards. All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

If you need anything at all, please contact the chamber office for support. Thank you, and be well.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Tough times now but brighter days ahead

March 30, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Well, it was certainly a different March than we are accustomed to in Middlesex County, and April is sure to be as well.

However, I must say, that I am very proud of our community for the way it is stepping up collectively, working together, and doing everything we can to manage this COVID-19 situation that we all continue to grapple with. Mayor Ben Florsheim and other leaders of Middletown’s response team have shown strong and sustained leadership throughout the past few weeks. There are daily conference calls, led by the mayor, that connect all of the city’s key stakeholders, and they have been very productive and useful. Councilman Ed McKeon, in partnership with the Community Health Center, organized a city-wide video conference last Tuesday night which allowed Middletown’s residents and businesses to hear directly from the city’s institutions on how they are dealing with the many challenges that are a result of this crisis. This type of coordination is going on throughout Middlesex County, and I so appreciate the around the clock efforts of all of our municipal leaders. They are indeed, committed public servants. Whether it is the public health response, the continuation of vital public services, continuing to educate our children, or helping the business community and the regional economy through this time, this coordination allows the county’s response to be a true team response, and there is nothing I appreciate more that teamwork. Our friends at Middlesex Health and the Community Health Center, along with our region’s first responders, are doing remarkable work on the front lines of this crisis in our region. They have our thanks today, and every day.

I am also proud of my fantastic team at the chamber for the way they have adapted to this situation. They continue to provide top level service to our membership at a time when it is needed the most. The chamber remains operational, and has transitioned to video conference meetings for the near future. Chamber Vice Presidents Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond have been very busy throughout this entire process. Johanna has led the effort to get our staff trained in how to conduct these vital online conference meetings. In fact, she has even trained me, and now I am “zooming” into meetings on a daily basis. If you asked me years ago, or even months ago, if I would be participating in vital meetings via video conference from home, every day, I certainly would not have believed you. Johanna, with the support our staff, is also gathering critical resources from a variety of sources and centralizing them into concise emails to our members. Jeff is participating in countless calls and video conference meetings with public officials at all levels, our fellow chambers from around the state, and members in many different industry sectors throughout the county. He is also continuing the work of the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission, our regional revolving loan fund which is led by Chairman Ed Bailey, to assist existing borrowers and other businesses who need support at this time. I want to be clear however, that the excellent work coming from the chamber is not just coming form the leadership team. Our entire staff is working very hard in support of our members, and I am very grateful for that. Danielle Aletta, Steve Ciskowski, Jennifer De Kine, Cathy Duncan, Daniellelee Gagon-Smith, Sandy Heinly-Canning, Sierra Lopez, Lorenzo Marshall, Charles Mitchell, Haley Stafford, and the team that manages our MEWS+ efforts, Tim Laubacher, Susan Hayes and Rebecca Mead. I am so proud of all of them.

This week features virtual meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, our Environment and Infrastructure Committee, our Central Business Bureau, and our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. The chamber will continue to deliver for our members, and we will all get through this together.

I continue to urge our members to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available to you, or will become available to you in the coming days. Just a reminder that if you visit the chamber’s website, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we will be updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to.

In addition to the resources that are available through the chamber, we also have the ability to connect our members and other interested parties to the many other important resources that are available at this time. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). The Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) recently announced a bridge loan program to provide emergency cash flow relief to small businesses and nonprofits negatively impacted by the coronavirus. Under the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan program, a qualifying business or nonprofit organization can apply for a loan of up to $75,000 or three months of operating expenses (whichever is lesser). The link to the application can be found on the chamber’s website. If businesses find themselves in the very unfortunate position of having to lay off employees, we can connect them to the Department of Labor who has critical information for employers and employees alike. Finally, the Department of Revenue Services (DRS) has extended deadlines for filing and payments associated with certain state business tax returns. Details are on DRS’s website which can be accessed through the chamber website. If a business has questions or needs any technical assistance on any of these fronts, please contact the chamber, and we will do our best to assist.

This is of course a tough time for all industry sectors, but particularly for our area restaurants, many of whom are staying open for takeout orders. The chamber website has a section dedicated to promoting the restaurants that are open for business at this time. This information is also available through our social media platforms. Please support them if you are able to do so safely.

Before closing, I want to give a special shout out to a few public officials that serve our region so well. First, State Sen. Norm Needleman, who is also First Selectman of Essex, has been in constant contact with Jeff and me throughout this crisis. Before entering the political fray, Norm was a longtime supporter of our chamber through his business, Tower Labs in Essex. He is such a constructive partner, and always has the chamber’s back. It is very much appreciated. I also want to congratulate State Rep. Joe Serra on his recently announced retirement after serving residents of the 33rd General Assembly District for nearly 28 years. Before his time in the legislature, Joe served the Middletown Department of Public Works for 37 years, starting in 1959. He was appointed Deputy Director of Public Works in 1979, and held that position until he retired in August 1996. Joe is a longtime friend to me and to the chamber, and we are all thankful for his longtime public service. I will have much more on Joe’s retirement and impact in future versions of the chamber column, but we are certainly grateful for his service.

It has been a tough few weeks, and it will probably be a very challenging month of April. However, I have no doubt, that if we continue to work together, we will come through this, and will be stronger on the other side.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County, and brighter days are ahead.

Middlesex Chamber helping businesses during coronavirus outbreak

March 23, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

As we begin another tough week in Middlesex County, I have to open this week’s column once again by addressing the topic that will be top of mind for everyone for some time, and that is the COVID-19 situation that we are all grappling with.

As was noted last week, the chamber is keenly aware that this is a very difficult time for the business community in Middlesex County. The chamber team continues to work extra hard to make sure that we are a trusted resource as we collectively work to navigate this unique situation. We are staying in constant touch with our elected officials at the local, state and federal levels, and are pushing hard for swift action to mitigate the economic damage that is being caused by this global pandemic. The chamber remains operational, and we are going to hold critical meetings via conference call and through online portals. The chamber staff is able to work remotely, and will continue to be there for you and your business. Our message to you is to hang in there, and to lean on the chamber and other resources that are available to you, or will become available to you in the coming days. We are not only pushing, every day, for the quick availability of resources for the business community, but we are leading the effort that will allow chamber members to effectively support each other throughout this crisis. We need to hear from you, our valued members. We want to know how this crisis is affecting your business, and how we can help.

If you visit our website, www.middlesexchamber.com, you can access the Coronavirus Tool Kit which includes a survey which will help us help you, along with a number of resources which we will be updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. We have also created a social media campaign which allows our members to share the creative ideas they are employing to stay operational and helpful to their fellow community members during this period. Please connect with the chamber’s "SHOUT IT OUT!" campaign, and let us know what you are up to.

In addition to the resources that are available through the chamber, we also have the ability to connect our members and other interested parties to the many other important resources that are available at this time. The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering low-interest federal disaster loans for working capital to small businesses suffering substantial economic injury as a result of the Coronavirus (COVID-19). If businesses find themselves in the very unfortunate position of having to lay off employees, we can connect them to the Department of Labor who has critical information for employers and employees alike. Finally, the Department of Revenue Services (DRS) has extended deadlines for filing and payments associated with certain state business tax returns. Details are on DRS’s website which can be accessed through the chamber website.

This week will feature a variety of important conference calls with the City of Middletown, the State of Connecticut, Members of Congress, chambers from around the state, and other partners.

All businesses, large and small, are part of the fabric of this community. It is time to come together, to support each other, so we can weather this storm and come back strong.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to thank my entire dedicated chamber staff, especially my Vice Presidents Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, for their great work and commitment to our organization and to the business community in Middlesex County. I am proud of them all every day, and especially during these difficult times.

We are all in this together, and we will get through this. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will do everything it can to be a resource for the business community throughout this period.

In closing, this week marks the final week at the chamber for our longtime Controller, Nancy Prue, who is retiring from her position after 27 years of outstanding service. Words cannot adequately express my feelings about Nancy, and my appreciation of her work and her professionalism. She was a dedicated, loyal, and hard-working member of the chamber team who did an excellent job in a very important position. Throughout her career with us, she was a steady and composed presence who showed up ready to work, every day. On behalf of our entire membership and our staff, I thank Nancy, and her family, and wish her nothing but the best in her well-deserved retirement. She will always be a member of the chamber team.

Remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County. I will never waiver on that

Stay safe!

 

Chamber is resource on COVID-19 for business community

March 16, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

I want to begin this week’s column by addressing the topic that is top of mind for everyone, and that is the COVID-19 breakout that is having a major impact across the world. We are aware that this is a difficult time for the business community in Middlesex County and for our membership. I want everyone to know that the chamber is working very hard to be a trusted resource in the community as we collectively work to navigate this unique situation. We are staying in constant touch with our elected officials at the local, state and federal levels, and are pushing hard for swift action to mitigate the economic damage that is being caused by this global pandemic. We have also created a page on our website titled the “Coronavirus Tool-Kit” which we will be updating on a regular basis as more information becomes available. Included in that tool kit are tips and best practices for the employer community and the community at large. On the economic front, we will continue to share resources with our members including a link to the US Small Business Administration website which contains additional guidance for businesses and employers to plan and respond to the current situation. There is also information on the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and other resources available through SBA.

I want to take a moment to acknowledge, with gratitude, the great job that Vin Capece and the team at Middlesex Health are doing to combat this virus in our community. We were proud to partner with Middlesex Health on a Coronavirus Workshop at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell last Friday. I would like to thank the panelists from Middlesex Health who did a terrific job with their remarks on Friday, Jonathan Bankoff, M.D, Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alina Filozov, D.O., Section Chief, Infectious Disease & Epidemiologist, Jodi Parisi, Infection Prevention Manager, and Jim Hite, Director, Environmental Safety & Protective Services. As I have noted many times over the years, we are so fortunate to have Middlesex Health as a key stakeholder in our region.

We are all in this together, and we will get through this. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will do everything it can to be a resource for the business community throughout this period. Remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

As the month of March moves right along in Middlesex County, I want to take a moment to acknowledge that one of my favorite days of the year, St. Patrick’s Day, is coming up this weekend. St. Patrick’s Day is a truly global celebration of Irish heritage and tradition, and I am very proud that the residents and businesses of Middlesex County have warmly embraced the holiday. Whether you plan to celebrate by wearing your favorite green tie, sweater or shirt, by enjoying a nice plate of corned beef and cabbage, or by enjoying a hearty libation or two, I hope that everyone in our region enjoys a very happy, healthy and safe St. Patrick’s Day.

Unfortunately, the Westfield Division that was scheduled for Wednesday morning has been postponed to another date. We will continue to work with the Mayor’s office and the Public Health Department to disseminate the important information that we were going to cover at the meeting.

On the workforce development front, I look forward to attending the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee Meeting on Thursday morning in New Haven. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. They serve the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. Later on Thursday, our Board of Directors will make its annual visit to the Griswold Inn in Essex for its March meeting. The board meeting will feature updates from committee chairs and other members, along with reports from key chamber staff who are working very hard in support of the business community in our region. I would like to thank longtime friends and members Herb Clark and Norm Needleman for hosting the meeting, and for providing the delicious lunch that will be served by the great team at "The Gris." On Thursday evening, our Golf Committee, which meets throughout the year to plan and execute the chamber’s annual sold out Golf Tournament, will meet at Luce Restaurant in downtown Middletown. This year’s chamber Golf Tournament is scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. I will have much more on this major chamber event as we get closer, but we certainly look forward to the sun shining on Middlefield in mid-May.

We are very mindful of some of the concerns surrounding the holding of in person meetings, and we are being very flexible with call in options and other means of connecting with our members. We will continue to keep our members informed on a daily basis on all of these issues.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, Vice Chairman Tom Byrne, and CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele at a Grand Opening celebration for Mindbrakes in Main Street Market, Middletown on Friday afternoon. The mission at Mindbrakes is to provide alternative pathways to a healthy lifestyle through education, support, products and services. We look forward to working with the entire Mindbrakes team as we move forward, and we wish them all the best in 2020 and beyond.

While there is uncertainty about the legislative schedule at this point, the chamber’s Legislative Committee will continue to stay very active and engaged in support of our members and of the Middlesex business community. The first installment of our Legislative Leadership Series was held last Monday, March 9, with Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz at the Inn at Middletown. The speaker gave us a candid assessment of the legislative session to this point, and as always, I appreciate his willingness to join us during the session. We continue to work with legislative leadership on the development of meetings or other ways to connect on these important issues in the coming months.

Let’s hang in there, together, and continue to fight for Middlesex County. Have a great week!

