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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.

Middletown 4th of July fest culminates month of successful events

June 27, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but the Travelers Championship has come and gone once again, and it was another fantastic week at TPC River Highlands. Record crowds made their way to Cromwell to watch some of the best golfers competing at the highest level. The course and surrounding areas looked terrific, and the staff and volunteers were professional and helpful as always. Tournament Director Nathan Grube and his team did a fantastic job once again, and we of course have to recognize the support of Travelers Companies led by CEO Alan Schnitzer, Executive Vice President & Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette, and their entire leadership team. The Town of Cromwell also shined once again, and I want to thank Mayor Allan Spotts and the entire town government structure for doing a truly professional job managing the event. The chamber’s 2022 Travelers Championship Breakfast was held last Tuesday at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill and featured, PGA Tour Pro and 2021 Travelers Championship winner, Harris English. I would like to again thank Harris for speaking to our chamber, and we wish him continued success on the PGA Tour. Another great Travelers Championship week is in the books, but the countdown to the 2023 version is already underway.

On the chamber calendar front, this week will feature a meeting of the Westbrook Division at The Elks Club beginning at 8:00 a.m. This meeting, led by Co-Chairs Phil Cocchiola and Meri Wick, will feature town updates, updates from local businesses, and of course a chamber update. Our Westbrook division, as well as each of our grassroots divisions, help us keep a close eye on the issues that directly impact, or have the potential to impact, our members in each of our towns.

Also taking place on Tuesday will be our Annual Real Estate Luncheon at Lyman Orchards Golf Course in Middlefield. As I have mentioned numerous times, this committee, chaired by Nancy Currlin and Juliet Cavanaugh, provides opportunities for local real estate professionals to come together for networking, encouraging cooperation, sharing of ideas, and to improve business relations through collaboration and educational experiences. This committee is one of our most active groups, with fundraising for various programs and continuing education courses throughout the year.

The main event for this week is of course our 12th Annual Small Business Awards Ceremony, presented by The MEWS+, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland from 4:30 – 7:00 p.m. We can’t wait to honor our 2022 small business champions which are as follows: Business of the Year (1-50 employees)- Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, East Hampton; Business of the Year (51+ employees)- DATTCO, Inc., Statewide; Business Growth & Expansion- Chris Cote's Golf Shop, Portland; Manufacturer of the Year- Hobson & Motzer, Durham; MEWS+ Entrepreneur of the Year- Local Business Protection, Middletown; Minority Owned Business of the Year- Courtney's Cleaning and Moving Services, LLC, Middletown; Nonprofit Business of the Year- MARC Community Resources, Middletown; Outstanding New Business Under 5 Years- Sicily Coal Fired Pizza, Middletown; Retail Business of the Year- Black Hall Outfitters, Westbrook; and Tourism/Hospitality Business of the Year- Courtyard by Marriott Cromwell and Waterford Hotel Group. We are very proud of our 2022 Small Business Award winners who were all nominated by their fellow chamber members. They come from many different industry sectors, but share a commitment to Middlesex County and are all great representatives of our business community. Congratulations to them all!

Looking ahead to July, our KeyBank Workshop Series will continue on Tuesday, July 12 with two sessions of our “Sexual Harassment Prevention Training” at 8:00 a.m. and 10:30 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, P.C. will show you how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment. This session meets the State’s requirement for two hours of sexual harassment prevention training for employees. To register for either session, visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Excitement is building for our next Business After Work networking event, which will take place on Wednesday, July 20 at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. This event will of course feature a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests as well as the best networking around. I would like to thank General Manager Fernado Solis, Director of Sales and Marketing Brendan Saunders and the entire team at the Courtyard for hosting us once again. To register for this event, visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In closing, I would like to provide some thoughts on what has been a terrific past few weeks. Kicking off at the end of May with our Annual Golf Tournament, to Middletown PrideFEST the following week, followed by our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street, our Annual Travelers Championship Breakfast directly followed by the Middlesex County Career Fair, our Real Estate Council Luncheon, our 12th Annual Small Business Awards Ceremony, and Middletown’s upcoming Fireworks Festival, which will take place this Saturday, July 2 beginning at 5pm with live music and food vendors leading up to the incredible fireworks display at 9:30 p.m., it has been busy yet successful stretch. I have been so encouraged seeing communities gather and reconnect after two long years of COVID-19. While the public health and economic crisis continue to be on everyone’s minds, it has been refreshing to see folks gathering in-person, supporting local businesses, and returning to our “new normal” once again. This pandemic has proven many things to us all. It has proven that we always need to look out for those who are most important to us. It has proven that hard fought gains on many fronts are fragile, and that we are strategic in our approach at all times. It has proven that we need to be resilient through it all, and it has proven that when we work together, we can accomplish great things. I continue to be very proud of this amazing community.

Travelers Championship Week begins Tuesday

June 20, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

I would like to begin this weeks column with a wrap up of our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street, powered by NAPA, which took place last Wednesday evening. Downtown Middletown was packed once again with over 800 cars, outstanding vendors, and a fun atmosphere, which attracted thousands of people to Main Street. I would like to take a moment to thank the sponsors for their support of this important community event. They are as follows: Presenting Sponsor: NAPA; Top Gear Sponsors: Charles IT, Downtown Business District, Eli Cannon's Tap Room, and Key Chevrolet; High Performance Sponsors: Liberty Bank and Victory Church; Super Charger Sponsors: Alchemi Wealth, Apple Rehab Middletown, Ch'i Lash the School, Dunkin, Landmark Architects, Middletown Toyota, Purple Elephant Car Wash, Root Center for Advanced Recovery, The Flood Law Firm, The Powerwashing Kings and Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore; Twin Turbo Sponsors: Absolute Air Services, Carlson & Dumeer, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Middlesex Educational Services, and Wings Over Middletown; and Horsepower Sponsors: Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Middlesex County NAACP # 2018, Middlesex Music Academy, Mirabito, Multi-Focus Media, Overhead Door Of Middlesex County Cromwell, Rehabilitation Specialists of Middlesex County LLC, Seasons Federal Credit Union and William Raveis Real Estate.

This event would not have been possible without the support of our Cruise Night Planning Committee led by Joe Santaniello, the volunteers, chamber staff, and everyone who contributed to another successful downtown event. We would of course be remiss if we did not thank the City of Middletown and all related departments for their support of this and of all downtown events. Finally, I thank Mayor Ben Florsheim and the Middletown Common Council for recognizing the importance of bringing this event to the downtown area.

We have once again reached one of the most exciting weeks of the year in Middlesex County, Travelers Championship Week.

This year’s tournament is packed with an outstanding player field, which includes Harris English, who will serve as guest speaker at Tuesday morning’s annual Travelers Championship Breakfast Meeting at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. Harris is returning to the Travelers Championship this year to defend his title, which was a record-breaking win at last year’s tournament. This Breakfast Meeting has become a key part of tournament week and we very much appreciate the longtime sponsorship of The Travelers Companies for not only its support of the breakfast, but the tournament as well. I would like to take a moment to thank Chairman and CEO 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 including Director of Business Development Jason Soucy who sits on the chamber board and is very active with our organization. In addition to the main event, Travelers week features a number of events and activities that are associated with the tournament. For more information on the 2022 Travelers Championship, visit www.travelerschampionship.com. See you at the TPC!

Following the Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will be our Middlesex County Career Fair taking place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Over 45 companies from throughout the labor market area will be in attendance. The chamber is proud to partner with the Connecticut Department of Labor and Workforce Alliance on these important workforce development initiatives. I want to take a moment to once again thank DOL Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo, and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for not only their support of the Middlesex County Career Fair, but for their longtime support of workforce development in Middlesex County.

Looking ahead to next week, our Annual Middlesex Chamber Real Estate Luncheon will take place on Tuesday, June 28. This event, held at Lyman Orchards Golf Course, celebrates our very active Real Estate Council, co-chaired by Nancy Currlin and Juliet Cavanaugh. This council provides opportunities for local real estate professionals to come together for networking, encouraging cooperation, sharing of ideas, and to improve business relations through collaboration and educational experiences.

Excitement continues to build for our 12th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, presented by the MEWS+, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland. We can’t wait to honor our 2022 small business champions which are as follows: Business of the Year (1-50 employees)- Bevin Brothers Manufacturing, East Hampton; Business of the Year (51+ employees)- DATTCO, Inc., Statewide; Business Growth & Expansion- Chris Cote's Golf Shop, Portland; Manufacturer of the Year- Hobson & Motzer, Durham; MEWS+ Entrepreneur of the Year- Local Business Protection, Middletown; Minority Owned Business of the Year- Courtney's Cleaning and Moving Services, LLC, Middletown; Nonprofit Business of the Year- MARC Community Resources, Middletown; Outstanding New Business Under 5 Years- Sicily Coal Fired Pizza, Middletown; Retail Business of the Year- Black Hall Outfitters, Westbrook; and Tourism/Hospitality Business of the Year- Courtyard by Marriott Cromwell and Waterford Hotel Group. We are very proud of our 2022 Small Business Award winners who were all nominated by their fellow chamber members. Congratulations to them all!

I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the City of Middletown for the swift action taken with the water main break last Friday evening on Main St. The Water & Sewer Department, led by Director Joe Fazzino, was able to isolate and fix the problem and restore access to the area in less than 17 hours. As we all know, Friday nights are very busy for our Main St restaurants and because of the hard work by so many dedicated individuals, the business community had very minimal impact. Water & Sewer, Public Works, Police, Fire and our Economic and Community Development Department, all led by Mayor Ben Florsheim, deserve an applause for their response to this emergency. Middletown’s team was outstanding on Friday evening and the dedication from these city departments is a testament to what makes Middletown so special.

Get your engines ready for Cruise Night on Main

June 13, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

On the chamber calendar front, this week features an array of committee and council meetings throughout the region. Kicking off the week will be a meeting of the chamber’s Scholarship Committee on Monday at the chamber office. Wednesday morning will feature a meeting of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee followed by a meeting of the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission. Our Killingworth Division will meet on Thursday morning at 8:00 a.m. at Running Brook Farms. Rounding out the week will be a meeting of our Legislative Committee and our Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council Executive Committee both at 8:00 a.m., followed by a meeting of our Affordable Housing Committee at 9:30 a.m. In addition to these meetings that are specific to the chamber, I look forward to representing the chamber on a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee on Thursday morning.

The latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place on Tuesday morning with a session titled, “Recognizing & Overcoming Unconscious Bias.” Presented by Sandra Stanfield of Stanfield Bechtel Law, this workshop will help individuals explore how bias works and influences our decisions and shapes our daily experiences. I would like to thank KeyBank for their continued support of this important workshop series as well as Sandra Stanfield of Stanfield Bechtel Law for presenting this workshop.