Coronavirus forum tops week’s business activities

March 9, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The clocks have officially sprung ahead in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

As the legislative session rolls along in Hartford, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to stay very active and engaged in support of our members and of the Middlesex business community. The first installment of our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off this Monday, March 9 with Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz at the Inn at Middletown from 8:00-9:30 a.m. At this special meeting, Speaker Aresimowicz will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2020 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly. The chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to ask questions about the session, and discuss some important issues on our 2020 Public Policy Agenda. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly and Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Aresimowicz for once again speaking with our chamber members at this annual event. We look forward to another productive discussion. I also ask that our members save the date of Friday, March 27, for a Legislative Leadership Series breakfast event featuring Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff at the Courtyard by Marriott. This event is sponsored by Eversource, and we very much appreciate their continued support of our effort to work closely with legislative leadership on an annual basis. I will have more on the meeting with Sen. Duff, and on our efforts to secure other legislative leaders as we move through the month of March.

A busy Tuesday kicks off at the chamber with the March edition of our KeyBank Workshop Series. This session, titled “"Hiring, Discipline and Firing: Employment Best Practices,” will be held from 8:00 to 10:00 a.m. Presented by Richard Hinton of the law firm Pullman & Comley, the discussion will focus on helping small business owners, HR personnel, and managers understand the legal issues surrounding modern hiring and firing decisions. The presentation will also cover practical steps that employers can take to minimize litigation risk, and will detail best practices for employment background checks, drug testing and medical inquiries, conducting a comprehensive application and interview process, identifying fraudulent employment and/or educational references, when to discipline and when to fire, effective preparation for termination, and the most common difficulties faced during the process. We look forward to another great session for the benefit of our members, and I thank our friends at KeyBank once again for their sponsorship of this important series.

On the chamber division front, this week features meetings of our Durham & Middlefield Division at The Red Barn in Durham on Wednesday, our Cromwell Division at Mosaic on Thursday, and our Killingworth Division at the Emergency Operations Center at the Town Hall Complex in Killingworth, also on Thursday. The chamber divisions function as sub chambers, and they allow us to stay current on the many important issues that face our members in our 13 member towns. As I have noted many times, the divisions are critical to the operation of our chamber, and we continue to appreciate our members who support these important meetings.

At lunchtime on Wednesday, I look forward to speaking to The Kiwanis Club of Middletown at its weekly meeting at Vero Cucino Rustico. Kiwanis International is a global organization of members dedicated to serving the children of the world. I appreciate the invitation from the Middletown chapter, and look forward to reconnecting with this terrific local service organization who does important work in our community.

This coming Friday, March 13, the chamber will partner with Middlesex Health on a Coronavirus Workshop at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell beginning at 8:00 a.m. This workshop will help attendees understand the facts about the virus, including how it spreads, what the symptoms are, how you can protect yourself and your family, and what Middlesex Health is doing to prepare our community. The panel will consist of Jonathan Bankoff, M.D, Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alina Filozov, D.O., Section Chief, Infectious Disease & Epidemiologist, Jodi Parisi, Infection Prevention Manager, and Jim Hite, Director, Environmental Safety & Protective Services. I thank Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece and his team for being so proactive on this front, and we look forward to a very informative discussion.

On the Member Breakfast front, excitement continues to build for our March event featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma on Monday, March 16 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies are looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. In addition to UConn’s 11 National Championships under his leadership, Geno has also won the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award eight times, and has two Olympic Gold Medals as Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. We certainly look forward to this Member Breakfast which has become a very popular event for our chamber over the course of the past few years. I again want to thank the Coach for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring this major chamber event which is sure to sell out. Immediately following the Member Breakfast Meeting, the chamber will host an important workshop titled "The Vaping Epidemic - The Truth & Consequences.” This workshop will be presented in partnership with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council. We look forward to a very productive morning on March 16 in Rocky Hill.

On the networking front, we are very much looking forward to our March Business After Work reception on Tuesday, March 31 at Saint Clements Castle in Portland. This member only event, as all of our Business After Work events do, will feature a great spread of food and drink courtesy of our host, and as we like to say, the best networking around. Saint Clements Castle is situated on over 90 beautiful acres in the great town of Portland, and we look forward to our first chamber Business After Work event at this local landmark. On behalf of the chamber, I would like to thank Peter Callan and the entire team at Saint Clements for hosting us on March 31. We look forward to a terrific evening.

Saint Patrick’s Day is almost here, spring is right behind it, and the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County.

Have a great week!

CT Business Day a chance to connect with legislators

March 2, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

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

Another busy week kicks off on Monday at the chamber office as our Executive Committee holds its March meeting. This committed group of business leaders will discuss a number of important issues to the business community including the status of regional economic development projects, upcoming events and activities, the ongoing legislative session, and much more. I continue to appreciate the support of our Chairman, Don DeVivo, and this outstanding group of strong corporate citizens. We look forward to another productive meeting.

This coming Wednesday, March 4, hundreds of business leaders, as well as our partner chambers of commerce from across the state, will converge on the state Capitol for Connecticut Business Day. This full morning of events is set to feature remarks from a variety of state government leaders, breakouts sessions, connection to your legislator events, and much more. Connecticut Business Day is another opportunity for the business community to tell state lawmakers how pending legislation impacts their ability to create jobs and grow our state’s economy. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the chamber division front, this week features meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division and our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. The Portland and East Hampton Division will meet on Wednesday at Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland. The meeting will feature State Comptroller Kevin Lembo as guest speaker who will discuss the state’s financial and economic outlook. The Chester, Deep River and Essex Division will meet on Friday at Chester Town Hall. This meeting will feature local and chamber updates, as well as remarks from Brian White, Superintendent of Schools, Regional School District 4. As I have noted many times, the chamber divisions are critical to the operation of our chamber, and we continue to appreciate our members who support these important meetings.

Immediately following the Portland and East Hampton Division meeting on Wednesday, Petzold’s Marine Center will hold their 75th Anniversary Ribbon Cutting Ceremony. Petzold’s is a longtime and active member of our chamber, and I congratulate them on 75 outstanding years in business. Petzold’s provides a wide range of boat services, from seasonal commissioning and decommissioning, winter storage, summer slips, engine repair, repowering, custom canvas, electrical installation or customization, and much more. In fact, their 14,000 sq. ft heated showroom is one of the largest in New England. We are very lucky to have Petzold’s as an anchor business in Middlesex County, and I wish their entire team nothing but the best as we move forward. Here’s to 75 more!

On Thursday morning, the chamber’s Central Business Bureau will meet at the chamber office at 8:00 a.m. This meeting will feature local city and chamber updates, as well as a visit from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and Mohawk Northeast, Inc who will discuss the rehabilitation of the Arrigoni Bridge approach spans carrying Routes 17 and 6 in Middletown and Portland. This project will take place simultaneously with the Saint John’s Square/Main Street intersection operational improvement project in Middletown. Construction activities will be completed in three separate stages in order to maintain traffic flow through the project limits while providing the contractor with adequate space to efficiently complete construction.  In each stage, Rt. 17/66 traffic will be reduced to one lane in each direction with the use of temporary precast concrete barrier (TPCB).  TPCB is expected to be in place for a maximum of 540 days. Work on St. John’s Square and Main Street consists of the geometric realignment of the intersection to improve safety and operational efficiency, as well as the addition of two turn-lanes. This information was sent to us by DOT. We look forward to welcoming our guests from CT DOT and Mohawk Northeast, Inc., and will continue to provide updates as this project progresses.

As I have repeatedly noted in the chamber column over the past few weeks, the 2020 Regular Session of the CT. General Assembly is off and running in Hartford. The chamber’s Legislative Committee hosted a very productive Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, last Friday in Cromwell. 12 members of the General Assembly joined us for an important discussion on the many issues of importance to the business community in Middlesex County. Moving forward, our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off next Monday, March 9 with Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz at the Inn at Middletown from 8:00-9:30 a.m. At this special meeting, Speaker Aresimowicz will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2020 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly. The chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to ask questions about the session, and discuss some important issues on our 2020 Public Policy Agenda. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly and Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Aresimowicz for once again speaking with our chamber members at this annual event.

On Friday, March 13, the chamber will partner with Middlesex Health on a Coronavirus Workshop at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell beginning at 8:00 a.m. This workshop will help attendees understand the facts about the virus, including how it spreads, what the symptoms are, how you can protect yourself and your family, and what Middlesex Health is doing to prepare. The panel will consist of Jonathan Bankoff, M.D, Chair, Department of Emergency Medicine, Alina Filozov, D.O., Section Chief, Infectious Disease & Epidemiologist,

Jodi Parisi, Infection Prevention Manager, and Jim Hite, Director, Environmental Safety & Protective Services. I thank Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece and his team for being so proactive on this front, and we will certainly share additional details as we get closer.

On the Member Breakfast front, excitement continues to build for our March event featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma on Monday, March 16 at the Sheraton Hartford South. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies are looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. In addition to UConn’s 11 National Championships under his leadership, Geno has also won the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award eight times, and has two Olympic Gold Medals as Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. We certainly look forward to this Member Breakfast which has become a very popular event for our chamber over the course of the past few years. I again want to thank the Coach for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring this major chamber event which is sure to sell out. Immediately following the Member Breakfast Meeting, the chamber will host an important workshop titled "The Vaping Epidemic - The Truth & Consequences.” This workshop will be presented in partnership with the City of Middletown and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council. We look forward to a very productive morning on March 16 in Rocky Hill.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column on a personal note. Later this week, a bridge carrying West Street over the rail line near the Middlefield line will be officially named for the late Middletown Fire Capt., Joe Pagano, who suffered a fatal heart attack in 2006 at the age of 52. Joe was a terrific firefighter, but much more importantly, he was an even better man. He was a former player for me during my high school football coaching days at Xavier High School, and I was certainly proud to coach him. He was dedicated to the Middletown Fire Department, to the city of Middletown, and first and foremost, to his wonderful family. I look forward to attending the ceremony and sharing a few words, and will always have fond memories of Joe.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Sheraton Hartford South Hotel hosts Business After Work

February 24, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The final week of February is another busy one in Middlesex County, and the chamber is ready to “leap” into the lucky month of March.

On the chamber division front, this week features meetings of our Westbrook Division and our East Haddam & Haddam Division. The Westbrook Division meeting will take place on Tuesday morning at Westbrook Outlets. In addition to local and chamber reports, the meeting will feature a visit from State Comptroller Kevin Lembo. The East Haddam & Haddam Division meeting will take place on Thursday morning at Franklin Academy in East Haddam, and will feature reports from a variety of local stakeholders. The chamber divisions continue to be very active and engaged throughout Middlesex County. We look forward to two more productive meetings this week, and thank our members for their support.

In addition to the Westbrook Division meeting in the morning, Tuesday also features a visit to Hartford for a lunch meeting with my fellow executives from Connecticut’s eight metro chambers of commerce. 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. The ongoing legislative session in Hartford is sure to be an important topic of discussion. I look forward to seeing my colleagues again, and continuing these important discussions.

Tuesday evening features our February Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill from 5:00-7:00 p.m. As always, the event will feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests along with outstanding networking opportunities. I want to once again thank Sheraton General Manager Anthony Baxter, Director of Sales and Marketing Gina Molde, Senior Business Travel Sales Manager Ken Gribbon, Executive Chef Jim Oswald, Catering Sales Manager Katie Gonzalez, and their entire team for hosting this event. We look forward to a great evening at this outstanding local facility.

This Wednesday, the chamber’s Distinguished Citizen Committee will meet at the chamber office to select the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Citizen Award. Each year at the chamber’s Annual Dinner, a special award is presented to one or more individuals who have demonstrated outstanding and unselfish service to the community. The committee is comprised of previous recipients of this award. I look forward to seeing them all, and thank them for their continued service to our community.

As I have noted many times, the chamber is very fortunate to have an active and engaged Legislative Committee which is led by Co-Chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook. Our 2020 Legislative Breakfast is scheduled for this Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. Sponsored by Comcast, the 2020 Legislative Breakfast will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. This breakfast represents a great opportunity, on an annual basis, for our members to network with these important elected leaders that represent our region. I would like to thank our delegation for not only attending the event, but for their service to our state. Finally, I thank Comcast for its great support of this important event, and of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. The chamber will continue to stay engaged throughout this legislative session.

On the Member Breakfast front, I would like to remind members and other interested parties that the chamber’s March event featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill is scheduled for Monday, March 16. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies are looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. In addition to UConn’s 11 National Championships under his leadership, Geno has also won the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award eight times, and has two Olympic Gold Medals as Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. We certainly look forward to this Member Breakfast which has become a very popular event for our chamber over the course of the past few years. I again want to thank the Coach for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring this major chamber event. Go Huskies!

Before closing, I would like to congratulate Middlesex Hospital, a part of Middlesex Health, which recently earned the Healthgrades 2020 America’s 100 Best Hospitals Award, the only hospital in Connecticut to receive such an honor. The distinction places Middlesex in the top 2 percent of nearly 4,500 hospitals assessed nationwide for its consistent, year-over-year superior clinical performance as measured by Healthgrades, a resource that connects consumers, physicians and health systems. This information is from a recent media release about the award. I have noted many times over the years that Middletown and Middlesex County are extremely lucky to have Middlesex Health as a key stakeholder in our region. They consistently provide outstanding medical care, and support a variety of community causes on an annual basis. I would like to congratulate President and CEO, and past chamber Chairman, Vin Capece, and his entire team, on this incredible achievement.

In closing, I want to make everyone aware that Connecticut Department of Transportation recently announced the start of construction for the rehabilitation of the Arrigoni Bridge approach spans carrying Routes 17 and 66 in Middletown and Portland. This project will take place simultaneously with the Saint John’s Square/Main Street intersection operational improvement project in Middletown. Construction is set to begin on or about February 27, 2020. Construction activities will be completed in three separate stages in order to maintain traffic flow through the project limits while providing the contractor with adequate space to efficiently complete construction. Chamber VP Jeff Pugliese and I recently attended a meeting with the Department of Transportation and the contractor on the project, Mohawk Northeast, Inc. We will stay in constant communication with the department and the contractor throughout the duration of this process. As you may recall, the chamber established an Arrigoni Bridge Committee during previous construction projects on or near the bridge. This committee is comprised of chamber staff, and local municipal representatives from Middletown, Cromwell and Portland including Police, Fire, and Emergency Management personnel. Representatives from Middlesex Health, Community Health Center, and other local key stakeholders will also be involved. The Arrigoni Bridge Committee will once again be tasked with minimizing the impact of the construction, and making sure that emergency personnel, tow trucks, and other critical vehicles can access the construction zones at all times. We will certainly keep everyone updated through this column and through other means as the project moves forward, but we all need to be prepared for this work to continue for the next two years. Any questions or concerns can be directed to the chamber office.

Have a great week, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

LEAD CT cultivates area’s emerging leaders

February 17, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

February is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Tuesday morning features the second session of one of our newest initiatives, LEAD CT, at the chamber office in Middletown. As I mentioned last month, LEAD CT, which focuses on leadership, empowerment and development, is a year-long Leadership Program that is presented in partnership with Dale Carnegie. The LEAD CT steering committee’s main strategic focus is to identify, cultivate and develop the region’s emerging leaders. The goals of this program are to provide both personal and professional training, to develop peer to peer focus groups, and to introduce or further develop a variety of critical skills. We are excited to be partnering with Dale Carnegie and its leadership model, and we look forward to using it as another strategic way to support the regional business community. I would like to once again thank our LEAD CT Steering Committee, Michael Francoeur from Dale Carnegie who is leading the training, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond for making this important initiate a reality in Middlesex County.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, Vice Chairman Tom Byrne, and CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele at a Grand Re-Opening celebration for Kelly Family Orthodontics on Wednesday morning at their outstanding new Middletown office on Saybrook Road. Kelly Family Orthodontics relies on their dedicated and competent team to deliver critical orthodontic services from their two regional locations in Middletown and in Cromwell. I congratulate Drs. Michael and Gillian Kelly, Dr. Jeffrey Bert, and their entire team on the new office and on the continued growth of the business. We wish them the best in 2020 and beyond.

Back to the chamber calendar for a moment, our Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network (WLCN) will hold a networking and plant night event at One MacDonough Place on Wednesday evening. Attendees will hear from Jillian Shea, Founder of PlantHer Garden Coaching, who will share her story of professional transition from a career in farming to starting her own business. I would like to thank One MacDonough Place for hosting this chamber group and for its continued good work in our community.

On the workforce development front, I look forward to attending a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee which is scheduled for Thursday morning in New Haven. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. They serve the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

The main event of the week is the chamber’s Board of Directors meeting on Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Middletown Elks Lodge. The chamber’s board is a dynamic group of businesspeople that represents every corner of our region and every industry sector in our economy. This important meeting is hosted by Pratt & Whitney, and we continue to appreciate their support of our camber, and of countless community initiatives. We look forward to a productive meeting which will be led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo, who is doing a great job in this important leadership position for our chamber.

On Thursday evening, our Golf Committee, which meets throughout the year to plan and execute the chamber’s annual sold out Golf Tournament, will meet at Luce Restaurant in downtown Middletown. This year’s chamber Golf Tournament is scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. I will have much more on this major chamber event as we get closer, but we certainly look forward to the sun shining on Middlefield in mid-May.

The week wraps up on Friday morning at the chamber office with a meeting of the MCSAAC Advisory Board at the chamber office. Established in 1991, MCSAAC is a council of the Business Industry Foundation of Middlesex County, a 501(c)3 nonprofit founded by the chamber. MCSAAC’s purpose is to reduce the abuse of alcohol and drugs in Middlesex County and the surrounding areas. Board President Tony Salvatore, past chamber Chairman Harry Burr and others, do a great job traveling around the county pushing this critically important message and engaging with the employer community. I look forward to another productive meeting of the Advisory Board on Friday morning and thank all the members for their continued support.

Looking ahead to next week, on Tuesday, Feb. 25, join the chamber staff and fellow chamber members for our monthly Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. This Business After Work, as all of these events do, will feature a terrific spread of food and drink and as we like to say, the best networking around. We thank the entire staff at the Sheraton for having us at this great annual event. I will have more on the Business After work in next week’s column.

As you may have heard, the 2020 Regular Session of the CT. General Assembly recently kicked off in the capital city of Hartford. Our 2020 Legislative Breakfast is scheduled for next Friday, Feb. 28, at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 8:00-9:30 a.m. The Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. Chamber members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the legislators about the important 2020 legislative session and other issues facing the business community in Middlesex County. We look forward to a very productive discussion, and thank Comcast, our legislative delegation, and our Legislative Committee for making this important event happen. Sticking with the legislative theme for a moment, the first installment of our Legislative Leadership Series is scheduled for Monday, March 9, 2020 at the Inn at Middletown. We look forward to welcoming Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz back to Middletown for his final appearance at this event during his speakership. This event is sponsored by Updike, Kelly and Spellacy, P.C. Other meetings of the leadership series are currently being scheduled and we will share those dates very soon. The chamber’s Legislative Committee will continue to stay active and engaged throughout this important session.

In closing, I want to remind members and other interested parties that the chamber’s March Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill is scheduled for Monday, March 16. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies are looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. In addition to UConn’s 11 National Championships under his leadership, Geno has also won the Naismith College Coach of the Year Award eight times, and has two Olympic Gold Medals as Head Coach of the U.S. Women’s National Team. We certainly look forward to this Member Breakfast which has become a very popular event for our chamber over the course of the past few years. I again want to thank the Coach for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring this major chamber event. Go Huskies!

The calendar still reads winter, but the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County. Have a great week!

Important Middlesex Chamber division meetings this week

February 10, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

February is rolling right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week, as all chamber weeks do, features a number of important meetings and activities throughout our region. This Tuesday, Feb. 11, beginning at 8:00 a.m., the chamber will host a KeyBank sponsored workshop on The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at our Main Street office. Presented by Lauren Middleton of Forest City Marketing, the workshop will explore best practices for refining a website, both on-page and off-page, so that it appears, or “ranks,” at the top of search engines for specific keywords. When done right, SEO will give your business valuable online visibility. More information on this workshop and the entire KeyBank Workshop Series can be found on www.middlesexchamber.com. We look forward to another productive session for our members.

Wednesday morning includes two important meetings, one of our Durham and Middlefield Division, and another of our Business and Education Advisory Council. The division meeting, to be held at the CT Forest and Park Association offices in Middlefield, will feature a presentation from the Durham Middlefield Local Wellness Coalition. The Business and Education Partnership meeting is actually a Breakfast Meeting hosted at Middlesex Community College. The focus will be the continuing education programs available at MxCC including the Skill Up for Manufacturing Program which provides short-term training that leads to national or state certification and employment in the workforce. We look forward to a productive visit to campus where our members will network with current students, graduates, and faculty members. On Thursday morning, the very active Cromwell Division will meet at Cromwell High School, and our Killingworth Division will meet at Killingworth Animal Hospital. The week closes on Friday with a meeting of our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division at the outstanding Riverwind Inn in Deep River. As you can see, the chamber divisions continue to be very active on a number of fronts throughout our region.

Looking ahead, members and other interested parties should save the dates for a number of upcoming, and important, meetings and events.

On Tuesday, Feb. 25, join the chamber staff and fellow chamber members for our monthly Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. This Business After Work, as all of these events do, will feature a terrific spread of food and drink and as we like to say, the best networking around. We thank the entire staff at the Sheraton for having us at this great annual event.

On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the chamber’s Distinguished Citizen Committee will meet at the chamber office to select the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Citizen Award. Each year at the chamber’s Annual Dinner, a special award is presented to one or more individuals who have demonstrated outstanding and unselfish service to the community. Candidates must live or work in Middlesex County, must be at least 21 years old, must be recognized as having been an inspiration to others, and must be generally recognized as having unselfishly given his or her time and talent to produce a lasting benefit to the area. The committee is comprised of previous recipients of this award. If you wish to submit a nomination, please contact the chamber office.

Our 2020 Legislative Breakfast is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 8:00-9:30 a.m. The Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. Chamber members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the legislators about the important 2020 legislative session and other issues facing the business community in Middlesex County. We look forward to a very productive discussion, and thank Comcast, our legislative delegation, and our Legislative Committee for making this important event happen.

Sticking with the legislative theme for a moment, the first installment of our Legislative Leadership Series is scheduled for Monday, March 9, 2020 at the Inn at Middletown. We look forward to welcoming Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz back to Middletown for his final appearance at this event during his speakership. This event is sponsored by Updike, Kelly and Spellacy, P.C. Other meetings of the leadership series are currently being scheduled and we will share those dates very soon.

Excitement continues to build for our March Member Breakfast Meeting on Monday, March 16, featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. This event, which sells out every year, will be held at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. By that time, Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies will be looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. I will have much more as we get closer, but be sure to register now for this great event in Rocky Hill which will definitely sell out.

I want to share one more date before closing this week’s column on a real positive note. Our Golf Committee, which meets throughout the year and helps to plan and execute the chamber’s annual Golf Tournament, is scheduled to meet on Thursday, February 20. The group will continue its planning for this year’s chamber Golf Tournament which is scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. I will have much more on this major chamber event as we get closer, but we certainly look forward to the sun shining on Middlefield in mid-May.

In closing, I would like to congratulate chamber Vice Chairman, and our longtime friend and supporter, Tom Byrne, who was honored with St. Vincent dePaul’s Distinguished Business Award at their Open Your Heart event which was held last Thursday evening. Tom is the owner of Connecticut Rental Center which is an outstanding local business and true community partner. I thank him for his continued support of our organization, and of many other community initiatives. Other chamber supporters that were honored at the event include Sue Murphy from the Liberty Bank Foundation who was presented with the Corporate Support Award, and Catherine Rees of Middlesex Health who was honored with the Leadership Award. We congratulate them all. Finally, I would like to acknowledge our friend Albert Hamrah who recently celebrated his 92nd birthday. Albert is the best, and he continues to make us all laugh every day. Cheers to the man who makes the sun shine brighter in Middlesex County.

Job fair to help those affected by Red Lion closure

February 3, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

February is upon us in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy week kicks off on Monday at the chamber office as our Executive Committee gets together for its February meeting. The group will meet to discuss a number of important issues including regional projects, the upcoming legislative session, workforce development, and much more. I continue to appreciate the support of our Chairman, Don DeVivo, and this outstanding group of business leaders and strong corporate citizens. We look forward to another productive meeting.

On Wednesday morning, our Portland and East Hampton Division will hold its February meeting at Disaster Restoration Services (DRS) in Portland, and our Environment and Infrastructure Committee will meet at the chamber office at 8:00 a.m. Thursday morning features the latest meeting of our Central Business Bureau (CBB) which brings together the downtown business community and key city figures on a monthly basis. We look forward to reports from Mayor Florsheim, city directors, and other local stakeholders.