The main event for this week is our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street, powered by NAPA, which will be held on Wednesday, June 15 from 4:30 – 8:00 p.m. in downtown Middletown. Hundreds of vehicles are expected to line both sides of Middletown’s scenic Main Street from Washington Street to the South Green. This family friendly event will feature live music by Nightshift, dozens of food vendors and of course, classic vehicles. This event will once again benefit Middletown youth programs, including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, Middletown Recreation Programs, and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. There is a suggested donation of $10.00 for participants. I would like to take a moment to thank all of the sponsors for their support of this important community event. They are as follows: Presenting Sponsor: NAPA; Top Gear Sponsors: Charles IT, Downtown Business District, Eli Cannon's Tap Room, and Key Chevrolet; High Performance Sponsors: Liberty Bank and Victory Church; Super Charger Sponsors: Alchemi Wealth, Apple Rehab Middletown, Ch'i Lash the School, Dunkin, Landmark Architects, Middletown Toyota, Purple Elephant Car Wash, Root Center for Advanced Recovery, The Flood Law Firm, LLC, The Powerwashing Kings and Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore; Twin Turbo Sponsors: Absolute Air Services, LLC, Carlson & Dumeer, LLC, Firestone Complete Auto Care, Middlesex Educational Services, LLC, and Wings Over Middletown; and Horsepower Sponsors: Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Middlesex County NAACP # 2018, Middlesex Music Academy, Mirabito, Multi-Focus Media, Overhead Door Of Middlesex County Cromwell, Rehabilitation Specialists of Middlesex County LLC, Seasons Federal Credit Union and William Raveis Real Estate. I would like to once again thank event Chairman Joe Santaniello, all of the sponsors and supporters of Cruise Night on Main, and City of Middletown who stepped up again to support this important community event. From the mayor and the council, to all of our city directors and their respective staffs, and everyone else who has a hand in making Cruise Night work, I offer a sincere thank you on behalf of the chamber.

Excitement continues to build for the Travelers Championship and of course our Annual Travelers Championship Breakfast, which will take place next Tuesday, June 21 beginning at 7:00 a.m. at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. This year, we look forward to welcoming PGA Tour Pro & 2021 Travelers Championship Winner Harris English as our guest speaker. Harris is an exciting player on the tour who is ready to defend his title after the record-breaking eight-hole win against Kramer Hickok at last year’s event. I would like to give a huge thank you to The Travelers for sponsoring this event once again. To register for this breakfast, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Following the Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will be our Middlesex County Career Fair taking place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Over 40 companies from throughout the labor market area will be in attendance. The chamber is proud to partner with the Connecticut Department of Labor and Workforce Alliance on these important workforce development initiatives. I want to take a moment to once again thank DOL Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo, and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for not only their support of the Middlesex County Career Fair, but for their longtime support of workforce development in Middlesex County.

On Tuesday, June 28, the chamber’s annual Real Estate Luncheon will be held at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. This committee, chaired by Nancy Currlin and Juliet Cavanaugh, provides opportunities for local real estate professionals to come together for networking, encouraging cooperation, sharing of ideas, to improve business relations through collaboration and educational experiences. This committee is one of our most active groups, with fundraising for various programs and continuing education courses throughout the year.

Looking ahead to the end of June, excitement is building for our 12th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland from 4:30 – 7:00 p.m. I will have more on the Small Business Awards as the event approaches, but please save the date.

In closing this week’s column, I wanted to share a short note of sadness regarding Carl Erlacher Sr’s recent passing. I was honored to coach his son at Xavier and have known Carl for many years. He was a real good man who was one of those many unsung people in our region making a difference everyday. He was always there, never forgetting his family and friends. Our thoughts and prayers are with his vast network of family and friends. He will be greatly missed.

Another successful Pride event in the books

June 6, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

Before getting into the details of what is another busy chamber week, I would like to put a bow on what was a very successful Middletown PrideFEST held this past weekend. The weather was beautiful, the large crowds were proud and energetic, and Middletown stepped up again to produce a wonderful event. I want to take a moment to once again thank the City of Middletown, led by Mayor Ben Florsheim, our Pride partners, Wesleyan University, led by President Michael Roth, and Russell Library, led by Ramona Burkey, the LGBTQIA+ Commission, our outstanding sponsors and supporters, the volunteers who did a great job, the chamber staff who showed their dedication and drive once again, all of the city departments and personnel that supported the event, and of course, Middletown Assistant General Counsel Christopher Forte, the creator of Middletown Pride, for his year round work to make Middletown Pride happen. Middletown Pride will continue their efforts with a month full of programming for all. More information on all things Middletown Pride is available on www.middletownpride.org.

The chamber calendar is poised for another big week from start to finish. On Monday morning, our Executive Committee will meet at the chamber office and through virtual means followed by the chamber’s Annual Meeting. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. On the chamber division front, our Durham and Middlefield Division will meet on Wednesday morning at Indian Springs Golf Course in Middlefield and our Cromwell Division will meet on Thursday at the Cromwell Belden Library. Also taking place on Thursday will be a meeting of our Health Care Council Steering Committee at 8:30 a.m. through virtual means. In addition to these meetings that are specific to the chamber, I will be attending the YMCA’s Annual Meeting on Monday as well as the Community Health Center Advisory Council Meeting on Thursday.

The latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place next Tuesday, June 14 from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. at the chamber office or through virtual means. This workshop titled, "Recognizing and Overcoming Unconscious Bias" will help explore how bias works and influences our decisions and shapes our daily experiences. I would like to thank Sandra Stanfield ot Stanfield Bechtel Law for hosting this workshop, and KeyBank for continuing to provide this great workshop series. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

It is hard to believe but our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street will be returning to Main Street next week on Wednesday, June 15 from 4:30 – 8:00 p.m. Cruise Night on Main Street will once again feature live music, terrific food, great vendors, hundreds of pre-1997 cars and trucks and of course, fun for the entire family. This event, chaired by Joe Santaniello, will once again benefit Middletown Youth Programs. To learn more about this event, please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com. We are looking forward to another great event on Main Street, Middletown!

Excitement continues to build for the Travelers Championship and of course our Annual Travelers Championship Breakfast, which will take place on Tuesday, June 21 beginning at 7:00 a.m. at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. This year, we look forward to welcoming PGA Tour Pro & 2021 Travelers Championship Winner Harris English as our guest speaker. Harris is an exciting player on the tour who is ready to defend his title after the record-breaking eight-hole win against Kramer Hickok at last year’s event. I would like to give a huge thank you to The Travelers Championship for sponsoring this event once again. To register for this breakfast, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Following our Annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will be our Middlesex County Career Fair taking place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Close to 40 companies from throughout the labor market area will be in attendance. The chamber is proud to partner with the Connecticut Department of Labor and Workforce Alliance on these important workforce development initiatives. I want to take a moment to once again thank DOL Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo, and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for not only their support of the Middlesex County Career Fair, but for their longtime support of workforce development in Middlesex County.

Looking ahead to the end of June, excitement is building for our 12th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland from 4:30 – 7:00 p.m. I will have more on the Small Business Awards as the event approaches, but please save the date.

I am afraid I must close this weeks column on a sad note after the recent passing of two longtime supporters of the Chamber and of myself, Joseph Giannetti and Carmelo (Carl) Mazzotta. I have known both of these fine individuals since my days at Xavier and appreciate their unending commitment to the community at large. Joseph was the successful business owner of Connecticut Office Supply in Meriden, Falcon Express in Middletown and Imperial Stationers in New Haven, as well as an active member of the Middletown Elks and numerous other community organizations. More important than all, he was a family man who enjoyed quality time with his children and grandchildren.

Carmela (Carl) Mazzotta was the owner of Middletown Builders Supply Company prior to his retirement and transition to serving on the board of directors of the Farmers and Mechanics Bank and chair of the loan committee. He also served as chair of the Middletown Planning and Zoning Commisison, and a member of Middletown’s Board of Finance and Merit Rating Board. He was also an active memberp of the Italian American Civic Order, the Elks, the Masons and the Shriners.

Our thoughts and prayers are with Joseph and Carl’s vast network of children, grandchildren, family and friends at this difficult time. May they all find peace in knowing that these men led lives well lived, and they will be truly missed.

Middletown Pride, set for June 4, largest in state

May 31, 2022

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. Memorial Day is for remembering those 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. Millions of 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 fire up the grills, head to the beach, or put the boats in the water, let us again pause to recognize and honor the true meaning of Memorial Day.

Before we begin, I would like to put a bow on our sold out 2022 Golf Tournament, which was held last Thursday at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. It was a great day on the course for our golfers, staff members and other tournament supporters. I would like to once again offer a sincere thank you to all of our sponsors, our Golf Committee chaired by Dante Fazzina, 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 along with support from Danielle Aletta and our entire staff.

 

On the business development front, I will attend the Ribbon Cutting Celebration for Hungry Middletown on Tuesday afternoon at Luce Restaurant. Hungry Middletown is a local delivery company, owned by independent restaurants in Middletown. I would like to wish Lauren Ashe and the entire team great success on this innovative food delivery service in Middletown.

On the chamber calendar front, this week is set to feature division and committee meetings throughout the county. On Tuesday morning, our East Haddam and Haddam Division will meet at East Haddam Town Hall beginning at 8:00 a.m. Wednesday morning will feature a meeting of our Portland and East Hampton Division at East Hampton High School at 8:00 a.m. Also taking place at 8:00 a.m. will be a meeting of our Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the chamber office or through virtual means. On Thursday morning, a meeting of our Central Business Bureau will take place at the chamber office at 8:00 a.m. followed by a meeting of our Real Estate Council during the lunch hour. Rounding out the week will be a meeting of our Down County Division, which covers the towns of Chester, Deep River and Essex. This meeting will take place at The Hive in Chester at 8:00 a.m. As always, our division meetings are critical in helping us keep a close eye on the issues that directly affect our members.

The main events for this week will be Middletown Pride’s kick-off of Pride Month on Wednesday, June 1 and Middletown PrideFEST 2022 on Saturday, June 4 from 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. On June 1, we will begin the kick-off of pride month with a flag raising ceremony at 9:00 a.m. at Middlesex Health. Folks will then celebrate the official Middletown Pride kick-off at our Rainbow Crosswalk on Main Street at 10 a.m. We will then head over to Middletown City Hall to raise the Pride flag and issue a Mayoral Proclamation for Pride Month at 11:00 a.m. Middletown Pride 2022 will be a month-long celebration of inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity.

The 4th Annual Middletown PrideFEST will take place on June 4 (rain date June 5) from 2 – 10 p.m. in downtown Middletown. PrideFEST is an all afternoon street fair on Main Street that combines exhibitors, entertainers, food, activities for all ages, and will feature our Pride March, Pride Rally, and Pride Showcase Concert. Connecticut’s largest Pride March will kick off at 2:00 p.m. sharp and will feature over 50 marching groups. The Pride March will start in the North End and will continue down the entirety of Main Street. Following the conclusion of the Pride March will be Middletown Pride’s first-ever Pride Rally at 4:00 p.m. on the South Green. Join Grand Marshals Kenya Mone Heart and Mel Cordner, Mayor Benjamin Florsheim, the City’s LGBTQIA+ Commission, Governor Ned Lamont, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, and others, to stand together and honor the history of the LGBTQIA+ community. At 5:00 p.m., Middletown Pride and the New Haven Pride Center will host the Legendary Drag Show where drag performers and educators will display drag performance styles across the decades, from Stonewall, to the present day. Rounding out the evening will be Middletown Pride’s Showcase Concert from 7:00 – 10:00 p.m. featuring some of the state’s best drag artists and LGBTQIA2S+ groups.

Middletown Pride is one of the largest pride events in the state, which is held in downtown Middletown and serves as a demonstration for, and a celebration of, our local LGBTQIA2S+ communities. I am so proud of all of the work that Middletown Pride Creator Christopher Forte, the city’s LGBTQIA+ Commission, the many outstanding city departments and the chamber team led by Haley Stafford continue to do throughout the entire year to create a safe and inclusive community for all.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County, and will be shining extra bright on June 4 over Middletown!

Community Health Center to mark 50 years Friday

May 23, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

We are now just one week away from the unofficial start of summer in Middlesex County, and as always, the chamber team is on the move.

On Tuesday morning, our Westbrook division will hold their May meeting at Westbrook High School from 8:00-9:00 a.m. Wednesday morning will feature a meeting of our Women’s Leadership Collaborative at 8:30 a.m. through hybrid means followed by a meeting of the chamber’s “Big 8”, which monitors the state of the chamber’s finances. In addition to these meetings, I look forward to representing the chamber at a meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Advisory Council on Wednesday afternoon.

The main event of the week is our sold-out 39th Annual Golf Tournament, chaired by Dante Fazzina, which will host 144 golfers on Thursday at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. As I have noted many times, this is a major event for our organization. I would like to 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 Chief Operating Officer Johanna Bond and Office Manager Danielle Aletta have done a fantastic job with this tournament for many years. I appreciate their effort, and that of our entire staff, on a daily basis. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield on Thursday, and look forward to another great day on the course. A key part of the tournament every year is the presentation of the Robert Briggs Award, which recognizes contributions made to the community and to the chamber's Golf Tournament. We look forward to honoring our 2022 recipient, Anthony Assante, who is another in a long line of deserving recipients of this award. Anthony is a longtime friend and supporter of our chamber, and of our annual Golf Tournament. We appreciate his unending support, and look forward to honoring his commitment on Thursday in Middlefield.

This Friday, I look forward to joining Johanna Bond of the chamber and fellow community leaders for the 50th Anniversary Celebration of Community Health Center at Wesleyan University with honorary hosts U.S. Senator John Hickenlooper, U.S. Senator Christopher Dodd, and U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro. Community Health Center currently has 243 locations where they provide primary Medical, Dental and Behavioral health care to over 145,000 patients. I am so proud of President and C.E.O. Mark Masselli, Senior Vice President & Clinical Directory Margaret Flinter, and their entire team of dedicated individuals for all that they have accomplished over the past 50 years. They had made a positive difference in our state.

Looking ahead to the month of June, the chamber team is ready to rock with a whole host of events and activities. Our 4th Annual Middletown Pride FEST is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, 2022 from 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. in Downtown Middletown. This daylong celebration will feature a March beginning at 2:00 p.m., a Rally beginning at 4:00 p.m., and a showcase concert beginning at 7:00 p.m. For more information on this event and over a dozen additional events taking place throughout the month of June, please visit www.middletownpride.org.

The 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street, chaired by Joe Santaniello, will be returning to Main Street, Middletown on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 from 4:30 - 8:00 p.m. After two years of virtual events, we are excited to welcome back attendees to Main Street with live music by Nightshift, terrific food, great vendors, hundreds of pre-1997 cars and trucks and of course, fun for the entire family. This event will once again benefit Middletown Youth Programs. To learn more about this event, please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com.

The month of June is of course synonymous with the Travelers Championship. Anyone interested in tickets can visit www.travelerschampionship.com. It will certainly be great to once again see fans out at the TPC River Highlands for this major PGA event. As always, a key part of Travelers Championship week is our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting, which will be held on Tuesday, June 21 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill beginning at 7:00 a.m. This year, we look forward to welcoming PGA Tour Pro & 2021 Travelers Championship Winner Harris English as our guest speaker. Harris is an exciting player on the tour who is ready to defend his title after the record-breaking eight-hole win against Kramer Hickok at last year’s event. I would like to give a huge thank you to The Travelers Championship for sponsoring this event once again.

Following our Annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting will be our Middlesex County Career Fair taking place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Close to 40 companies from throughout the labor market area will be seeking people whose skills run from professional, technical, manufacturing and administrative. The chamber is proud to partner with the Connecticut Department of Labor and Workforce Alliance on these important workforce development initiatives. I want to take a moment to once again thank DOL Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo, and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for not only their support of the Middlesex County Career Fair, but for their longtime support of workforce development in Middlesex County.

Looking ahead to the end of June, excitement is building for our 12th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, which is scheduled for Wednesday, June 29 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland. We are once again looking forward to a great night celebrating our 2022 Small Business Champions, who were all nominated by their fellow chamber members. They come from many different industry sectors, but they all share a commitment to Middlesex County and they are all great representatives of our business community. I will have more on the Small Business Awards as the event approaches, but please save the date.

Have a great week!

Pride festival, cruise night coming up in June

May 16, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

Amazingly, we have reached mid-May in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team with events and activities scheduled throughout our region. On Tuesday, the chamber’s newly created Strategic Events committee will meet through hybrid means at 3:00 p.m. This new committee is tasked with evaluating past chamber activities and events with the goal of diversifying our programming.

A busy Thursday kicks off with a meeting of our Killingworth Division at Killingworth Fire Department at 8:00 a.m. At this meeting led by chairwoman Ann Pellegrini, attendees will hear town updates, chamber updates, member business updates, and will tour the Fire Department building. Also taking place at 8:00 a.m., the Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee is scheduled to meet through virtual means. This committee continues to address the increasing needs of individuals who have suffered from addiction and are now in recovery to obtain gainful employment while being carefully monitored and coached through the process. During the lunch hour, the chamber’s Board of Directors will meet at the Elks Crystal Ballroom in Middletown. This meeting, sponsored by Eversource, will feature remarks from Mark Boughton, Commissioner of Connecticut Department of Revenue Services. The Board of Directors acts as our governing body and provides the structure behind Chamber initiatives, committees and councils as well as considers and implements policy and operational recommendations made by our Executive Committee. Rounding out a busy Thursday will be the MEWS+’s return to in-person with the latest installment of their pitch series, PitchMX. At this event, beginning at 6:00 p.m., six local entrepreneurs and founders will pitch their big ideas to attendees with the hope of gaining exposure, marketing, funding and growth. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to attending a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity & Accountability Initiative.

Friday morning will feature four important meetings through hybrid and virtual means. At 8:00 a.m., the chamber’s Legislative Committee, chaired by Richard Carella and Dan Moore, will meet via Zoom to discuss the 2022 legislative session, which recently ended in Hartford. Also taking place at 8:00 a.m., the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) will meet through virtual means. The Middlesex Substance Abuse Prevention Council works to reduce substance abuse in Middlesex County by providing trainings, informational sessions, and community engagement. At 8:30 a.m., the Cruise Night on Main Street Planning Committee will meet through hybrid means as they continue to plan for the 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street taking place on Wednesday, June 15. I will provide more information on Cruise Night later in this weeks column. Rounding out the week will be a meeting of our Affordable Housing Committee at 9:30 a.m. The Affordable Housing Committee, led by chairman Bob Fusari, was created to provide a voice for the business community in the important housing based conversations in Middlesex County. As you can see, the chamber continues to be on the move.

Excitement continues to build for the sold out 39th Annual Golf Tournament, that will be taking place next Thursday, May 26 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. The committee, led by Dante Fazzina, has done a terrific job once again, and I am so appreciative of all of our sponsors, players, those who donated gifts, purchased tee signs, and many other chamber members who offered their support in a number of different ways. We look forward to a great day on the course!

It is hard to believe, but our two largest events of the summer are only a few short weeks away. Our 4th Annual Middletown Pride FEST is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, 2022 from 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. in Downtown Middletown. This daylong celebration will feature a March down Main Street beginning at 2:00 p.m., a Rally on the South Green beginning at 4:00 p.m., and a showcase concert beginning at 7:00 p.m.  Middletown Pride will also host over a dozen events throughout the month of June including two movie nights, a band night, an event to honor LGBTQIA+ activisits, a Main Street cleanup, events for the youth and teen populations, and more. For more information on Middletown Pride, please visit www.middletownpride.org.

Our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street will be returning to Main Street, Middletown on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 from 4:30-8:00 p.m. After two years of virtual events, we are excited to welcome back attendees to Main Street with live music by Nightshift, terrific food, great vendors, hundreds of pre-1997 cars and trucks and of course, fun for the entire family. This event will once again benefit Middletown Youth Programs including the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, Middletown Recreation Programs, and the Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program. To learn more about this event including sponsorship opportunities, vendor opportunities, or to register your vehicle, please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com. I would like to thank event chairman Joe Santaniello for his leadership and continued support of this event, and the entire committee that has been hard at work preparing for our return to in-person on June 15. We look forward to seeing you all on Main Street once again.

Have a great week!

U.S. Sen. Murphy to keynote next member breakfast

May 9, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

The chamber calendar is hot with activity as the weather warms up in Middlesex County.

Another busy chamber week features a KeyBank Workshop, important meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division and our Cromwell Division, our Health Care Council Steering Committee, and more. The latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place on Tuesday, May 10 with a session titled, “Best HR Practices in Hiring, Disciplining and Firing Employees.” In this seminar, Attorney Valerie Ferdon of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. will give attendees a guided tour of the employment law landscape and discuss best practices in hiring, disciplining and firing employees to comply with the law and avoid potential liability. To register for this seminar, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. I would like to thank Attorney Valerie Ferdon of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. for presenting this seminar, and KeyBank for once again sponsoring this great series.

On the chamber division front, our Durham and Middlefield Division will meet on Wednesday, May 11 at Connecticut Forest and Park Association, Inc. in Rockfall beginning at 8:00 a.m. Our Cromwell Division will meet on Thursday, May 12 at Covenant Living also beginning at 8:00 a.m. Both of these division meetings, along with all of our division meetings, help us keep a close eye on the issues that directly impact, or have the potential to impact, our members in each of our towns. Also taking place on Thursday will be a meeting of our Health Care Council Steering Committee at 8:30 a.m. Under the leadership of Kelly Smith and the Steering Team, the Health Care Council strives to educate Council members and engage them in dialogue about the leading-edge issues for healthcare. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to a virtual meeting on Tuesday morning with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state who collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses.

On Tuesday evening the MEWS+ will begin offering a free business incubator program for Middlesex Entrepreneurs titled, StartUpMX. This program is offered over an eight-week schedule from May 10 through June 30, 2022 and includes a virtual workshop series on topics including business strategy, finance, legal, marketing, technology and productivity, and wellness and personal development. I am so proud of the MEWS+ and its efforts to support entrepreneurship in Middlesex County. Our MEWS+ Manager, Rebecca Mead, continues to do a great job on this front, and we look forward to growing these efforts in 2022 and beyond.

The main event for this week is our Member Breakfast Meeting featuring U.S. Senator Chris Murphy. This event will take place on Friday, May 13 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill beginning at 7:00 a.m. Senator Murphy has been a strong voice in the Senate fighting for job creation, affordable health care, education, a forward-looking foreign policy and more. The Senator continues to do a great job serving as the voice of Connecticut residents at the United States Capitol and I appreciate his willingness to speak to our group, and especially look forward to his remarks on Ukraine, which he has visited numerous times and has in depth knowledge of. I would also like to give a shout out to Webster Bank for its support of this event. To register for this breakfast meeting, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Travelers Championship planning underway for June

May 2, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

The first full week of May is another busy one for the chamber team.

Before we begin, I would like to provide a wrap-up of the Narcan Training that took place last Tuesday. As I have mentioned in previous weeks, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), along with DMHAS, the chamber’s Recovery Employment Program, Durham Middlefield Youth and Family Services, and the Alliance for Prevention and Wellness hosted this lifesaving training for over 75 businesses and organizations in attendance. I would like to once again thank Andrew Penna, Overdose Response Coordinator, and Nicole Mason, LMSW, Prevention Specialist, both of the Alliance for Prevention & Wellness Program of BHcare and all of the terrific organizations that made this training possible. I would also like to give a shout out to Charles Mitchell in our office, for continuing to be on the forefront of these issues, and coordinating trainings and workshops to help this population.