On the workforce development front, the chamber looks forward to partnering with Workforce Alliance, the Department of Labor and the Town of Cromwell on a “Pop Up” Job Fair for the displaced employees of the Red Lion Hotel in Cromwell which recently closed. The event will be held on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020 in the Arch Room of Cromwell Town Hall, 41 West Street, Cromwell, CT 06416, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. The job fair will feature employers from many sectors, but most notably from the hospitality sector. We were very disappointed in the closure of the Red Lion. We are happy to be working with Workforce Alliance, DOL, State Sen. Matt Lesser, State Rep. Christie Carpino, and the Town of Cromwell to assist the displaced employees as they seek new employment. We wish them nothing but the best, and look forward to being a resource for them during this difficult time.

The busy chamber week wraps up on Friday morning with our February Member Breakfast Meeting at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. The event will feature as keynote speaker, the Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Kaman Corporation, Neal J. Keating. In his role, Neal provides leadership for the business which serves the global defense, commercial aerospace, and industrial markets. Kaman is a major global company which conducts business in over 50 countries throughout the world and has over 3000 employees. They also have a presence in Middletown through Kaman Fuzing & Precision Products on Smith Street. We have asked Neal to provide us with an overview of Kaman and its products, along with his thoughts on the state of manufacturing in Connecticut and beyond as we begin a new year. Immediately following the member breakfast will be a Procurement Workshop titled, “Doing Business with Kaman.” This session will outline the global Kaman Corporation procurement opportunities for supply chain companies, and will provide you with the opportunity to network with Kaman leadership and learn more about how your company can work with Kaman in 2020 and beyond. Kaman is also the sponsor of this important chamber event, and I would like to thank Neal and his team for their support of this, and of so many community initiatives. I would also like to thank U.S. Department of Commerce International Trade Administration Director Anne Evans and her team for their strong support of this event and of our chamber. Anne was instrumental in getting Neal to speak at the event and we appreciate it very much. Their team of three, based in Middletown, is a truly professional group, and we are fortunate to have them based in our community.

A quick note on next week, on Tuesday, Feb. 11, beginning at 8:00 a.m., the chamber will host a KeyBank sponsored workshop on The Fundamentals of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) at our Main Street office. Presented by Lauren Middleton of Forest City Marketing, the workshop will provide you and your business with the practice of refining aspects of a website–both on-page and off-page–so that it appears, or “ranks,” at the top of search engines for specific keywords. When done right, SEO will give your business valuable online visibility. More information on this workshop and the entire KeyBank Workshop Series can be found on www.middlesexchamber.com.

Looking ahead, members and other interested parties should save the dates for a number of upcoming, and important, meetings and events. On Tuesday, Feb. 25, join the chamber staff and fellow chamber members for our monthly Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. This Business After Work, as all of these events do, will feature a terrific spread of food and drink and as we like to say, the best networking around. We thank the entire staff at the Sheraton for having us at this great annual event. On Wednesday, Feb. 26, the chamber’s Distinguished Citizen Committee will meet at the chamber office to select the recipients of the 2020 Distinguished Citizen Award. Each year at the chamber’s Annual Dinner, a special award is presented to one or more members of the business community who have demonstrated outstanding and unselfish service to the community. Candidates must live or work in Middlesex County, must be at least 21 years old, must be recognized as having been an inspiration to others, and must be generally recognized as having unselfishly given his or her time and talent to produce a lasting benefit to the area. The committee is comprised of previous recipients of this award. I look forward to seeing them all and thank them for their continued service to our community. If you wish to submit a nomination, please contact the chamber office. Our 2020 Legislative Breakfast is scheduled for Friday, Feb. 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 8:00-9:30 a.m. The Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. Chamber members will have the opportunity to ask questions of the legislators about the important 2020 legislative session and other issues facing the business community in Middlesex County. We look forward to a very productive discussion, and thank Comcast, our legislative delegation, and our Legislative Committee for making this important event happen. Finally, excitement continues to build for our March Member Breakfast Meeting on Monday, March 16 featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma. This event, which sells out every year, will be held at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. By that time, Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies will be looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. I will have much more as we get closer, but be sure to register now for this great event in Rocky Hill.

While the calendar is packed, and optimism remains high, I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Donald Bidwell Sr. at the age of 89. Don was a close friend and mentor to me, and to many others in this community and beyond. Words cannot express the appreciation and respect I have for him, and for all that he has done for our region. He was the CEO and owner of Bidwell Industrial Group, Inc. in Middletown, and was always a strong supporter of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. However, his support of community organizations did not end with us. Don served on the boards of the Environics Inc., Castle Bank, Liberty Bank, The Lyman Farm, Middlesex Hospital, Junior Achievement, The Middletown Foundation of the Arts, YMCA of Northern Middlesex County, and the Middlesex United Way. He was honored by numerous organizations for his work and his citizenship. We were proud to present him with the chamber’s Distinguished Citizen Award in 1992, an honor very well deserved. Don also served in the United States Army, service for which we are all grateful. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of 65 years, Helen, his children, Michael and Donnie, his grandchildren, and all of his family and friends at this difficult time. Don led a distinguished career and life, and he will be missed by many.

Business events of interest abound this week

January 27, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

January turns to February this week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy week kicks off on Monday with a Grand Opening Celebration for MC Barber Academy at 346 Main Street in Middletown. MC Barber is a brand-new barber academy, barbershop and store in the heart of downtown. We wish the entire MC Barber team nothing but the best as they expand their reach into Middletown. I look forward to joining Mayor Florsheim, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo and Vice Chairman Tom Byrne, and other friends and supporters for the occasion.

On the chamber division front, our Westbrook Division looks forward to its January meeting which is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the Water’s Edge Resort and Spa. The Westbrook Division continues to be very active, and is a key component of our shoreline-based activities. The chamber’s February division meetings kick off next week in Portland and in Middletown. As I have noted many times, our divisions continue to be a critical piece of our organizational structure.

On Tuesday afternoon, I look forward to a meeting in Hartford with my fellow executives from Connecticut’s eight Metro Chambers of Commerce which collectively represent thousands of businesses in our state. These meetings always feature productive discussions about collaboration, and joint advocacy for the business community. I am sure that the upcoming legislative session will be a hot topic at this important meeting. I look forward to another productive gathering.

Moving to later in the week, I look forward to joining fellow members of the chamber staff at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam for the Middlesex United Way Annual Meeting. The following individuals and organizations will be honored with the United Way’s prestigious awards at the event: Matt Stillman with the Community Service Award, Michael Conner with the Community Leadership Award, Child and Family Agency of Southeastern CT with the Community Impact Award, Laura Pedersen with the Tocqueville Society Philanthropy Award, and Eric Kane with the Justin Wilkie Next Generation Award. We look forward to celebrating all of these esteemed individuals on Thursday morning in Haddam, and thank Kevin Wilhelm and his team for their continued partnership with our chamber.

On Thursday evening, I will attend the Middletown Unified Theatre show at Middletown High School. I look forward to seeing all of the performers, but especially my friend Tony Petruzzello who along with everyone involved, has put so much passion and energy into the production. I wish them all the best for a successful run of shows that stretches into the weekend.

Looking ahead to February, our next Member Breakfast Meeting will take place on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. The event will feature as keynote speaker, the Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Kaman Corporation, Neal J. Keating. In his role, Neal provides leadership for the business which serves the global defense, commercial aerospace, and industrial markets. Kaman is a major global company which conducts business in over 50 countries throughout the world and has over 3000 employees. They also have a strong presence in Middletown through Kaman Fuzing & Precision Products on Smith Street. We have asked Neal to provide us with an overview of Kaman and its products, along with his thoughts on the state of manufacturing in Connecticut and beyond as we begin a new year. Immediately following the member breakfast will be a Procurement Workshop titled, Doing Business with Kaman. This session will outline the global Kaman Corporation procurement opportunities for supply chain companies. We look forward to a very productive morning in Rocky Hill on Feb. 7, and I would like to once again thank Neal and his team for their support of this, and of so many community initiatives.

Before closing, I would like to take a moment to encourage our members and other interested parties to save the dates for our February Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill on Tuesday, February 25, our 2020 Legislative Breakfast on Friday, February 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, and our Member Breakfast Meeting with UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma on Monday, March 16, also at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel. As always, the Business After Work event will feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests along with outstanding networking opportunities, the Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives, and the Member Breakfast Meeting will feature the Coach at his best. I will have much more on these important events in upcoming editions of the chamber column, but again, please save the dates.

I’m afraid I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Rachel Coleman, a longtime friend to the chamber and to many people in our community. Rachel did amazing work, along with her family, through Coleman Brothers Shows which entertained countless people for many, many years. In fact, the Coleman Brothers Shows Carnival has been a staple in Middletown for over 100 years. Rachel was truly a special person, and our thoughts and prayers are with her vast network of family and friends at this difficult time. We also recently learned of the passing of Mike Waller, another local staple and longtime and committed member of the Lyman Farm team. I will have more on Mike’s passing in the coming weeks, but our thoughts are with his family as well at this difficult time.

Middletown Sports Hall of Fame induction dinner this week

January 20, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

This week, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Middlesex County and throughout our great country. MLK Day is a special day, one that celebrates not only his birthday, but the huge impact that the civil rights leader had on the United States of America. There are many celebrations around Middlesex County this week that will honor Dr. King’s life and legacy. I am proud that chamber Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Marshall will represent our organization at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Scholarship Committee of Greater Middletown event on Monday afternoon at South Congregational Church in Middletown. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce also has a longtime and enduring partnership with the Middlesex County Chapter of the NAACP which we appreciate very much. I would like to take a moment to recognize all of those who volunteer their time in the service of others. We are all in this together, and it is in that spirit that we honor Dr. King’s legacy.

The upcoming chamber week is another busy one for our entire team.

Our latest initiative, LEAD CT, kicks off this Tuesday at the chamber office with its opening session. LEAD CT, which focuses on leadership, empowerment and development, is a year-long Leadership Program that is presented in partnership with Dale Carnegie. The LEAD CT steering committee’s main strategic focus is to identify, cultivate and develop the region’s emerging leaders. The goals of this program are to provide both personal and professional training, to develop peer to peer focus groups, and to introduce or further develop a variety of critical skills. We are excited to be partnering with Dale Carnegie and its leadership model, and look forward to rolling it out to the regional business community. In addition to our first session that begins on Tuesday, we already have a waiting list for the second session which begins in July. I would like to once again thank our LEAD CT Steering Committee, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, for making this important initiate a reality in Middlesex County.

On the chamber division front, we look forward to a special meeting of our Killingworth Division on Wednesday night at the Congregational Church on CT- 81. The meeting is sponsored by the HOPE Partnership, and members of their Education and Advocacy Sub-Committee will be on hand to provide an informative presentation to our group. HOPE Partnership is committed to raising awareness on issues surrounding affordable housing in our region. I thank them for their support of this meeting, and for their good work in the community.

Thursday morning features a visit to New Haven for a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. They serve the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

While I am in New Haven for the workforce meeting, members of the chamber team will be in Haddam for the February meeting of the chamber’s Haddam and East Haddam Division. As I have noted many times, the chamber divisions continue to play a critical role in our organization, and I know our members look forward to another productive meeting on Thursday morning.

A busy Thursday wraps up in the evening with the 27th Annual Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner at the Elks Lodge in Middletown. I want to take a moment to congratulate the following individuals and teams who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Thursday evening: Chris Brown, Mike Fiala, Jim Foley, Hal Guy, Sandy Hoffman, Tony Pulino, Marty Ryczek, Frank Shekosky, Maggie Smith, Amari Spievey, the undefeated 1969 Wesleyan University football team, and the 1980 Xavier High School baseball team. All of these fine individuals and teams deserve this high honor, and I look forward to celebrating their achievements at the induction dinner on Thursday night.

On Friday afternoon, I look forward to attending the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE) event at the Inn at Middletown. The meeting will feature a preview of the 2020 legislative session, along with an update on the planning for Connecticut Business Day which is scheduled for early March. CACCE continues to play an important role through its work to connect chambers from around the state. I look forward to seeing a number of colleagues and friends and thank them for coming to Middletown.

Looking ahead to February, our next Member Breakfast Meeting will take place on Friday, Feb. 7, 2020 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. The event will feature as keynote speaker, the Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Kaman Corporation, Neal J. Keating. In his role, Neal provides leadership for the business which serves the global defense, commercial aerospace, and industrial markets. Kaman is a major global company which conducts business in over 50 countries throughout the world and has over 3000 employees. They also have a strong presence in Middletown through Kaman Fuzing & Precision Products on Smith Street. We have asked Neal to provide us with an overview of Kaman and its products, along with his thoughts on the state of manufacturing in Connecticut and beyond as we begin a new year. Immediately following the member breakfast will be a Procurement Workshop titled, Doing Business with Kaman. This session will outline the global Kaman Corporation procurement opportunities for supply chain companies. We look forward to a very productive morning in Rocky Hill on Feb. 7, and I would like to once again thank Neal and his team for their support of this, and of so many community initiatives.

In closing, I would like to take a moment to encourage our members and other interested parties to save the dates for our February Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill on Tuesday, February 25, and our 2020 Legislative Breakfast on Friday, February 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. As always, the Business After Work event will feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests along with outstanding networking opportunities, and the Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. I will have much more on these important events as we get closer.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County. Have a great week!

Welcome to Restaurant Week

January 13, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Welcome to Restaurant Week!

Taste of Middlesex County, brought to you by Comcast Business, is scheduled from January 13 through January 19 at many of the delicious dining locations in our wonderful region. From the beautiful shores of Westbrook to the home of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, there is something for everyone. Restaurants offer a pre-fixed menu to give diners the opportunity to experience the area’s fine dining landscape without breaking the bank. This year, there will be two dining options both with a prix fixe 3-course meal, one for $20.20, and the other for $30.20 (does not include beverages, tax or gratuity). I want to once again thank Comcast Business for its strong support of Taste of Middlesex County which is an exciting week for our chamber and for our region. Please be sure to visit one or more of our participating restaurants throughout the region. The list includes: Baci Grill and Mizzu Asian Bistro & Hibachi in Cromwell, Red House in Deep River, On the Rocks at Fox Hopyard and The Gelston House in East Haddam, Ratatouille Bistro & Creperie in East Hampton, The Griswold Inn and Scotch Plains Tavern in Essex, Fire at the Ridge and Ridgeside Tavern in Middlefield, Eli Cannon's Tap Room, El Pulpo & Tapas Bar, Esca Restaurant & Wine Bar, Herd Restaurant, La Boca Mexican Restaurant, Stella D'oro, Tavern at the Armory at Inn at Middletown, and Vero Cucino Rustico in Middletown, and Water's Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook. Please visit the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber’s website which has all of the information on participating restaurants and their excellent menu options. Bon Appetit!

Another highlight of the week is the first KeyBank Workshop Series session of the new year, which is scheduled for Tuesday morning at the chamber office. The topic of the training, which is of critical importance, is sexual harassment prevention. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will all be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company's exposure to very damaging charges of sexual harassment. This session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers which were expanded greatly during the last legislative session. All employers with three or more employees must get all of their employees trained in sexual harassment prevention. Please contact the chamber for registration information for the two sessions on Tuesday morning, the first at 8:00 a.m., and the follow up at 10:15 a.m. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative.  The sexual harassment prevention training in January will be followed up by sessions on search engine optimization in February, and best practices surrounding hiring and firing in March. I encourage all of our members to take advantage of these terrific, and in some cases required, training sessions.

In addition to Taste of Middlesex and the Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, this week also features other important chamber meetings at different points throughout Middlesex County. The first Durham and Middlefield Division meeting of 2020 is scheduled for Wednesday morning at Torrison Stone and Garden in Durham, and on Thursday morning, the very active Cromwell Division will meet at the Courtyard by Marriott. Later on Thursday, the chamber’s Board of Directors will hold its January meeting at Baci Grill in Cromwell from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. This board luncheon is sponsored by Eversource. Our Board of Directors is made up of outstanding business people from a variety of different industry sectors and from throughout Middlesex County. Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo will lead what will certainly be a very productive meeting on Thursday afternoon in Cromwell. A busy Thursday wraps up in the evening at Luce Restaurant in Middletown for a meeting of the chamber’s Golf Committee. Our Golf Committee meets throughout the year and helps to plan and execute the chamber’s annual Golf Tournament, one of our largest events. This year’s event, which will sell out once again, is scheduled for Friday, May 15, 2020 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. I will have much more on this major chamber event as we get closer, but we certainly look forward to the sun shining on Middlefield in mid-May.

On the Grand Opening front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, Immediate Past Chairman Jay Polke, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and local municipal officials from the Town of Cromwell at a Ribbon Cutting celebration for Arbor Meadows, a By Carrier housing development which features 75 beautiful single-family homes. Cromwell has experienced a lot of exciting development activity in recent years, and we look forward to seeing that continue in 2020. Before moving off of grand openings, I want to note that I enjoyed the event celebrating the opening of My Honey’s Sweeter Boutique on William Street in Middletown which was held last Friday. We certainly wish their entire team nothing but the best as they embark on this exciting new journey in our community.

In closing, I am excited to announce that the next chamber Member Breakfast Meeting has been scheduled for Friday, Feb. 7, 2020. The event will feature as keynote speaker, the Chairman, President & Chief Executive Officer of Kaman Corporation, Neal J. Keating. In his role, Neal provides leadership for the business which serves the global defense, commercial aerospace, and industrial markets. Kaman is a major global company which conducts business in over 50 countries throughout the world and has over 3000 employees. They also have a presence in Middletown through Kaman Fuzing & Precision Products on Smith Street. We have asked Neal to provide us with an overview of Kaman and its products, along with his thoughts on the state of manufacturing in Connecticut and beyond as we begin a new year. We are also planning a manufacturing roundtable immediately following the event and look forward to that as well. Kaman is also the sponsor of this important chamber event, and I would like to thank Neal and his team for their support of this, and of so many community initiatives.

It may be cold outside, but the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County. Have a great week!

Taste of Middlesex County Coming Up!

January 6, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

2020 is off and running, and the chamber team is on the move.

The first full week of the year is a busy one with a number of important meetings being held at different sites throughout the county. The week kicks off on Monday with a meeting of our Executive Committee beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the chamber office. Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo will lead the meeting which will cover a variety of important topics that affect the business community in our region. On Wednesday, the Portland and East Hampton Division will hold its January meeting at Fox on the Green in Portland, Thursday features the first Central Business Bureau meeting of the year at the chamber office, and Friday morning features meetings of the Chester, Deep River and Essex Division at Tri Town Youth Services in Deep River and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) at the chamber office. As you can see, we are truly off and running.

The highlight of the week is Wednesday evening, Jan. 8, when the chamber’s first Business After Work networking reception of the year will be held at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort in Middlefield. In addition to the best networking around, this event will feature free beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, and a great spread of food courtesy of Sean Hayes and his team. I thank Sean not only for hosting this event, but for his commitment to Middlefield, to Portland through Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This exciting Business After Work event will also serve as the official kick off of the fifth annual "Taste of Middlesex County" Restaurant Week, brought to you by Comcast Business, which is back by popular demand in 2020. Immediately prior to the BAW, a “Restaurant Showdown” will take place featuring a number of our participating restaurants. Taste of Middlesex County is scheduled for January 13-19 at delicious dining locations throughout our region. The goal of this initiative is to highlight the numerous and diverse dining experiences within the greater Middlesex region. From the beautiful shores of Westbrook to the home of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, there is something for everyone. Restaurants offer a pre-fixed menu to give diners the opportunity to experience the area’s fine dining landscape without breaking the bank. This year, there will be two dining options both with a prix fixe 3-course meal, one for $20.20, and the other for $30.20 (does not include beverages, tax or gratuity). I want to once again thank Comcast Business for its strong support of Taste of Middlesex County which is an exciting week for our chamber and for our region. Please visit the chamber’s website for a list of participating restaurants for the Taste. We will be sure to keep everyone updated in the chamber column and through other promotional means. Bon Appetit!

On the Grand Opening front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, and CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele at Stella D’Oro on Court Street in Middletown for a Ribbon Cutting celebration scheduled for Friday afternoon. We look forward to welcoming their entire team to the Middlesex business community, and wish them nothing but the best as we move forward.

Switching gears a bit, I am happy to report that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series in the new year. Our first session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the chamber office. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company's exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative.  The sexual harassment prevention training in January will be followed up by sessions on search engine optimization in February, and best practices surrounding hiring and firing in March.

As I noted last week, two important chamber dates that should definitely be saved include our February Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill on Tuesday, February 25, and our 2020 Legislative Breakfast on Friday, February 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. As always, the Business After Work event will feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests along with outstanding networking opportunities, and the Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. I will have much more on these important events as we get closer.

While all of this brings great excitement for 2020, I must again close the chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Peter DeRita at the age of 74. Pete DeRita was an amazing man. A true patriot and American hero, he served with honor and distinction in the U.S. Army with service in the 4th Infantry Division A. Company 1st of the Eight in Vietnam. Peter saw some of the most intense fighting of the entire conflict, and along with his fellow veterans, deserves our unending appreciation and respect. In addition to his incredible military service, he led an excellent career in business and was a committed citizen of Middletown for many years. A Founder of DeRita Construction Company, Peter led a number of signature projects in our area including the development of many of the athletic fields that we have all come to love, along with numerous road projects around the state. He was a longtime member of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce which I will always appreciate, but much more than that, I appreciate his friendship. Finally, he was a longtime youth coach of football, basketball and baseball in a variety of leagues in Middletown and in Old Saybrook, and supported a host of community organizations along the way including Xavier High School which honored him with induction into its Hall of Honors. Peter was always giving back to the community that he loved. Above all of this however, he was devoted to his family, first and foremost. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Gerry, his four sons and their wives Peter DeRita Jr. and Susan DeRita, David and Donna DeRita, Gregory and Jessica DeRita, and Brian and Sarah DeRita, his 13 beloved grandchildren, and his entire family at this difficult time. We are grateful for Peter’s service and his life, and he will be missed by many.

Happy New Year Middlesex County!

December 30, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

Happy New Year, Middlesex County.

Now that 2019 has come to an end and 2020 is upon us, I would like to wish everyone in Middlesex County and throughout the great State of Connecticut a very Happy New Year. The beginning of a new year always brings optimism and the chance for a fresh start. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce is excited about the year ahead. We look forward to continuing our work on behalf of the business community in Middlesex County on a number of fronts. We will continue to develop our divisions and committees so that members can engage with state and local officials and address issues of importance to their region or their industry sector. We will continue to host large scale Member Breakfast Meetings with terrific speakers, and outstanding networking events that benefit our members. We will continue to reach out to non-member businesses and organizations and invite them to come aboard. We will continue to implement vital workforce development and educational training programs that are helping to develop the community and create and retain jobs. We will continue to develop an innovation eco-system in Middletown and throughout Middlesex County. Finally, we will expand on our efforts to promote Middlesex County and as a key tourism hub in the northeast, and will work with manufacturers and our educational institutions to develop what is a critical workforce pipeline. I am very optimistic about 2020, and you can bet that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will be on the move in the new year.

The new year gets off to a fast start in the month of January starting with next Wednesday evening, Jan. 8, when the chamber’s first Business After Work networking reception of the year will be held at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort in Middlefield. In addition to the best networking around, this event will feature free beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, and a great spread of food courtesy of Sean Hayes and his team. I thank Sean not only for hosting this event for our chamber, but for his commitment to Middlefield, to Portland through Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This exciting Business After Work event will also serve as the official kick off of the fifth annual "Taste of Middlesex County" Restaurant Week, brought to you by Comcast Business, which is back by popular demand in 2020. Immediately prior to the BAW, a “Restaurant Showdown” will take place featuring a number of our participating restaurants. Taste of Middlesex County is scheduled for January 13-19 at delicious dining locations throughout our region. The goal of this initiative is to highlight the numerous and diverse dining experiences within the greater Middlesex region. From the beautiful shores of Westbrook to the home of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, there is something for everyone. Restaurants offer a pre-fixed menu to give diners the opportunity to experience the area’s fine dining landscape without breaking the bank. This year, there will be two dining options both with a prix fixe 3-course meal, one for $20.20, and the other for $30.20 (does not include beverages, tax or gratuity). I want to once again thank Comcast Business for its strong support of Taste of Middlesex County which is an exciting week for our chamber and for our region. Please visit the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber’s website for a list of participating restaurants for the taste. We will be sure to keep everyone updated in the chamber column and through other promotional means. Bon Appetit!

Switching gears a bit, I am happy to report that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series in the new year. Our first session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the chamber office. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company's exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative. The sexual harassment prevention training in January will be followed up by sessions on search engine optimization in February, and best practices surrounding hiring and firing in March.

Chamber divisions and committees start up again next week at different locations throughout Middlesex County, and our team is working hard to develop the overall chamber calendar for the coming weeks and months. Two dates that should definitely be saved however include our February Business After Work Networking Reception at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill on Tuesday, February 25, and our 2020 Legislative Breakfast on Friday, February 28 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. As always, the Business After Work event will feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests along with outstanding networking opportunities, and the Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, will feature legislators that represent the 15 Middlesex County towns in the State Senate and in the House of Representatives. I will have much more on these important events as we get closer, but please be sure to save the dates.