I would also like to thank Middletown’s Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak and his entire team for hosting another COVID-19 vaccine booster clinic this past Friday at the Chamber office. With the ever-changing COVID-19 climate, we appreciate their commitment to our community.

The first major meeting of the month takes place on Monday with a hybrid gathering of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee, led by our Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Also taking place on Monday, the Central Regional Tourism District, made up of the Greater New Haven Valley and Greater Hartford regions, will hold a brochure swap at the Courtyard by Marriott Hartford in Cromwell from 2:00 – 4:00 p.m. Help visitors and residents explore what Connecticut has to offer by sharing your town or company’s brochures. This brochure swap is open to the public. For more information including participating and attending, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On Tuesday morning, the chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council will meet through hybrid means at 8:00 a.m. The Chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council continues to serve as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County Schools.

Wednesday morning is set to feature a meeting of the Portland and East Hampton Division and the Environment and Infrastructure Committee both at 8:00 a.m. The Portland and East Hampton Division, led by co-chairs Dan Strong and Cathy Egan will take place at East Hampton High School and will feature updates by local departments, businesses and the chamber. Also on Wednesday, I will attend a meeting of Middletown’s Master Plan Steering Committee with Cooper Robinson. This meeting, led by Mayor Florsheim, will focus on the Riverfront Redevelopment, which will be a huge win for the economic development in downtown Middletown.

The Chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB) will hold their May meeting on Thursday morning at the chamber office and via virtual platforms. Under the leadership of Chairwoman Pam Steele, CBB continues to bring together key leaders in the City of Middletown for important conversations about supporting the critical central business district. Also taking place on Thursday morning will be a meeting of our Real Estate Council at 11:00 a.m. Later in the day, I will meet with Nathan Grube and Jason Soucy of the Travelers Championship to discuss their 2022 event, which is coming up quickly. For more information on the events taking place from June 20-26, please visit www.travelerschampionship.com. Finally, on Thursday evening, chamber staff member Cathy Duncan and I will attend the “Cheers to Adelbrook” event held at Lyman Orchards. During this event, Sal Nesci will receive the Adelbrook Humanitarian of the Year Award for his years of dedicated service to Adelbrook and the individuals they serve. I would like to congratulate Sal Nesci on receiving this award and look forward to celebrating him.

Rounding out the week will be a meeting of our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division on Friday morning at 8:00 a.m. This meeting, led by co-chairs Geoff Jacobson and Sharon Lewis will take place at The Hive in Chester. The Hive is a co-working and community space that creates programs and activities to keep the community connected, healthy and successful.

Next week, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series titled, "Best HR Practices in Hiring, Disciplining and Firing Employees" will take place on Tuesday, May 10 at 9:00 a.m. through virtual means. In this seminar, Attorney Valerie Ferdon of Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. will give attendees a guided tour of the employment law landscape and discuss best practices in hiring, disciplining and firing employees to comply with the law and avoid potential liability. To register for this training, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Looking ahead, excitement continues to grow for our 39th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament, which is sold-out once again. This year’s event, sponsored by Liberty Bank, is scheduled for Thursday May 26 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, will feature a full field of 144 golfers. Our Golf Committee has done a terrific job once again, and I am so appreciative of all of our sponsors, players, those who donated gifts, purchased tee signs, and many other chamber members who offered their support in a number of different ways. We look forward to a great day on the course!

Have a great week!

Middletown chamber hosting ‘lifesaving’ Narcan training

April 25, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

April winds down this week in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features a number of division and committee meetings throughout the region. On Tuesday morning, our Westbrook Division, led by co-chairs Phil Cocchiola and Meri Wick, will meet at Westbrook Town Hall beginning at 8:00 a.m. This meeting will feature local town and chamber updates. Later in the evening, our Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network, led by Chairwoman Lauren Middleton, will hold an event at Torrison Stone & Garden in Durham at 5:00 p.m. This event will feature a discussion on plants native to Connecticut, networking and a tour of Torrison’s new fire room. To register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. On Wednesday, our Women’s Leadership Collaborative will meet at 8:30 a.m. at the Chamber and through virtual means. This committee, chaired by Barbara Taylor-Hatje, unites a diverse mix of inspirational women leaders who empower women to achieve success. Wednesday afternoon will feature a meeting of the chamber’s “Big 8” which collectively monitor the chamber’s finances. On Thursday, our East Haddam and Haddam Division will meet at Goodspeed Musicals Costume Center in East Haddam. This meeting will begin at 8:00 a.m. Later in the day, our Golf Committee will meet beginning at 5:00 p.m. at the Chamber or through virtual means. Our golf committee is busy planning for the 39th Annual Golf Tournament on Thursday, May 26 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club. This event is sold-out once again. I will provide more information on our golf tournament as the event approaches. In addition to these meetings, I look forward to representing the chamber at meetings of the Connecticut Tourism Council and the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) Advisory Board with Chief Operating Officer Lakisha Hyatt, members of her team, and my fellow board members.

On Tuesday morning, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), along with Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), the chamber’s Recovery Employment Program (REP), Durham Middlefield Youth and Family Services, and the Alliance for Prevention and Wellness will host a Narcan Training on Tuesday, April 26 from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. at the chamber or via Zoom. This lifesaving training will cover: Overdose Prevention Strategies, Signs & Symptoms of Overdose, How to Administer Naloxone, Good Samaritan Law, and Support Information & Resources. I would like to thank Andrew Penna, Overdose Response Coordinator, Alliance for Prevention & Wellness Program of BHcare, and Nicole Mason, LMSW, Prevention Specialist, Alliance for Prevention & Wellness Program of BHcare for presenting this important training, as well as all of the terrific organizations that made this training possible. Upon completion, Narcan will be dispensed to those who are in need. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

The chamber will be collaborating with the Middletown Health Department to host another COVID-19 vaccine booster clinic on Friday, April 29 from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Moderna and Pfizer booster shots will be available. To make an appointment, please call (860) 638-4965. I would like to thank Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak and his entire team for their commitment to our community and continued efforts during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Don’t forget to bring your COVID-19 vaccine card!

While April is just coming to a close, I would like to provide a look ahead to this summer as we have three great events already on the books. Our 4th Annual Middletown Pride FEST is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, 2022 from 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. in Downtown Middletown. This daylong celebration will feature a March down Main Street beginning at 2:00 p.m., a Rally on the South Green beginning at 4:00 p.m., and a showcase concert beginning at 7:00 p.m. For more information on this event including sponsorship opportunities, vendor opportunities, participating in the march, or volunteering, please visit www.middletownpride.org. Middletown Pride will also host nearly a dozen events throughout the month of June, which will focus on the youth population, two movie nights, an event to honor LGBTQIA+ activists, a Band Night and more.

Our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street will be returning to Main Street, Middletown on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 from 4:30-8:00 p.m. This event will once again feature live music, great food, vendors, pre-1997 cars and trucks and of course, fun for the entire family. To learn more about this event including sponsorship opportunities, vendor opportunities, or to register your vehicle, please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com. We look forward to seeing you all on Main Street once again.

The chamber’s Annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, June 21 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Cromwell from 7:00 - 9:00 a.m. This great event is once again sponsored by The Travelers Companies. To register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. More information including the speaker for this event will follow, but please save the date.

As you can see, the chamber is on the move, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County. Have a great week!

CSCU president to keynote mentorship breakfast

April 18, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

April is moving right along in Middlesex County, and the chamber team is gearing up for another busy stretch.

On Tuesday morning, our Killingworth Division will meet at True Value at 8:00 a.m. This meeting, led by chairwoman Ann Pellegrini will feature local and chamber updates. A busy Wednesday will kick off with a meeting of the Chamber’s Human Resource Steering Council at 8:00 a.m., as well as a meeting of the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) also at 8:00 a.m. This committee is busy preparing for their upcoming Narcan Training on April 26. I will provide more information on this important training later in this week’s column. Also taking place on Wednesday will be two Open House events from 8:30-10:00 a.m. and 4:30-6:00 p.m. Join Chamber Staff and Chamber Ambassadors to learn about the various benefits, resources and opportunities available through Chamber Membership. To register for either of these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. On Thursday morning, our Chamber Board of Directors, led by Maureen Westbrook, will meet at The Elks Lodge in Middletown. This 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. Rounding out the week will be meetings of the Legislative Committee, the Cruise Night on Main Street Planning Committee, and the Affordable Housing Committee.

The main event for this week is our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 21 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. Keynote Speaker for this important event is Terrence Cheng, President, CT State Colleges & Universities, which oversees 12 community colleges, four state universities and Charter Oak State College, and serves more than 72,000 students. The Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County schools. Its mission is to facilitate and encourage the development of mutually supportive partnerships, and to prepare students for what is an increasingly global and competitive economy. The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, initiated in 1992, is a partnership between the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middletown Board of Education. This program provides students with mentors from a variety of professional fields in our community. For more information on becoming a mentor, please contact Jennifer De Kine at jennifer@middlesexchamber.com. I would like to thank Liberty Bank and its CEO David Glidden for their continued support of this event and many other programs in Middlesex County. To register for this annual event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On Saturday evening, the Greater Middletown Military Museum, Inc. will hold their Annual Dinner Celebration at the Sons of Italy Hall in Middletown. This great group of individuals work hard throughout the year to preserve the stories, documents and artifacts of military services, and telling those stories to future generations. I would like to give a special shout out to Ken McClellan, President, and the entire team at the museum for doing such great work.

The 27th Annual Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner will take place this Sunday, April 24, 2022, at The Elks Club of Middletown. I want to take a moment to congratulate all of the individuals and teams being inducted. Each of these fine individuals and teams deserve this high honor, and I look forward to celebrating their achievements at the induction dinner on Sunday.

Moving on to next week, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), along with DMHAS, REP, Durham Middlefield Youth and Family Services, and the Alliance for Prevention and Wellness will host a Narcan Training on Tuesday, April 26 from 9:00 – 10:30 a.m. at the chamber or via Zoom. This training will cover: Overdose Prevention Strategies, Signs & Symptoms of Overdose, How to Administer Naloxone, Good Samaritan Law, and Support Information & Resources. I would like to thank Andrew Penna, Overdose Response Coordinator, and Nicole Mason, LMSW, Prevention Specialist, both of Alliance for Prevention & Wellness Program of BHcare for presenting this important training. Upon completion, Narcan will be dispensed to those who are in need. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On April 29, we will hold another vaccine booster clinic at the chamber facility from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. Moderna and Pfizer booster shots will be available. To make an appointment, please call (860) 638-4965. I would like to thank Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak and his entire team for making this clinic available once again.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Harriet Levin. Harriet was many things- a loving wife to the late Jerome “Buzzy” Levin, an active member of the local community, a terrific friend to many, and most importantly an adoring mother and grandmother. Harriet was the mother to Marc Levin, owner of Malloves Jewelers, who is a great friend of mine and a very active member of the Chamber and Middletown communities. During her life, she dedicated her time to a number of worthy causes including the Middlesex District Nurse organization, Congregation Adath Israel's Sisterhood and the Middlesex YMCA Women's Board where she served as President. I loved seeing Harriet around the holidays working with Buzzy at Malloves. Our thoughts and prayers are with Marc, Faith, and her entire family. She will be forever missed and cherished.

Connecticut Business Day coming up Tuesday

April 11, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

The hope for warmer weather springs eternal as we have reached mid-April in Middlesex County.