While the chamber is on the move and optimism about the new year strong, it is with a heavy heart that I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Robert “Red” McKinney, a well-respected friend to many people and organizations in Middlesex County. A life-long resident of East Hampton, Red lived in the village of Middle Haddam for the past 45 years. Throughout his entire adult life, Red was heavily involved in many charitable initiatives that benefit a variety of community organizations. A partial list of the organizations that Red supported over the years includes: The East Hampton Rotary and Lions Clubs, the East Hampton Old Home Day Association, the Food/Fuel Bank, the Connecticut Make-A-Wish Foundation, Hospital for Special Care, Middlesex Health and the Middlesex Cancer Center, the East Hampton Volunteer Ambulance Association, the Middle Haddam Library, and the Saint Patrick Church where Red was an active parishioner for many years. He was also involved in local politics and was held in high regard by both political parties and by individuals from all over the political spectrum. Finally, Red was a businessman, who along with his wife Anne, managed commercial and residential properties through their business, Hill Top Associates. The chamber was proud to present Red with our Distinguished Citizen Award in 2009, and I am so glad we did. More important than all of this however, was Red’s devotion to his wonderful family. Our thoughts and deepest sympathies are with Anne, his daughters Shannon, Taren, who was an outstanding chamber employee for four years, and Kirsten, his son Ryan, his beloved grandchildren, and his entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that Red led a life well lived, and that he will be remembered fondly. Robert “Red” McKinney will be missed.

On another sad note, we recently learned that Peter Derita Sr. also passed away. I will have a lot more on Pete’s passing in next week’s column, but our thoughts and prayers are with his family as well at this difficult time.

Holiday Season time to reflect

December 23, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but we have reached the holidays in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation.

The holiday season is a time to reflect on the past year, to express appreciation for those most important to us, and look ahead with a positive attitude to the year ahead.  Our chamber is truly lucky to have a dedicated Board of Directors which is led by our outstanding Chairman, DATTCO President Don DeVivo. Don, and all of our past chairs, exemplify what this chamber is all about, working together every day to make sure Middlesex County is a great place to live, work and play. I continue to be proud of my dedicated staff that works hard every day for the business community in Middlesex County. I also continue to appreciate the unwavering support of our entire membership. From the members of our Executive Committee and Board of Directors, to our division and committee chairs, to our many supporters throughout Middlesex County, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I would like to wish everyone in our region a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and a safe and joyous holiday season. I also ask that as we celebrate the holidays, we keep in mind the men and women of our armed forces who are serving at home, and around the world, to keep us safe and free. Please also keep in mind those who are less fortunate. May they experience joy and happiness during this holiday season and beyond.

Last week was a sprint from start to finish for me and the entire chamber team.

On Tuesday afternoon, I joined Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, our Central Business Bureau Chairwoman Pam Steele, and the Middletown Downtown Business District at the Grand Opening celebration for Spread Cheese Co. which is located in Main Street Market. Spread Cheese Co. is an artisanal cheese boutique that offers an evolving mix of domestic and imported cheeses plus specialty grocery items and unique kitchenware to help you create the perfect cheese board. I congratulate owners Jamie Tomassetti and Lindsey Eberle, and look forward to working with them as they grow this exciting new local business.

On Thursday afternoon, the chamber’s Board of Directors held its December meeting at The Gelston House in East Haddam. The Gelston House looked terrific as always, and the lunch the staff served was delicious. Anthony Assante, a past chairman of our chamber and longtime supporter of the organization, sponsored the meeting as he does on an annual basis. I thank Anthony and his company, Egidio Assante Wealth Management, and Iso Dedushaj and his team at The Gelston House for a terrific meeting.

Over the weekend, I was honored to once again attend Joe Serra’s annual holiday party at Cantina Café Ristorante in Middletown on Saturday. The party featured a true who’s who of state and local leaders, along with an outstanding spread of Joe’s favorite cuisine. I know a good time was had by all, and I appreciate Joe’s invitation to the party along with his longtime friendship.

Looking ahead to January, I am happy to announce that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series in the new year. Our first session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the chamber office. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company's exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets State of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, Jan. 8, the chamber’s first Business After Work networking reception of the New Year will be held at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort in Middlefield. In addition to the best networking around, this event will feature free beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, and a great spread of food courtesy of Sean Hayes and his team. I thank Sean not only for hosting this event for our chamber, but for his commitment to Middlefield, to Portland through Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This exciting Business After Work event will also serve as the official kick off of the fifth annual "Taste of Middlesex County" Restaurant Week, brought to you by Comcast Business, which is back by popular demand in 2020. Taste of Middlesex County is scheduled for January 13-19 at delicious dining locations throughout our region. The goal of this initiative is to highlight the numerous and diverse dining experiences within the greater Middlesex region. From the beautiful shores of Westbrook to the home of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, there is something for everyone. Restaurants offer a pre-fixed menu to give diners the opportunity to experience the area’s fine dining landscape without breaking the bank. This year, there will be two dining options both with a prix fixe 3-course meal, one for $20.20, and the other for $30.20 (does not include beverages, tax or gratuity). I want to once again thank Comcast Business for its strong support of Taste of Middlesex County which is an exciting week for our chamber and for our region. Please visit the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber’s website and keep an eye out for a list of participating restaurants as we get closer to Restaurant Week. We will be sure to keep everyone updated in the chamber column and through other promotional means. Bon Appetit!

I will close this week’s column by once again wishing everyone a joyous and safe holiday season with family and friends. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce continues to be on the move, and we look forward to another great year in 2020.

Happy Holidays!

Business events will round out 2019

December 16, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

Middlesex County is rocking with the holiday spirit, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Before getting into some of the happenings of this week and the remainder of the month, I want to congratulate Vinal Technical High School on the recent opening of its new Emergency Operations Center at its Daniels Street facility in Middletown. An initiative of Vinal’s Criminal Justice and Protective Services program, the EOC provides students with hands-on, career development experience when disasters strike. With extensive Federal Emergency Management training, a state-of-the-art operations center, and guidance from field-experienced teaching staff, students will provide critical support and updates to deployed federal agencies during rescue and recovery operations. Chamber Vice President Jeff Pugliese attended the Ribbon Cutting for the EOC last Monday along with a number of state and local dignitaries. I appreciate the invitation that was extended to the chamber, and we certainly look forward to being a constructive partner as we work collectively to protect our region’s assets, and most importantly, its people. I want to thank Comcast and Eversource for supporting this outstanding initiative at Vinal, and for all of the good work they do in the community. It is very much appreciated. I also want to thank everyone who attended last Friday’s Member Breakfast Meeting with Gov. Lamont. A sold-out crowd of chamber members and supporters joined us for the event which featured keynote remarks from the governor and introductory remarks from Eversource CEO Jim Judge. The event also featured a surprise appearance by Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano who was brought up to the podium by the governor. Both men closed the event together, in the spirit of bipartisanship, and received a standing ovation. I thank Gov. Lamont for sharing his outlook for 2020 in our state, and Eversource for sponsoring the final major chamber event of what has been a very busy year. We look forward to another productive year in 2020.

On to this week which features the final two chamber division meetings of 2019. Our Westbrook Division will meet at the Westbrook Inn B&B on Tuesday, and the East Haddam & Haddam Division will meet on Thursday at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station. I want to once again thank all of our division chairs and other supporters for an outstanding 2019. Our divisions will continue to be a critical piece of the chamber infrastructure in the new year and beyond.

In addition to the division meeting in Haddam on Thursday, a Workforce Alliance Executive Committee meeting is scheduled for Thursday morning in New Haven. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. They serve the public through the American Job Centers, one of which is located on South Main Street in Middletown. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. I look forward to another productive meeting.

The main event of the week is the final 2019 meeting of the chamber’s Board of Directors from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at The Gelston House in East Haddam. The chamber’s board is a dynamic group of businesspeople that represents every corner of our region and every industry sector in our economy. This December Board of Directors’ meeting is sponsored by Anthony Assante and his firm Egidio Assante Wealth Management on an annual basis. Anthony is a Past Chairman, Executive Committee member, and longtime supporter of our chamber. I thank him personally and on behalf of the chamber for sponsoring this board luncheon once again. We look forward to a great meeting which will be led by our Chairman, Don DeVivo, who is doing a great job in this important leadership position for our chamber.

This week closes with a meeting of the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) Advisory Board on Friday morning. I look forward to another productive meeting with my fellow board members and Acting CEO Lakisha Hyatt and members of her team.

Looking ahead to January, I am happy to announce that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series in the new year. Our first session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 14 at the chamber office. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed. Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, LLP will demonstrate how to limit your company's exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets the State of Connecticut's requirement for two hours of sexual harassment prevention training for supervisors and managers. Please contact the chamber for registration information. This important chamber Workshop Series is sponsored by KeyBank, and I want to again thank their entire team for its strong support of this important chamber initiative.

Finally, on Wednesday evening, Jan. 8, the chamber’s first Business After Work networking reception of the New Year will be held at Powder Ridge Mountain Park and Resort in Middlefield. In addition to the best networking around, this event will feature free beer, wine, non-alcoholic drinks, and a great spread of food courtesy of Sean Hayes and his team. I thank Sean not only for hosting this event for our chamber, but for his commitment to Middlefield, to Portland through Brownstone Exploration and Discovery Park, and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This exciting Business After Work event will also serve as the official kick off of the fifth annual "Taste of Middlesex County" Restaurant Week, brought to you by Comcast Business, which is back by popular demand in 2020. Taste of Middlesex County is scheduled for January 13-19 at delicious dining locations throughout our region. The goal of this initiative is to highlight the numerous and diverse dining experiences within the greater Middlesex region. From the beautiful shores of Westbrook to the home of the Travelers Championship in Cromwell, there is something for everyone. Restaurants offer a pre-fixed menu to give diners the opportunity to experience the area’s fine dining landscape without breaking the bank. This year, there will be two dining options both with a prix fixe 3-course meal, one for $20.20, and the other for $30.20 (does not include beverages, tax or gratuity). I want to once again thank Comcast Business for its strong support of Taste of Middlesex County which is an exciting week for our chamber and for our region. Please visit the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber’s website and keep an eye out for a list of participating restaurants as we get closer to Restaurant Week. We will be sure to keep everyone updated in the chamber column and through other promotional means. Bon Appetit!

In closing, I ask that everyone please consider using a local Middlesex County business for their shopping needs this holiday season. We are blessed with a wonderful business community here in our region, and I am proud that the many businesspeople we work with on a daily basis are not only concerned with operating a successful business, but with the health and well-being of our community and all of our residents. Please support them if you can, because we are all in this together.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Lamont to keynote member breakfast in Cromwell

December 9, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

The holiday season is in full swing in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Before getting into some of the happenings of this week and the remainder of the month, I want to note that I very much enjoyed my visit to Powder Hollow Brewery in Middletown last Friday for its Grand Opening Celebration. Powder Hollow Brewery, which specializes in hand crafted microbrews designed for quality and taste, recently opened on Washington Street. This new location for the brewery features their 'experimental' pilot brewing system, along with local guest taps from other Connecticut breweries and wineries. I was happy to join Mayor Ben Florsheim and chamber Chairman Don DeVivo for the occasion, and we wish Michael McManus and the entire team at Powder Hollow nothing but the best. Sticking with the Grand Opening theme for a moment, I look forward to joining the mayor and Don once again, on Thursday, Dec. 12 at 10:00 a.m. at Y & J Nail Spa, Inc. on Main Street for their celebration. We wish Yu Chen and the entire team all the best as they embark on this exciting new business venture.

This week also features a number of other exciting events and activities in our region.

On Monday, I look forward to joining leaders from throughout the state for an important meeting in Hartford hosted by the Connecticut Economic Resource Center (CERC). This discussion will focus on the many economic and workforce development initiatives that are either underway, or being planned for rollout in early 2020. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce looks forward to being a constructive partner as these important conversations continue throughout the state.

Back in Middletown, our KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday, Dec. 10 with a session on Guerrilla Marketing presented by Patrick Ganino of Social Tuna. Guerrilla Marketing is a great alternative to traditional marketing. It uses unconventional tactics to get maximum results when promoting a brand, business or service at minimal costs. It is about taking the consumer by surprise and making a long-lasting impression that aims to strike the consumer at a more memorable and personal level. The session begins at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the chamber office. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the chamber division front, this week is set to feature three important meetings throughout our county. On Wednesday, our Durham and Middlefield Division will hold its monthly meeting at A Second Chance CPR & First Aid Training in Durham. This meeting will feature local and chamber updates along with a presentation by Betsy Dean, Executive Director of Durham Middlefield Youth and Family Services. Thursday morning will feature our Cromwell Division meeting at Mattabassett District, and our Killingworth Division meeting at Chatfield B&B and Farm. Both of these meetings will feature important local updates for the business community in these important member towns. I would like to once again thank our division chairs, and all of our member businesses that step up to host these important chamber meetings.