Before we kick off this week’s column, I would like to provide a brief overview of three great events held last week. On Tuesday, our Human Resource Council half-day workshop titled, “How To Be The Employer of Choice Half-Day Conference + Health & Wellness Fair” took place. This workshop, held at Saint Clements Castle in Portland featured our Middlesex County Health and Wellness Fair, a conversation with large, medium and small companies that shared innovative ways that their organizations retain and attract employees, and a Keynote luncheon with Andi Campbell, Chief Growth Officer, WellSpark Health. I would like to once again thank Saint Clements Castle for hosting our group, the HR council for putting on a great event, and Andi Campbell for speaking to our group. Thursday evening featured our return to in-person networking with a Business After Work held at Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estates in Middletown. Over 200 members were in attendance for this great evening of terrific food and networking. I would like to thank Megan Bush, Executive Director, and the entire team for hosting us. On Saturday night, our Real Estate Council hosted a sold-out Comedy Night and Auction to benefit the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program. This great evening was filled with laughter and helped raise funds for a terrific program. A big thank you to Treehouse Comedy Products for assisting with this event, Servpro for sponsoring and Middletown Elk’s Club Ballroom for hosting us.

Moving on to this week, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place on Tuesday, April 12 with a session titled, “How to Handle Emotionally Charged Situations in the Workplace.” Managing emotional tension, anger and confrontation can be tricky, but necessary to keep the workplace running smoothly. Courtney Spencer of Courtney Spencer Coaching will teach attendees how to turn conflict into an opportunity to build stronger, more positive working relationships. This unique seminar will teach you how to deal effectively with high emotions. To register for this seminar, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. I would like to thank Courtney Spencer for presenting this seminar, and KeyBank for once again sponsoring this great series.

Also on Tuesday, the Chamber team will be traveling up to Hartford for Connecticut Business Day 2022, taking place at The Bushnell Performing Arts Center. This year’s event will take a different approach than previous years, with an emphasis on networking with legislators and informal conversations showcasing the needs of businesses. We look forward to joining with fellow business leaders for a productive day on April 12.

On the chamber calendar front, this week will feature two division meetings throughout the county. On Wednesday morning, our Durham and Middlefield Division will meet at Durham Town Hall at 8:00 a.m. and our Cromwell Division will meet on Thursday morning at Cromwell Belden Library. Both of these meetings will feature updates from local department heads, business leaders and chamber staff. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to joining leaders in the tourism industry at a meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council on Tuesday morning.

Looking ahead to later in the month, we look forward to welcoming current members and potential members for two Open House events on Wednesday, April 20 from 8:30-10:00 a.m. and 4:30-6:00 p.m. Join the Chamber Staff and Chamber Ambassadors at our event to learn about the various benefits, resources and opportunities available through Chamber Membership. To register for either of these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On Thursday, April 21, join fellow chamber members at our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast, which is scheduled for Thursday, April 21 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. Keynote Speaker for this important event is Terrence Cheng, President, CT State Colleges & Universities. The Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County schools. Its mission is to facilitate and encourage the development of mutually supportive partnerships, and to prepare students for what is an increasingly global and competitive economy. The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, initiated in 1992, is a partnership between the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middletown Board of Education. This program provides students with mentors from a variety of professional fields in our community. I would like to thank Liberty Bank and its CEO David Glidden for their continued support of this event and many other programs in Middlesex County. To register for this annual event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Before closing, I would like to mention the 27th Annual Middletown Sports Hall of Fame Induction Dinner which will take place on Sunday, April 24, 2022, with Social Hour @ 12:00PM , and Induction ceremony to begin at 1:00 PM. I want to take a moment to congratulate the following individuals and teams who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame: Michael Brown, Demont Highsmith, Edward Kosloski, Alford Marshall, Richard Murray, Louis Petruzzello (posthumously), David Pierson, Bernard Pacholski (posthumously), ​Aleana Sutton Reeves, Wilhelm Tye, Goran Vasic, Gregory White, Class MM State Champs. "1987" MHS Football State Champs Class MM and Middletown "1968" American Legion Baseball Post #75 State Champions. All of these fine individuals and teams deserve this high honor, and I look forward to celebrating their achievements at the induction dinner on April 24.

The spring weather is slowing coming in, and the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County.

Business After Work set for April 7 at Wadsworth Mansion

April 4, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

The first full week of April kicks off with a bang as the chamber has a number of important meetings and activities planned.

On Monday morning, our chamber Executive Committee will meet at the chamber office and through virtual means. Our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, will lead the meeting and along with important updates on chamber activities, it will feature updates from the public health, higher education, and banking sectors in Middlesex County. On the Chamber Division front, our Portland and East Hampton Division will meet at Farrells Restaurant on Wednesday morning to discuss local and chamber updates. Also on Wednesday morning, our Environment & Infrastructure Committee will meet to discuss economic resilience, local infrastructure updates and more. On Thursday, our Central Business Bureau will meet at 8:00 a.m. at the chamber office and through virtual means. This meeting, led by CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele will feature updates from City of Middletown department heads as well as representatives from local institutions and more. During the lunch hour, our Real Estate Council will meet at the chamber office. This council is busy putting the final touches on their upcoming Comedy Night, which will take place this Saturday, April 9 at 6:30 p.m. at the Elk’s Crystal Ballroom in Middletown to benefit the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program. Later in the day will be an Ambassador Roundtable meeting at 4:00 p.m. ahead of our Business After Work at the Wadsworth Mansion in Middletown. This meeting will feature a great discussion with our Chamber Ambassadors, who serve as the Chamber’s primary liaison to new Chamber members. 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, Chief Operating Officer Lakisha Hyatt and members of her team.

One of the main events for this week is our Human Resource Council half-day workshop titled, “How To Be The Employer of Choice Half Day Conference + Health & Wellness Fair”. This workshop, taking place at Saint Clements Castle in Portland from 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., will give attendees the opportunity to hear from Top Employers of Connecticut featuring a large, medium and small company that will speak on their culture and innovative ways to retain and attract employees. Attendees will then have the opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer discussion groups and enjoy our Middlesex County Health and Wellness Fair. Keynoting this event will be Andi Campbell, Chief Growth Officer, WellSpark Health. For more information, and to register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Join chamber staff and fellow members as we return to our Business After Work events on Thursday, April 7 from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estates in Middletown. In addition to a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests, this event will feature outstanding networking and will provide our friends at the Wadsworth Mansion, the opportunity to showcase their terrific facility in Middletown. I would like to thank Executive Director Megan Bush and her entire team for hosting our group. I know our members, staff and other chamber partners look forward to our return to in-person networking.

On the Business Development front, I will attend the Ribbon Cutting Celebration for The Powerwashing Kings in East Berlin. The Powerwashing Kings offer pressure washing, house washing, roof washing, gutter cleaning, commercial services and more. Paul Gianni and his team have done a fantastic job renovating their location and I wish them continued success moving forward.

Enjoy a night full of laughter while supporting the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program at a Comedy Night and Auction presented by the chamber’s Real Estate Council on Saturday, April 9. This event, sponsored by Servpro, will be held at the Middletown Elk’s Crystal Ballroom in Middletown with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the show beginning at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds from this great event will support the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program (REP) which helps those in recovery rebuild lives that have been torn and ripped apart due to addiction. To purchase tickets, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. A big thank you to Treehouse Comedy Products for assisting with this event, and again, thank you to Servpro for sponsoring.

Looking ahead to later in the month, the chamber’s Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast is scheduled for Thursday, April 21 at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill. Keynote Speaker for this important event is Terrence Cheng, President, CT State Colleges & Universities. The Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County schools. Its mission is to facilitate and encourage the development of mutually supportive partnerships, and to prepare students for what is an increasingly global and competitive economy. The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, initiated in 1992, is a partnership between the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middletown Board of Education. This program provides students with mentors from a variety of professional fields in our community. I would like to thank Liberty Bank and its CEO David Glidden for their continued support of this event and many other programs in Middlesex County.

Have a great week!

‘How To Be The Employer of Choice’ workshop on tap

March 28, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached the final week of March, and the chamber team is gearing up for another busy month.

Before we get into the events that are on tap for April, I would like to remind folks that our Legislative Leadership Series will continue this Tuesday, March 29, when we welcome Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. At this meeting, taking place at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, 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 2022 Public Policy Agenda. This meeting is sponsored by Eversource. To register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. Also taking place this week will be a meeting of the Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Committee, a meeting of the chamber’s “Big 8” group and our April meeting of the Chester, Deep River and Essex Division at Marker 37 in Chester. This “Down County” meeting will take place on Friday, April 1 from 8:00-9:00 a.m. and will feature local and chamber updates.

Looking ahead to April, Chamber members and non-members alike should save the following dates. On Tuesday, April 5, our Human Resource Council will be holding a half-day workshop titled, “How To Be The Employer of Choice Half Day Conference + Health & Wellness Fair”. This workshop, taking place at Saint Clements Castle in Portland from 11:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m., will give attendees the opportunity to hear from Top Employers of Connecticut featuring a large, medium and small company that will speak on their culture and innovative ways to retain and attract employees. Attendees will then have the opportunity to participate in peer-to-peer discussion groups. Keynoting this event will be Andi Campbell, Chief Growth Officer, WellSpark Health. For more information, and to register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On Thursday, April 9, join chamber staff and around 200 business members as we return to our Business After Work events from 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. at the Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estates in Middletown. In addition to a great spread of food and drink for our members and their guests, this event will feature outstanding networking and will provide our friends at the Wadsworth Mansion, the opportunity to showcase their terrific facility in Middletown. I would like to thank Executive Director Megan Bush and her entire team for hosting our group. I know our members, staff and other chamber partners look forward to our return to in-person networking.

Support the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program while enjoying a night full of laughter at a Comedy Night and Auction presented by the chamber’s Real Estate Council on Saturday, April 9. This event, sponsored by Servpro, will be held at the Middletown Elk’s Crystal Ballroom in Middletown with doors opening at 6:30 p.m. and the show beginning at 7:30 p.m. Proceeds from this great event will support the Middlesex Recovery Employment Program (REP) which helps those in recovery rebuild lives that have been torn and ripped apart due to addiction. To purchase tickets, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. A big thank you to Treehouse Comedy Products for assisting with this event, and again, thank you to Servpro for sponsoring.

Interested parties should save the date of Thursday, April 21 when we welcome Terrence Cheng, President, CT State Colleges & Universities to our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This event will take place at the Sheraton Hartford South Hotel in Rocky Hill from 7:00 – 9:00 a.m. The Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County schools. I appreciate President Cheng’s willingness to speak to our group, and thank Liberty Bank for its support of this event and of so many community initiatives.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Arthur “Artie” Kohs. I will be forever grateful to him as he hired me in 1963 as the first football coach at Xavier. Artie was a loyal, dedicated, respected man, and he put together the foundation for Xavier Athletics. He was a wonderful husband, father, and grandfather first and foremost. Artie served as Director of Athletics and a physical education teacher at Xavier High School for many years. At Xavier, he amassed over 200 victories and reached the CIAC state semifinals in 1969 and 1975. Throughout his career, he was instrumental in the formation of both the All-Connecticut Conference and the Southern Connecticut Conference, served as a soccer official, served on numerous committees, co-owned the Fundamental Basketball Camp, earned numerous awards, and was inducted into Xavier’s Hall of Fame, the Nathan Hale-Ray High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame. After his retirement from Xavier, he was honored with the naming of Xavier’s gym as the Arthur M. Kohs Gymnasium. More important than his professional career, Art was a devoted family man to his loving wife of 55 years Carolyn, his children and his grandchildren. Art and Carolyn never missed an athletic event for their family and were cheerleaders at their games. Our thoughts and prayers are with his children, grandchildren and his entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that he led a life well lived, and that he will be truly missed by many.

D’Eliana Public Market & Deli opens in East Hampton

March 21, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

The first full week of spring has arrived in Middlesex County and throughout out great nation.

Before looking ahead to another busy chamber week, I want to take a quick look back at last week, which was very productive and beneficial for our members. Last Monday’s sold out Member Breakfast with UCONN Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma was a great event. Coach Auriemma entertained chamber members in attendance with interesting stories and witty humor. This event was sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, and I want to thank Paul Bartosic who did a very nice job introducing the coach. I again want to thank Coach Auriemma for speaking at the breakfast and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for sponsoring. On Tuesday morning, our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council held an important workshop titled, “The Dangers of Fentanyl.” This workshop featured informative conversations by Dr. Jonathan Craig Allen, Rushford, Reverend Robyn Anderson, Ministerial Health Fellowship, Daniel Bryant, Community Health Center, and Ana Gopoian and Christine Gagnon,, TriCircle, Inc. To view this recorded workshop, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. Rounding out the week, chamber members and other interested parties attended the latest session of our Legislative Leadership Series, which featured House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora. Vin did a great job answering questions from our Board of Directors and Legislative Committee. I would like to once again thank Kronenberger & Sons Restoration for sponsoring this annual event.

Moving right along to this week, our chamber calendar features division and committee meetings throughout the county. On Tuesday morning, our Westbrook Division will meet at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa at 8:00 a.m. and will feature local official and chamber updates. Wednesday morning features a meeting of our Women’s Leadership Collaborative Steering committee at 8:30 a.m. followed by a meeting of our Nominating Committee at 11:00 a.m. Later in the day, the Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network will return to in-person with their “Spring Into New Connections” event at the Inn at Middletown beginning at 5:00 p.m. To register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. On Thursday morning, our East Haddam and Haddam Division will meet at River’s Edge Home Center in Haddam at 8:00 a.m. This meeting will feature local and chamber updates as well as updates on the swing bridge project. Rounding out the week will be a meeting of our Cruise Night on Main Street Planning Committee, which has been hard at work planning for our 25th Anniversary Cruise Night on Main Street on Wednesday, June 15 on Main Street, Middletown. In addition to these meetings, I look forward to representing the chamber at meetings of the Connecticut Tourism Council and the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors. Another busy week is upon us, and the chamber team is ready to go.

On the business development front, I look forward to the grand opening celebration of D’Eliana Public Market & Deli in East Hampton. D’Eliana is “the” place for Italian fresh sliced sandwiches, soups, salads, cannoli’s and prepared meals. I would like to wish Lauren Miklos and her team much success in East Hampton.

Looking ahead to next week, our Legislative Leadership Series continues with a meeting of Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff on Tuesday, March 29 at the Courtyard by Marriott. At this meeting, 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 2022 Public Policy Agenda. This meeting is sponsored by Eversource. To register for this event, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Before closing, I would like to acknowledge Vice President Jeff Pugliese, who will be moving on from the chamber to pursue another professional opportunity after 16 years of outstanding service. Words cannot adequately express my feelings about Jeff, and my appreciation of his work and professionalism. Jeff was a dedicated, loyal, and hard-working member of the chamber team who did an excellent job in a very important position. He has truly stepped up to the plate and has taken the lead on a number of important areas for our members and team. On behalf of our entire membership and our staff, I thank Jeff, and his family, and wish him nothing but the best in his new position. Jeff has been a great friend to all, and we will surely miss him and his quick wit.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on a beautiful Celebration of Life that I attended along with the entire chamber staff this past Wednesday. This celebration was held in honor of Stuart “Woody” Wood who passed away on March 9 at the age of 91. Woody, father of chamber Vice President, Johanna Bond was a great guy who was always there for his family and friends. Woody proudly served the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer during the Korean War before dedicating over 30 years as a data processing manager with the Traveler's Insurance Company. He then created his own company that assisted small businesses with their IT solutions. Woody dedicated his life wholeheartedly to his family, friends, and community. Most of all, he loved spending time with his wife Joan Wood, who served as my Executive Assistant during her time at the chamber. I have fond memories of Woody joining Joan at countless chamber events, chauffeuring her to work during inclement weather, and simply supporting the chamber in any way he could. He truly was a gentle giant whose love, passion and support of his family was unsurpassed. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughters, Susan, Sarah and Johanna, and his entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that he led a life well lived, and that he is truly missed by many.

UConn coach Auriemma to guest at member breakfast

March 14, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

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, Saint Patrick’s Day, is coming up this week. Saint 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 Saint Patrick’s Day.

Before the celebrations begin however, the chamber is ready to rock in another busy week throughout our region.

The main event for this week is our Annual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma. This sold out event will take place on Monday, March 14 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies, fresh off their 20th Big East championship victory at Mohegan Sun last week, are gearing up for another run at the national title. 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 Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for sponsoring this major chamber event. Go Huskies!

On Tuesday, March 15, our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) will be holding a very important workshop titled, "The Dangers of Fentanyl.” Now more than ever, Fentanyl continues to be one of the greatest threats facing our nation. Attendees will hear from a distinguished panel of guests as they deep dive into the deadly impacts of fentanyl. Panelists include: Dr. Jonathan Craig Allen, Rushford, Reverend Robyn Anderson, Ministerial Health Fellowship, Daniel Bryant, Community Health Center, and Ana Gopoian, TriCircle, Inc. I urge members and non-members alike to register for this virtual workshop at www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features an array of committee and council meetings, which focus on issues of importance to the many sectors of the Middlesex County economy. On Tuesday, our newly created Strategic Events committee will meet virtually at 3:00 p.m. This new committee will work to evaluate past chamber activities and events with the goal of diversifying our programming. Also on Tuesday will be a meeting of our Automotive Council at 6:00 p.m. at Cantina Restaurant in Middletown. Wednesday morning will feature a meeting of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee at 8:00 a.m., which is busy planning for their upcoming Half Day Conference titled, “How to Be the Employer of Choice”. This conference, scheduled for Tuesday, April 5 at Saint Clements Castle in Portland, will provide attendees the opportunity to learn what top employers in Connecticut are doing to attract and retain employees. I will provide more information on this conference in the upcoming weeks. On Thursday morning, our Recovery Employment Program Steering committee will meet at 8:00 a.m. through virtual means followed by a meeting of our Board of Directors at The Elks Club in Middletown. In addition to these chamber specific meetings, I look forward to attending the launch of the East Haddam Swing Bridge committee on Wednesday evening. This committee was established to provide a more formal communication channel between local elected officials in East Haddam and Haddam, the Department of Transportation and the business community. I also look forward to representing the chamber on a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday morning, our Real Estate Council, under the leadership of Nancy Currlin and Juliet Cavanaugh will host a lunch and learn on “Hoarding: The Hidden Disorder” at the chamber office at 11:30 a.m. Beth Markowski-Roop, Marketing Director, ServiceMaster By Mason, will share details on this psychological disorder that affects tens of millions of Americans, and discuss who is hoarding, what is being hoarded, health & safety concerns, tips for interacting with hoarders, resources available & more.

Rounding out this busy week, our Legislative Leadership Series will continue on Friday, March 18 when we host House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. At this meeting, Rep. Candelora will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2022 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 2022 Public Policy Agenda. The next installment of our Legislative Leadership series will be a meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff on Tuesday, March 29 also at the Courtyard by Marriott. To register for either of these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Looking ahead to next month, I ask members and other interested guests to save the date of Thursday, April 21 for our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast as we welcome Terrence Cheng, President, Connecticut State Colleges & Universities. I will have much more on this annual breakfast meeting, sponsored by Liberty Bank, as we move forward.

Sláinte!

Two new businesses coming to Middletown

March 7, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached the first full week of March in Middlesex County, and the chamber team is on the move.

The chamber calendar is poised for another big week from start to finish. On Monday morning, our Executive Committee will meet at the chamber office and through virtual means. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting led by our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook will feature important updates on chamber activities. Wednesday morning will feature meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division at Victory Church in Middlefield at 8:00 a.m., as well as a meeting of the chamber’s Nominating Committee. On Thursday, our Cromwell Division will meet at Springhill Suites. This meeting will take place at 8:00 a.m. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to a virtual meeting on Tuesday morning with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state who collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses. On Friday, I will be attending meetings of the CVH Advisory Council and the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee. 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.

On Tuesday, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series titled, “New and Updated CT Cyber Laws- Including a Reward for Being Proactive” will take place at 9:00 a.m. through virtual means. With the rise in ransomware attacks and data breaches, Connecticut has taken action with updated and new cyber laws.  In this webinar, attendees will learn about the expanded definition of “personal information” requiring special protection by all organizations, how to take advantage of a new law that rewards businesses that have a written cybersecurity program and proactive steps to renewing your cybersecurity insurance. Industry-leading cybersecurity and privacy law experts, Chris Wisneski and Sherwin Yoder, will arm you with practical measures to minimize cyber risks and show you how to take advantage of this new incentive. For more information on this session as well as upcoming KeyBank Workshops, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the business development front, I look forward to two exciting grand openings this week in Middletown. On Tuesday afternoon, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other community leaders for the Grand Opening Celebration of Middletown Market on Main Street. Middletown Market offers fresh meat, fish, produce and Asian food in downtown Middletown. I would like to wish Sheryl Deloso and her entire team success on Main Street. On Thursday afternoon, I will be attending the Grand Opening Celebration of Flash Car Wash on Washington Street. Flash Car Wash offers a wide variety of services as well as flash passes, detailing, and free vacuums. I also would like wish Dan Ward and the entire team at Flash Car Wash a successful future. As I have noted many times over the years, attending Grand Opening celebrations is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job, and I look forward to celebrating these terrific local businesspeople.

Looking ahead to next week, the chamber has three exciting events on tap. Our annual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma, will take place on Monday, March 14 at the Sheraton Harford South in Rocky Hill, which will be a sold out event. This annual chamber event is sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Coach Auriemma will talk about his terrific team and their season as they look forward to the Women’s NCAA tournament. I want to thank Geno for speaking to our members and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for sponsoring. Go Huskies!

On Tuesday, March 15, our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) will be holding a very important workshop titled, "The Dangers of Fentanyl.” Fentanyl continues to be one of the greatest threats facing our nation. Attendees will hear from our distinguished panel of guests as they provide a deep dive into the deadly impacts of fentanyl. Panelists include: Dr. Jonathan Craig Allen, Rushford, Reverend Robyn Anderson, Ministerial Health Fellowship, Daniel Bryant, Community Health Center, and Ana Gopoian and Christine Gagnon, TriCircle, Inc. To register for this virtual workshop, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Our Legislative Leadership Series will continue on Friday, March 18 when we host House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. At this special meeting, Rep. Candelora will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2022 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 2022 Public Policy Agenda. In addition to this session, we look forward to welcoming Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff on Tuesday, March 29 also at the Courtyard by Marriott. For more information on these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Have a great week!