The main event of the week is of course our annual Governor’s Breakfast which is scheduled for Friday, Dec. 13 at the Red Lion Hotel in Cromwell. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has hosted the sitting Governor of Connecticut at our December Member Breakfast Meeting going back to the days of Gov. William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. We look forward to welcoming Gov. Ned Lamont to his first chamber Member Breakfast Meeting which will be a sold event, sponsored by Eversource. I thank the governor for taking the time, and thank Eversource for its sponsorship and its longtime support of our chamber.

Rounding out this week, the 34th Annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney and the City of Middletown will hold its final day of events and activities this Saturday, Dec. 14. Planned events and activities include: The Fun Train, which will offer free rides on the sidewalk around downtown, the free Holiday Photo Booth, a Petting Farm from JD’s Pony Express of Killingworth with animals including a sheep, goats, a rabbit, alpaca’s, and a miniature donkey named Wilbur, performances by the Connecticut Yuletide Carolers, an Ornament Decorating Workshop at The Buttonwood Tree, and various activities at the Russell Library. The highlight of the day will take place from 11:30 a.m.-12 Noon at Wesleyan R.J. Julia Bookstore, where Police Chief Bill McKenna will read stories with special our special guest, The Grinch. Holiday on Main Street is an institution in Middletown and in Middlesex County. It would not be possible without our dedicated committee of volunteers, staff, and of course, our sponsors, most notably the City of Middletown and Pratt & Whitney. Additional Holiday on Main sponsors include: Middletown Downtown Business District, iHeart Media, Community Health Center, Malloves Jewelers, Middlesex Eye Physicians, Webster Bank, Apple Rehab- Middletown, Cinder + Salt, Department of Children and Families, Leggett & Platt Aerospace Middletown, Middlesex YMCA, Russell Library, Adelbrook Behavioral & Developmental Services, Dunkin Donuts, First Church, and Middletown Dental Associates. Finally, I would like to offer a special thank you to the Chairman of the event, Al Santostefano, Vice-Chairman, Rich Greco, and our Central Business Bureau Chairwoman, Pam Steele. We are very grateful for their efforts and support. For all of the details on Holiday on Main Street events and activities, please visit www.holidayonmain.com.

I would like to close this week’s column by previewing two very exciting chamber initiatives that are planned for 2020. First of all, members and other interested parties should keep an eye out for Leadership CT, a year long Leadership Program presented in partnership with Dale Carnegie. The Lead CT steering committee’s main strategic focus is to cultivate the region’s emerging leaders in their organizations, businesses, and the community at large. The goal is to provide both personal and professional training, to develop peer to peer focus groups, and to introduce or further develop a variety of critical skills. We look forward to introducing the Dale Carnegie Leadership Model to the regional business community, and we believe that it will take our top performers and turn them into the next generation of leaders.

Finally, the chamber’s economic resilience efforts will be brought to new levels in 2020. We recently partnered with Eversource to develop an Economic Resilience Guide that is available for all to see on www.middlesexchamber.com. Our economic resilience efforts are designed to protect local jobs and the local tax base, and to promote increased employer and employee awareness of natural and man-made hazards that exist in our community. We are encouraging our member businesses to develop emergency preparedness and business continuity plans because we believe if we are able to insulate our membership and the regional business community from the many threats out there, the better off we all will be. I will have much more on this important effort in the new year.

The holiday spirit is in the air, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County.

Busy Holiday Season

December 2, 2019

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.

The 34th Annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney and the City of Middletown, is off to a fast start after a very successful opening night on Nov. 29th, and a busy follow-up on Saturday the 30th. This Saturday, December 7th, 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 around downtown, the Holiday Photo Booth, 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, will take place at Main Street Fire House, and after the reading, a “Book Signing” will take place and there will be plenty of opportunities for pictures. Volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans 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 to join us downtown. As is always the case with Holiday on Main Street, parking is free in all municipal 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 and the City of Middletown for their great support, our longtime event chairman, Al Santostefano, and vice chairman, Rich Greco, event coordinator Haley Stafford and the entire Holiday on Main Street Committee for its great work. Holiday on Main concludes on Saturday, December 14th. For all of the details on events and activities, please visit www.holidayonmain.com.

In addition to Holiday on Main Street on Saturday, this week also features a number of other exciting events and activities. The week kicks off on Monday with a meeting of our Executive Committee beginning at 11:30 a.m. at the chamber office. Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo will lead the meeting which will cover a variety of important topics that affect the business community in our region. I continue to appreciate the support of this outstanding group of business leaders, and look forward to another productive meeting. This week also features meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Central Business Bureau, and Chester, Deep River and Essex Division, along with meetings of a variety of chamber committees and councils.

The main event of the week is our Annual Real Estate Council Holiday Luncheon, sponsored by ServPro, which will be held at Luce Restaurant on Main Street in Middletown. Our member realtors and other chamber member professionals who support the real estate industry will get together for holiday networking and a great spread of food and drink. The Real Estate Council, under the leadership of co-chairs Nancy Currlin and Juliet Cavanaugh, does great work throughout the year in support of our member realtors. The Real Estate Council is also once again sponsoring a toy drive so we ask that attendees of the gathering bring an unwrapped toy in support of this important cause. We look forward to a great event.

On the business development front, I look forward to two grand opening celebrations that are scheduled for this week in Middlesex County. On Wednesday, chamber Chairman Don DeVivo and I will join Mayor Ben Florsheim for the Grand Opening of Lake View Creations on College Street in Middletown. Lake View Creations specializes in hand-designed jewelry and accessories that are both unique and affordable. We wish nothing but the best for Kerri Lee and the entire Lake View Creations family. On Thursday, Don and I will travel down county to join First Selectman Angus McDonald for the Grand Opening of Tailgaters Deep River. Tailgaters Deep River, located in an original, restored, post and beam barn with the theme of tailgating, is a pub serving beer, wine & spirits, along with a light fare menu that includes a selection of hot dogs, soups and fixin’s. We wish Brenda and James Jake all the best as they embark on this exciting new adventure for them, and for our region.

Looking ahead, next week also features some very important events for our chamber. Our KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday, Dec. 10 with a session on Guerrilla Marketing presented by Patrick Ganino of Social Tuna. Guerrilla Marketing is a great alternative to traditional marketing. It uses unconventional tactics to get maximum results when promoting a brand, business or service at minimal costs. It is about taking the consumer by surprise and making a long lasting impression that aims to strike the consumer at a more memorable and personal level. The session begins at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the chamber office. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. I would also like to ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the date of next Friday, Dec. 13, for an important chamber morning in Cromwell. Gov. Ned Lamont will serve as keynote speaker for the first time at our annual Governor’s Breakfast at the Red Lion Hotel. The chamber is proud of the fact that the sitting governor of the State of Connecticut has addressed our organization in the month of December every year since the administration of Governor William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. We look forward to welcoming Gov. Lamont to Middlesex County, and thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important annual chamber event. I will have much more on this event in next week’s column.

Finally, I would like to close this week’s chamber column by addressing a serious situation for our city, the issue of vandalism. Whether it impacts a symbol of our cultural heritage, a gravestone, a building, or even a bridge overpass, vandalism is a senseless act that has no place in our community. The most recent example, the defacing of the Christopher Columbus statue in Harbor Park, has once again resulted in thousands of dollars in repair costs. Photographs show vandals spray painting the base of the statue that includes the names of more than 700 donors with red paint. This is the fourth time the statue has been vandalized since it was dedicated in 1996. Vandalism has no justification, and is completely unacceptable. The chamber looks forward to being a constructive partner as we work together to solve this problem in our community.

The holiday season is upon us, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Middletown Holiday on Main extravaganza highlight of the week

November 25, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

It is Thanksgiving time again in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, not simply because of the great turkey dinner with all the trimmings, but because it inspires reflection and a true appreciation of what is important in life. I am blessed with a wonderful family, led by my wife Patty, and a network of friends that truly has my back. It is an honor and a privilege for me to serve as president of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, a dynamic business organization with over 2,350 members that employ over 50,000 people. I am thankful for my staff at the chamber who works hard on behalf of the business community in Middlesex County on a daily basis. We have a dedicated Board of Directors, led by Chairman Don DeVivo, which truly makes Middlesex County a great place to live, work and play. I am thankful to be a citizen of the United States of America, a place where life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed in writing. I want to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving, and I hope everyone keeps in mind those who are less fortunate during the holiday season.

Before moving on to the many great events and activities that are scheduled for this week and beyond, I want to take a moment to thank our local veterans and the many volunteers who put out, and then collected, thousands of American flags at the State Veterans Cemetery on Bow Lane during Veterans Week. Over 400 volunteers worked with members of local veteran’s organizations to deploy over 10,000 flags at gravestones throughout the cemetery grounds on Nov. 9th. The volunteers then returned on Nov. 16th to collect the flags. This wonderful tradition takes place around Memorial Day and Veterans Day every year. This is just another example of the great support that this community shows to the veterans who have done so much for all of us. On behalf of a grateful community, I say thank you to the volunteers, and of course, to our veterans.

The chamber calendar has a few important meetings scheduled in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. This Tuesday, our Westbrook Division makes its annual visit to Westbrook High School. This meeting will feature remarks from First Selectman Noel Bishop and Superintendent of Schools Pat Ciccone. The chamber has always valued its close working relationship with the school districts in our region, and that will certainly continue as we move forward. This week also features meetings of our Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and our Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee. We look forward to three very productive meetings.

The main event of the week is on Friday evening in downtown Middletown.

It is hard to believe, but the 34th Annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney and the City of Middletown, is upon us.  Festivities begin this Friday at 4 p.m., with free wagon rides on Main Street. In front of the chamber building, the Kiwanis Club of Middletown members will be selling Hot Pretzels & Popcorn, and in front of the Church of the Holy Trinity, Middletown High School Crew Team will be selling Hot Chocolate, Coffee & Desserts.  There will be three Tree Lightings, a holiday parade up Main Street, and a number of other activities.

The first Tree Lighting, set to take place at 6 p.m., will illuminate the big tree on the South Green and will be led by Mayor Ben Florsheim and Santa Claus. Also on hand on the South Green will be the Middletown High School Chorus, the Woodrow Wilson 7 and 8th Grade Chorus, and the Keigwin Middle School Chorus. Last year, over 2,500 people were able to enjoy the holiday sights and sounds on the South Green, and even more are expected this year. The Carol Sing will begin at 5 p.m. prior to the tree lightings. After the tree is lit on the South Green, there will be a parade up Main Street, led by the Middletown High School Marching Band, the Woodrow Wilson Middle School 8th Grade Band, and Santa Claus, to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce where the tree on the roof will be lit at 6:15 p.m. for the second lighting of the evening. Immediately following the tree lighting, there will be free pictures with Santa, and wagon rides for the whole family until 8 p.m.  At 8:15 p.m., festivities will take place in front of Eli Cannon’s Tap Room at 695 Main Street highlighted by the third, and final Tree Lighting of the night. Santa will arrive to light the tree, and elves will be on hand to provide all children with complimentary popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and other treats. Each Tree Lighting is free of charge to the public. Holiday on Main Street will continue on the next three Saturdays, November 30, December 7, and December 14 from 10:00am-2:00pm.

This Saturday’s event will feature The Civitan Club of Middletown selling Popcorn and Hot Pretzels in front of the chamber, and holiday music played by Harvest Woods Audio. The Fun Train will offer free rides up and down the sidewalk, and families will have the opportunity to take free horse and wagon rides, use the Holiday Photo Booth located in front of the Holiday Trinity Church, enjoy performances by The Connecticut Yuletide Carolers as they perform up and down Main Street, and meet Santa. At 12:30 p.m., a Holiday Story Time will take place at The Inn at Middletown with Clifford and Mayor Ben Florsheim. A Kung Fu Demonstration by Tat Wong Kung Fu Academy will be held at 1:30 p.m. at Vinnie’s Jump and Jive, and a Pet Food Drive will be held throughout the day in front of Holy Trinity Church to benefit the homeless pets at Middletown Animal Control. Santa’s Mailbox will be in front of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce from November 18 through December 13. Children’s names and addresses should be on the letter so Santa can respond accordingly. Parking for Holiday on Main Street is free in all city parking lots. For all of the details on events and activities, please visit www.holidayonmain.com. We hope to see you downtown!

As the end of November draws closer, it is time to start preparing for what will be a very busy December.