Welcoming three new businesses to Middletown, Cromwell

February 28, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

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

On the chamber calendar front, this week features a number of important division and committee meetings throughout the region. Our Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council will meet on Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. to discuss the 2022 High School Career Fair, which will take place via virtual means once again this year. Wednesday morning will feature meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division at Petzold's Marina in Portland and our Environment and Infrastructure Committee, both at 8:00 a.m. A busy Thursday kicks off with a meeting of our Central Business Bureau, which will meet through hybrid means beginning at 8:00 a.m. followed by our Real Estate Council that will meet at 11:00 a.m. via Zoom. Rounding out the day will be our first ever Killingworth Division Networking meeting which will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Rustic Barn in Killingworth. This meeting will feature local updates as well as chamber updates, networking and light refreshments. This unique event is sponsored by Valpak. Wrapping up this busy week, our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division will meet at Essex Indoor Golf at 8:00 a.m. I want to take a moment to thank our division and committee chairs and all members that support these important meetings on a monthly basis. Our grassroots divisions help us keep a close eye on the issues that directly impact or have the potential to impact our members in each of our towns. We look forward to a productive week of meetings. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward attending a special meeting of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County’s Nominating Committee. As I mentioned last week, President and CEO Cynthia Clegg and her team continue to do great work in our community, and I know Friday’s meeting will feature another productive discussion.

Switching gears to business development, I look forward to attending three exciting Grand Openings this week. On Tuesday morning, I will be joining local dignitaries from the Town of Cromwell for the Grand Opening of Overhead Door of Middlesex County on Berlin Road in Cromwell. Overhead Door of Middlesex County offers residential and commercial products as well as the ability to service and repair existing infrastructure. I would like to wish Operations Manager Craig Amell, and the entire team great success and a long future in Cromwell. On Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other dignitaries for the Ribbon Cutting Celebration and Grand Reopening of Thai Gardens on Main Street, Middletown. Thai Gardens offers authentic dishes that are fresh, hearty and simply unforgettable. I would like to congratulate Pon Khambaylarsirikul on her recent ownership and would like to wish the entire team continued success on Main Street. Rounding out our week will be the Grand Opening of M Town Wings also on Main Street in Middletown.  M Town Wings features wings smothered in a variety of sauces, fish, sliders, and more. I would like to wish Yu Chem and the entire team a long and fruitful future in Middletown.

Before closing, I would like to touch on the Annual Legislative Breakfast, which took place this past Friday morning. Due to inclement weather, this much-anticipated event had to switch to virtual means. Despite this, members of the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation joined us for an important discussion on the many issues of importance to the business community in Middlesex County. I would like to once again thank Comcast for sponsoring this important event, and our legislators who took time out of their busy schedules to join us. Moving forward, our Legislative Leadership Series will continue on Friday, March 18 when we host House Republican Leader Vincent Candelora at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. We also look forward to welcoming Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff on Tuesday, March 29 also at the Courtyard by Marriott. For more information on these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In closing, I would like to remind readers of two important events coming up this month. Our annual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma, will take place on Monday, March 14 at the Sheraton Harford South in Rocky Hill. This important chamber event is once again sponsored by Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Coach Auriemma always does a great job with his remarks. He will once again talk about his terrific team and their ongoing season as well as leadership strategy and other lessons that are very relevant to the business community, especially now. I again want to thank Geno for speaking to our membership and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care for sponsoring. Go Huskies! On Tuesday, March 15, we will be holding a special workshop hosted by our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) titled, "The Dangers of Fentanyl.” Fentanyl continues to be one of the greatest threats facing our nation. Attendees will hear from our distinguished panel of guests as they provide a deep dive into the deadly impacts of fentanyl. I will have much more on both of these events as we get closer, but please save the dates. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Spring is on its way, the chamber team is on the move, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County.

Chamber to present ’22 public policy agenda Friday

February 21, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

2022 is off to a fast start, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Another busy week on the chamber calendar features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, East Haddam and Haddam Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and more. On the division front, the Westbrook Division will meet at 8:00 a.m. at Valley Shore YMCA on Tuesday, and our East Haddam and Haddam Division will meet at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday at the Municipal Office Complex in Moodus. These meetings will focus on the continuing economic impacts of the pandemic and our efforts to mitigate them, along with updates on upcoming events and activities. Our Women’s Leadership Collaborative will meet on Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. via Zoom. This meeting will feature planning discussions for the group’s events and activities for 2022 and beyond. Later on Wednesday, the chamber’s “Big 8”, which monitors the state of the chamber’s finances, will meet through virtual means. This group of dedicated and engaged chamber members continues to do great work as we navigate this ever-changing climate. Finally, I also look forward to attending a special meeting of the Board of Directors for the Community Foundation of Middlesex County on Tuesday morning. President and CEO Cynthia Clegg and her team continue to do great work in our community, and I know Tuesday’s meeting will feature another productive discussion.

Before we get into the main event for this week, I’d like to quickly review our Legislative Leadership Series kickoff event that featured Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter, which was held last Tuesday at the Inn at Middletown. Speaker Ritter did a great job with his remarks, and then participated in a productive and informative question and answer session that was moderated by our Legislative Co-Chair, Rich Carella. Rich’s firm, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, also sponsored the event, which we appreciate very much. I would like to once again thank the Speaker for joining us during this critical period, and Rich for his continued leadership and support.

The main event for this week is our highly anticipated 2022 Legislative Breakfast, which is scheduled for Friday morning, February 25, at 8:00 a.m., at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. The format is mainly question and answer, and at the event, the chamber’s 2022 Public Policy Agenda will be formally presented to the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation. We hope that this event will be a great opportunity for our members to connect 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. All sixteen members of the General Assembly that represent Middlesex County have been invited to attend. They include: State Senators Matt Lesser, Christine Cohen, Mary Daugherty-Abrams, Paul Formica, Norm Needleman, and Paul Cicarella, and State Reps. Devin Carney, Christie Carpino, Brandon Chafee, Irene Haines, Christine Goupil, Christine Palm, Michael Quinn, Vincent Candelora, Quentin “Q” Phipps, and John-Michael Parker. Before moving off the Legislative Breakfast, I want to take a moment to thank Comcast for its annual sponsorship of this important event.

I also ask that members and other interested parties save the date of Friday, March 18 for the next installment of our 2022 Legislative Leadership Series featuring House Republican Leader, Vincent Candelora, and Tuesday, March 29, for our meeting with Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff. Rest assured that our Legislative Committee will continue to stay active and engaged as this important legislative session rolls along up in Hartford.

Other important events on the upcoming chamber calendar include our annual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma, on Monday, March 14 at the Sheraton Harford South in Rocky Hill, and a special workshop hosted by our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council titled, "The Dangers of Fentanyl.” I will have much more on both of these events as we get closer, but please save the dates. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

In closing, I would like to also highlight some major events for which the planning is already very much underway. While we are currently in the midst of the winter, warmer days are on the horizon, and our team is busy working on two exciting events in the month of June. Our 4th Annual Middletown PrideFEST is scheduled for Saturday, June 4, 2022 from 2:00 – 10:00 p.m. in Downtown Middletown. This daylong celebration will feature a March down Main Street beginning at 2:00 p.m., a Rally on the South Green beginning at 4:00 p.m., and a showcase concert beginning at 7:00 p.m. For more information on this event including sponsorship opportunities, vendor opportunities, participating in the march, or for a preview of the other Middletown Pride events taking place throughout the month, please visit www.middletownpride.org. Our 25th Annual Cruise Night on Main Street is scheduled for Wednesday, June 15, 2022 from 4:30-8:00 p.m. After two years away, this hugely popular event will make its return to Main Street, Middletown. This event will once again feature live music, great food, pre-1997 cars and trucks and of course, fun for the entire family. To learn more about this event including sponsorship opportunities, vendor opportunities, or to register your vehicle, please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com.

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

Support Middletown-area businesses on Valentine’s Day

February 14, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

2022 is cruising right along as we have reached Valentine’s Day in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. Whether you are looking to celebrate by heading out for dinner and drinks, or buying that special someone a nice gift, Middlesex County has you covered. From an amazing array of restaurants and bars, to jewelers and candy stores, and everything in between, our region is stacked with plenty of options. As we always do from the chamber, I would like to encourage everyone to support local this Valentine’s Day, and visit one or more of our terrific local establishments that are spread throughout our region. Let’s work together to ensure that 2022 is a strong year for our regional economy.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team with events and activities scheduled throughout our region.  The main event is the kick off of our 2022 Legislative Leadership Series with Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter, on Tuesday morning at the Inn at Middletown. I would like to once again thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, especially our Legislative Co-Chair, Rich Carella, and of course, Speaker Ritter, for visiting with us at this critical time. I also remind members and other interested parties to save the date of Friday, February 25 for our Annual Legislative Breakfast at the Courtyard by Marriott, Cromwell. All sixteen members of the General Assembly that represent Middlesex County have been invited to attend. We also just booked another Legislative Leadership Series event, this one with Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, which is scheduled for Tuesday, March 29. The chamber will continue to stay active and engaged in the 2022 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly which is officially underway in the capital city of Hartford.

This week also includes a variety of council, committee and division meetings for the chamber team. Our newly created Events Committee will hold its first meeting at 3 p.m. on Tuesday afternoon. This new committee will work to evaluate past chamber activities and events with the goal of diversifying our programming. Wednesday morning features meetings of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee and the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission at 8:00 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. respectively. Thursday will feature a meeting of our Killingworth Division at 8:00 a.m. at the Killingworth Fire Department as well as the Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee at 8:00 a.m. at the chamber office. The chamber’s Board of Directors will meet on Thursday morning and in addition to regular business, will feature an appearance by Connecticut Attorney General William Tong. AG Tong will discuss recent actions and events related to cybersecurity, and will answer questions on how businesses can best prepare to deal with these types of attacks. On Friday, our Legislative Committee will meet at 8:00 a.m., our Cruise Night on Main Planning Committee at 8:30 a.m., and our Affordable Housing Committee at 9:30 a.m. We’re on the move!

On the business development front, I look forward to three exciting Grand Openings this week. On Monday afternoon, we will travel to Chester for the Grand Opening Celebration of Love Your Mental Health Art & Wellness Studio. Owner Kim Pita has created a fun destination in the Village of Chester where visitors can gather, connect, create and purchase mindful treasures, artisan pottery and handmade goods. I look forward to joining chamber Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, Chester’s new First Selectwoman, Charlene Janecek, and other distinguished guests, as we celebrate another terrific business in the Village of Chester. We wish Kim all the best moving forward. On Tuesday, I will join Maureen, Portland First Selectman Ryan Curley, and other distinguished guests for the Grand Opening Celebration of Burger Heaven & Smooth Acai. Burger Heaven & Smooth Acai offers dozens of burgers and sandwich options, bowls and smoothies, breakfast options, and more. We look forward to celebrating this terrific new business with owner Matthew Carroll and his staff, and wish them great success in Portland. Friday morning, I will head back to Chester for the Grand Opening of The Village Bistro. The Village Bistro goes beyond great food and drinks with their mission to offer their guests a unique dining experience featuring locally and regionally sourced menu items highlighting New American Cuisine with a touch of European flair. Maureen and Charlene will join us once again, as we celebrate another terrific business in the Village of Chester. We wish Chelsey Feldcher and her team a long and successful future in town.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that the MEWS+ is hosting an informational open house at The Hive Chester from 6:30 to 8:00 p.m. on Thursday evening. During this event, attendees will learn more about the resources and opportunities that the MEWS+ and The Hive Chester offer to entrepreneurs, startups, and home-based businesses, including work and event space, an online educational and networking community, a pitch competition, and an incubator program. Attendees will tour the co-working and workshop space at The Hive Chester, and will hear how these two terrific organizations have partnered on a sponsorship program for home-based businesses in the lower Middlesex County towns. I am so proud of the MEWS+ and its efforts to support entrepreneurship in Middlesex County. Our Community Manager, Rebecca Mead, continues to do a great job on this front, and we look forward to growing these efforts in 2022 and beyond.