The chamber’s KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday, Dec. 10 with a session on Guerrilla Marketing presented by Patrick Ganino of Social Tuna. Guerrilla Marketing is a great alternative to traditional marketing. It uses unconventional tactics to get maximum results when promoting a brand, business or service at minimal costs. It is about taking the consumer by surprise and making a long lasting impression that aims to strike the consumer at a more memorable and personal level. The session begins at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the chamber office. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Finally, I would like to ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the date of Friday, Dec. 13 for an important chamber morning in Cromwell. Gov. Ned Lamont will serve as keynote speaker for the first time at our annual Governor’s Breakfast at the Red Lion Hotel. The chamber is proud of the fact that the sitting governor of the State of Connecticut has addressed our organization in the month of December every year since the administration of Governor William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. We look forward to welcoming Gov. Lamont to Middlesex County, and thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important annual chamber event. Speaking of Eversource, I would like to take a moment to congratulate the company on being ranked as the number one utility and 26th company overall out of 1,000 evaluated on a leading recognition of corporate citizenship -- the national list of America’s Most JUST Companies for 2020, presented by Forbes magazine and JUST Capital. The list celebrates publicly traded American corporations for their positive impact and leadership on priorities such as fair pay, ethical leadership, good benefits and work-life balance, equal opportunity, customer treatment and privacy, community support, environmental impact, and delivering shareholder return. Eversource is a great corporate citizen, and we thank their team for its longtime support of our organization and our community.

2019 has reached the homestretch, and the chamber continues to be on the move. Happy Thanksgiving!

SportsNet New York’s president, UConn’s Cavanaugh to visit Cromwell

November 18, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

November is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Another busy week kicks off with Monday’s Member Breakfast Meeting at the Red Lion Cromwell featuring SNY President, Steve Raab, and UConn Head Men’s Hockey Coach, Mike Cavanaugh. This event is sponsored by SNY. Mike Cavanaugh begins his seventh season on the bench for the UConn Huskies in 2019-20.  Hired in the spring of 2014, Cavanaugh has guided UConn through the transition to Hockey East as the Huskies begin their sixth season of play in the toughest hockey conference in the country. SNY is the official television home of the New York Mets, New York Jets and all things New York Sports. Steve Raab was named President of SNY in April of 2007. In this capacity, he is responsible for all day-to-day operations, including production, programming, sales, distribution, marketing, and public relations for the network. We look forward to another great Member Breakfast Meeting, and thank Steve Raab and SNY, and Coach Cavanaugh for visiting with our membership during this very busy time.

On Tuesday morning, I look forward to attending the Ribbon Cutting for Adelbrook Bark-ery’s Business Expansion at its Riverview Center location in Middletown. The Adelbrook Bark-ery was started to provide a safe (and fun) place for the neuro-diverse 18-21 year old students who attend the Adelbrook Transitional Academy. The goal of the Transitional Academy and the Bark-ery are the same, to prepare students for life after graduation. I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other city and chamber leaders for this important occasion. From there, I will travel to Hartford where I will meet with my fellow executives from Connecticut’s eight metro chambers of commerce. 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. I look forward to the meeting, and thank my colleagues for their leadership throughout the state of Connecticut.

Wednesday afternoon features a Ribbon Cutting and Business Announcement at the chamber office in Middletown for Patterson Family Chocolates, your online chocolate store. We look forward to working with Ed Patterson and his team and are happy to welcome them to chamber membership.

On the networking front, our November Business After Work Networking Reception is scheduled for this Wednesday, November 20 at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. Our members and their guests always look forward to the delicious spread of food and drink provided by the Riverhouse team, along with the outstanding networking opportunities that the event provides. The Business After Work event will also feature the Central Business Bureau’s 2019 Festival of Wreaths Silent Auction. Beautifully decorated wreaths will be displayed for viewing and bidding until the auction closes at 6:30 p.m. The funds that are raised will benefit the Annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney, and the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program. I want to take a moment to thank Liberty Bank for donating the wreaths on an annual basis, and of course, Owner Jim Bucko, General Manager Hattie Donner, and the entire Riverhouse team for hosting what will be a packed, and outstanding event. We look forward to a great night!

Thursday kicks off with a Workforce Alliance Executive Committee Meeting in New Haven. Workforce Alliance works to improve the delivery of workforce services in close collaboration with business, education and training providers, and local elected officials. The chamber continues to enjoy a very strong working relationship with Workforce Alliance, and we appreciate the support of President and CEO Bill Villano and his terrific team. Later on Thursday, the chamber’s Board of Directors will meet at the Middletown Elks Lodge for a Luncheon Meeting sponsored by Brown & Brown of CT d/b/a McCutcheon Burr & Sons and Arborio Corporation. In addition to reports from chamber committee chairs and key staff, the meeting will feature remarks from Commissioner Joseph Giulietti of the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The mission of the Connecticut Department of Transportation is to provide a safe and efficient intermodal transportation network that improves the quality of life and promotes economic vitality for the State and the region. We look forward to hearing from the Commissioner, and thank him for taking the time to visit with our board. A busy Thursday wraps up in Southington for the 43rd Annual Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Dinner at the Aqua Turf. I look forward to serving as emcee for this important event that will officially induct nine Connecticut coaches into the Hall of Fame. We congratulate them, and thank them for all of their support of youth athletics. Thursday is certainly shaping up to be a very busy and productive day.

Rounding out the week on Saturday, I will attend the CASHO Annual Awards Banquet, also being held at the Aqua Turf. CASHO is a not-for-profit educational association whose mission is to provide education on public works functions throughout the state. I look forward to the event and appreciate the invitation from Joe Serra, secretary/treasurer of CASHO.

Looking ahead, and it is hard to believe, but the 34th Annual Holiday on Main Street is right around the corner. This major holiday event, presented by Pratt and Whitney and the City of Middletown, kicks off next Friday, Nov. 29 with a jam packed schedule of family friendly fun leading up to our three tree lightings in downtown Middletown. Join us from 4:00-8:30pm for free holiday wagon rides, a carol sing featuring the Middletown High School, Woodrow Wilson Middle School and Keigwin Middle School choirs, free pictures with Santa, and of course the tree lightings. Santa and Mayor Ben Florsheim will be lighting the tree at 6:00 p.m. sharp, so you don’t want to be late. Holiday on Main Street will continue on the next three Saturdays, November 30, December 7, and December 14 from 10:00am-2:00pm, and will feature free rides on the fun train, free horse and wagon rides, a holiday photo booth, popcorn and hot pretzels, and holiday story times. I will have much more information as Holiday on Main Street draws closer, but you can always visit www.holidayonmain.com for more information.

The chamber’s KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday, Dec. 10 with a session on Guerrilla Marketing presented by Patrick Ganino of Social Tuna. Guerrilla Marketing is a great alternative to traditional marketing. It uses unconventional tactics to get maximum results when promoting a brand, business or service at minimal costs. It is about taking the consumer by surprise and making a long lasting impression that aims to strike the consumer at a more memorable and personal level. The session begins at 8:00 a.m. and will be held at the chamber office. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Finally, I would like to ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the date of Friday, Dec. 13 for an important chamber morning in Cromwell. Gov. Ned Lamont will serve as keynote speaker for the first time at our annual Governor’s Breakfast at the Red Lion Hotel. The chamber is proud of the fact that the sitting governor of the State of Connecticut has addressed our organization in the month of December every year since the administration of Governor William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. We look forward to welcoming Gov. Lamont to Middlesex County, and thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important annual chamber event.

The temperature may be dropping, but the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County. Have a great week!

A time to honor veterans

November 11, 2019

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached an important week here in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation, the week that includes Veterans Day. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce continues to support our active duty, reserves, and guard personnel, along with the many local veterans that have served in the United States Armed Forces. This past Monday, November 4, the chamber held its 18th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting, sponsored by Middlesex Health. In addition to remarks from Medal of Honor recipient Paul W. “Buddy” Bucha, we were honored to present the 2019 William J. Pomfret Community Service Award to Reginald S. Farrington of Portland, and the 2019 AT&T Veteran Support Business of the Year Award to the Travelers Championship. As I have noted many times over the years, the Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting would not be possible without the year round effort of a great committee led by Phil Cacciola. This event has become a key part of our Member Breakfast series over the years, and we thank everyone that has a role in making this annual event so special to so many.

After a long and spirited campaign, Election Day 2019 is now officially in the books. I again want thank all the candidates that put their name on a ballot in Middlesex County for their willingness to run and to serve. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce certainly looks forward to working with all of our elected officials in the months and years ahead.

Switching gears to economic development, I had the pleasure of attending the press conference held last Thursday at the site of Medical Development Associates 50,000 Square Foot Heritage Medical Facility Construction Project on Saybrook Road. The chamber has supported this project since its inception, including at last Monday night’s meeting of the Common Council, and I thank Frank Galluzzo and Project Manager William Granuth, Director of Planning, Conservation and Development Joe Samolis for seeing it through. The project is a Class A 50,000 square foot medical facility which is under construction to support the growing need for world-class medical care in Middletown and Middlesex County. Medical Development Associates are in the process of erecting one of the two buildings which will house Middlesex Orthopedic Surgeons. I was pleased to view this construction site with Mayor Dan Drew, Mayor Elect Ben Florsheim, Economic Development Chair Gerry Daley, and Chamber Vice Chairman Tom Byrne. This 30,000 square foot building will be fully dedicated to their practice consisting of medical offices and a brand new physical therapy facility. Medical Development Associates is constructing an additional 20,000 square foot building which is already partially leased by Middlesex Dental Care. They are currently marketing build to suit suites available in late summer 2020. This project supports the growing need for world-class medical care in Middletown and Middlesex County, and will continue the growth of this important medical corridor.

This week features a Grand Opening for CapoBags Food Mart on South Main Street in Middletown, and a groundbreaking at the new Steady Habits Brewing Company location in Haddam. CapoBags Food Mart is offering delicious sushi and other options at its new South Main Street location. We wish owner Jason Chen and his team nothing but the best as they move forward with this new local eatery. Steady Habits is moving from Bridge Street in Haddam to an excellent new location on Saybrook Road in Haddam. We wish Director of Operations Jim Venditti and his team all the best as they bring this local business to the next level. On Wednesday morning, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will be attend the Durham Economic Development Commission’s Breakfast, Networking & Informational Workshop taking place at the Durham Town Hall. This event is set to feature highlights of how global and national trends are affecting Connecticut’s economy and industries. I am glad the chamber will be represented at this important discussion happening in one of our member towns. Finally, on Friday afternoon, I will attend the Grand Opening celebration for 211 South Main LLC’s project on South Main Street. This is an exciting project for the city, one that will take a property that has been dormant for some time now and turn it into a terrific mixed use development in the heart of a key corridor. The chamber, as always, looks forward to being a constructive partner as this process moves forward, and I thank Rocky Kempenaar and his team for their great work. As you can see, the economic development activity continues in hop in Middlesex County.

On the chamber division front, this Thursday features two important division meetings, one in Cromwell, and one in Killingworth. The Cromwell Division will be held at the TPC River Highlands at 8:00 a.m., and the Killingworth Division will be held at Andie’s Cookies, also at 8:00 a.m. We look forward to two productive meetings and thank our members for their continued support.

Looking ahead to next week, two exciting chamber events are scheduled in different parts of our region. On Monday, Nov. 18, the chamber will host a Member Breakfast Meeting featuring SNY President, Steven Raab, and UConn Head Men’s Hockey Coach, Mike Cavanaugh. This event is sponsored by SNY. Mike Cavanaugh begins his seventh season on the bench for the UConn Huskies in 2019-20.  Hired in the spring of 2014, Cavanaugh has guided UConn through the transition to Hockey East as the Huskies begin their sixth season of play in the toughest hockey conference in the country. SNY is the official television home of the New York Mets, New York Jets and all things New York Sports. We look forward to another great Member Breakfast Meeting. Excitement also continues to build for our upcoming Business After Work Networking Reception at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam on Wednesday, Nov. 20th. Our members and their guests always look forward to the delicious spread of food and drink provided by the Riverhouse team, along with outstanding networking opportunities that the event provides. The Business After Work event will feature the Central Business Bureau’s 2019 Festival of Wreaths Silent Auction. Beautifully decorated wreaths will be displayed for viewing and bidding until the auction closes at 6:30 p.m. The funds that are raised will benefit the Annual Holiday on Main Street, presented by Pratt & Whitney, and the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program. Liberty Bank, annually donates the artificial wreaths for chamber member businesses to decorate, and we certainly appreciate that continued support. We look forward to a fun evening in Haddam on Nov. 20, and I want to once again thank Owner Jim Bucko, General Manager Hattie Donner, and the entire Riverhouse team for hosting this outstanding event.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!