Mental health, art, wellness studio opens in Chester

February 7, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

As we enter the first full week of February, I would like to begin this week’s chamber column by honoring Black History Month here in Middlesex County and throughout our nation. Black History Month is a time to celebrate the amazing contributions that African Americans have made throughout the history of America, and indeed, the history of the world. As I note every year around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, I am so proud of the chamber’s longtime and enduring partnership with the Middlesex County Chapter of the NAACP. I will always be grateful to its President, Faith Jackson, and former Middletown Councilman John Robinson for their ideas, friendship and support. This relationship also extends to many other community organizations who continue to do great work every day of the year. Black History Month is a special month, but it is important to honor black history throughout the year, something we will continue to strive for. Moving forward, it is especially important that we all work together, for the betterment of our community, and for a bright future for us, and for generations to come.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team as it features a number of important meetings and community events. On Monday morning, our chamber Executive Committee will meet at the chamber office and through virtual means. Our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, will lead the meeting and along with important updates on chamber activities, it will feature updates from the public health, higher education, and banking sectors in Middlesex County. On the chamber division front, we look forward to meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, our Cromwell Division, and our Chester, Deep River and Essex Divisions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday respectively. Wednesday’s meeting is at Torrison Stone and Garden in Durham, Thursday we head to Barb’s Pizza in Cromwell, and Friday to Masonicare at Chester Village. Also, on Friday morning, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) Advisory Committee will meet at the chamber office. MCSAAC, chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, works to reduce substance abuse in our region through grassroots and community activities. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to a virtual meeting on Tuesday afternoon with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state who collectively represent thousands of Connecticut businesses.

On the chamber workshop front, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series will take place this Tuesday, February 8, at 9:00 a.m. via Zoom. This session, titled, "Customer Connection: Create a Community of Raving Fans through Digital Communication", will teach attendees how they can harness the power of email in their business to create positive, long-lasting customer relationships. This workshop is presented by Carrie L. Smith of More Than Just Great Dancing. For more information or to register please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Looking ahead to next week, I look forward to traveling to Chester on Monday morning for the Grand Opening Celebration of Love Your Mental Health Art & Wellness Studio. Owner Kim Pita has created a fun destination in the Village of Chester where visitors can gather, connect, create and purchase mindful treasures, artisan pottery and handmade goods. I look forward to joining Chester’s new First Selectwoman, Charlene Janecek, and other distinguished guests, as we celebrate another terrific business in the Village of Chester. We wish Kim all the best moving forward.

On the legislative front, the highly anticipated kick-off for our 2022 Legislative Leadership Series, which was originally scheduled to take place this past Friday, has been rescheduled to next Tuesday, February 15 at 8:00 a.m. at the Inn at Middletown. This in-person meeting is headlined by Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. Speaker Ritter will give some remarks, and chamber members will have the opportunity to ask questions about the upcoming session. I would like to once again thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, especially our Legislative Co-Chair Rich Carella, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with us at this critical time. I also urge members and other interested parties to save the date of Friday, February 25. for our Annual Legislative Breakfast at the Courtyard by Marriott, Cromwell.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Michael “Mike” Camilleri at the far too young age of 49. Mike was a well-respected member of the Cromwell community and was a wonderful husband and father, first and foremost. Professionally, he had a terrific legal career which included stints at Brown Rudnick, and most recently, as Pratt & Whitney’s Global Ethics and Compliance Officer. Mike was also very committed to the community of Cromwell, a community he loved. He served on a variety of Boards and Commissions including on the Board of Education for 12 years, and as Chair of the St. Josephine Bakhita Church Council for many years. He was also very supportive of our chamber, and served as Chairman of our Cromwell Division from 2010-2012. Mike Camilleri made quite an impact during his time, and his loss is felt throughout our community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Terri, his daughters, Megan and Jessica, and his entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that Mike led a life well lived, and that he is truly missed by many.

House speaker to discuss legislative session with members

January 31, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

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

This week, another busy one for the chamber team, features a variety of important events and activities. Our Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council will meet on Tuesday morning at 8:00 a.m. to discuss the 2022 High School Career Fair which will be held through virtual means once again this year. Wednesday morning features a meeting of our Environment and Infrastructure Committee at the chamber with an option for members to join virtually. Thursday morning includes the February meetings of the chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB) and Real Estate Council, along with a virtual workshop hosted by our Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network titled, “Envisioning Your 2022 Goals.”

Wednesday morning also features a meeting of our Portland and East Hampton Division at Absolute Air Services in Portland at 8:00 a.m. Immediately following the division meeting, I look forward to joining First Selectman Ryan Curley and other local dignitaries for a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting celebration in honor of Absolute Air Services, LLC on Portland Cobalt Road in Portland. Absolute Air provides heating and cooling services, furnace and air conditioning installation, and repair and maintenance support throughout Portland and beyond. We are happy to have this important local company as part of our regional business community, and wish Bonnie and Steve Graff all the best as they move their business forward.

Later Wednesday morning, I look forward to participating in an important meeting regarding Middletown’s Riverfront Redevelopment Plan which is a very important process for the city and our entire region. Feedback from recent community meetings and input provided by residents and businesses through other means will be reviewed and discussed. The redevelopment of Middletown’s riverfront will be a transformative process for all of us. It will complement a number of other ongoing efforts throughout the city, including some exciting developments downtown. I again want to thank city leadership for their strong and steady efforts on this important initiative.

On Thursday morning, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will represent the chamber at a Business Development Forum hosted by State Representative Christine Goupil. This important forum, hosted at Clinton Town Hall at 9:00 a.m., will connect state and local partners to business owners. Additional guest speakers include representatives from the Clinton Chamber of Commerce, U.S. Small Business Administration, Women’s Business Development Council, ManufactureCT and ADVANCECT. I thank Rep. Goupil for inviting our chamber to participate, and for connecting local business owners to these resources.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to stay very active and engaged as the 2022 Regular Session of the CT. General Assembly rapidly approaches. Our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off this Friday, February 4 at 8:00 a.m. when we host an in-person meeting with Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. At this special meeting held at the Inn at Middletown, Speaker Ritter will visit with chamber members to discuss the legislative session. Chamber members will have the opportunity to discuss some important issues on our 2022 Public Policy Agenda, and ask questions of the speaker about the upcoming session. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, especially our Legislative Co-Chair Rich Carella, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with us at this critical time. I also urge members and other interested parties to save the date of Friday, February 25 at 8:00 a.m. for our Annual Legislative Breakfast at the Courtyard by Marriott, Cromwell.

I want to take a moment to once again thank our division and committee chairs and all members that support these important meetings on a monthly basis. Our grassroots divisions help us keep a close eye on the issues that directly impact, or have the potential to impact, our members in each of our towns. Our committees allow us to support each of our key industry sectors in Middlesex County in a comprehensive way. We look forward to a productive week of meetings.

In closing, I wanted to thank Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for inviting me to join her, Mayor Ben Florsheim, CT Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Mark Rolfe, and State Senator Matt Lesser for a press conference held last Wednesday regarding the Route 9/ Route 17 Interchange Project. The purpose of the upcoming project is to improve safety by reducing crashes at the interchange. The existing setup has led to many accidents over the years, and the goal moving forward is to reduce crashes and improve safety. This important project is just one example of many upcoming infrastructure efforts throughout our region, our state, and the entire nation. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce has always been, and will always be, very supportive of infrastructure investments. We consider those efforts to be critical to public safety, public health and economic development. Moving forward, we will look to strategically partner with our congressional delegation, the State of Connecticut, our member municipalities, electric, gas and water utilities, and all stakeholders, as we work together to create a more resilient, more efficient, and stronger Middlesex County.

Have a great week!

Middletown shines during National Mentoring Month

January 24, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

2022 is off and running, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have an impact across the country, the chamber continues to do everything we can to support our membership and the business community at large. We recently partnered with the City of Middletown on the distribution of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test Kits to approximately 250 Middletown businesses. As is commonly known, these tests are currently in very limited supply, so we tried to focus on businesses that come into contact with a significant number of people on a regular basis. We were able to supply many local restaurants, retail establishments, and businesses from other industries with two kits which contain two tests each. Last Friday, we held another vaccine booster clinic at the chamber facility which made available the Moderna, Pfizer or the Johnson & Johnson booster shot. We are also currently working on the distribution of N-95 masks to members of the local business community. All the businesses that have taken advantage of these services are very grateful. I want to take a moment to once again thank Mayor Ben Florsheim, Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak, and Emergency Management Director Rob Kronenberger for their support of Middletown businesses over the past two years. Middletown truly is a community, and it is one that we are happy to be a part of. I know that better days are ahead for all of us.

This week is another busy one on the chamber calendar which features meetings of our Westbrook and East Haddam and Haddam Divisions, on Tuesday and Thursday respectively, at 8:00 a.m. via Zoom. These meetings will focus on the continuing economic impacts of the pandemic and our efforts to mitigate them, upcoming events and activities, and other important topics. Wednesday morning will feature meetings of our Women’s Leadership Collaborative group at 8:30 a.m. via Zoom, as well as a meeting of the Business Industry Foundation of Middlesex County which will discuss the many grants and programs that the chamber is either actively involved in or pursuing. This week also features a meeting of our recently established “Big 8” which collectively monitors the chamber’s finances. This group of dedicated and engaged chamber members continues to do great work as we navigate this ever-changing climate. Finally, I also look forward to representing the chamber on a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee on Thursday morning. Another busy week is upon us, and the chamber team is ready to go.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to stay very active and engaged as the start of the 2022 Regular Session of the CT. General Assembly approaches. Our Executive Committee formally adopted our 2022 Public Policy Agenda at its January meeting, and I would like to thank our Legislative Committee for doing a great job developing this document. This year, the chamber is once again urging the General Assembly to focus their efforts on providing meaningful support to the businesses in the state, to partner on measures to assist in recovery from the pandemic, and to avoid imposing unnecessary tax or regulatory burdens on businesses and residents of Connecticut. Our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off on Friday, February 4 at 8:00 a.m. when we host an in-person meeting with Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. At this special meeting held at the Inn at Middletown, Speaker Ritter will visit with chamber members to discuss the legislative session. The chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to discuss some important issues on our 2022 Public Policy Agenda. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with us at this critical time. I also ask that members and other interested parties save the date of Friday, February 25 at 8:00 a.m. for our Annual Legislative Breakfast at the Courtyard by Marriott, Cromwell. I will have much more details on this important annual event in upcoming columns, but please save the date.

In closing, I want to acknowledge that January is National Mentoring Month. With “Over 30 Years of Mentoring”, the Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program, under the guidance of Schools Mentor Coordinator Sylvia Webb and chamber staff liaison Jennifer De Kine, is a partnership between the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce and the Middletown Board of Education. This important effort provides volunteer mentors from the community including businesspeople, retirees, parents, and anyone in between, who are committed to spending quality time with local youth. All of Middletown’s public schools are involved. Students in grades 2-5 are matched with mentors, and it is our hope that relationships that are established through the program will continue from elementary school all the way through high school. Mentors commit to spending a small amount of time on a weekly or bi-weekly basis with their mentees, usually during the child’s lunch period. All it takes to become a mentor is a small amount of time, a big heart, and a desire to become a valuable part of a child’s life.  The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program has achieved notable success over the course of many years, and we are proud of it. We look forward to growing it as we move forward.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Grand opening this week for Middletown eatery

January 17, 2022

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 Monday, which will be virtual this year. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce also has a longtime and enduring partnership with the Middlesex County Chapter of the NAACP which is led by its President, Faith Jackson. I would like to take a moment to once again 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, not just on Monday, but every day of the year.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team as it features a number of important meetings and community events. On Wednesday afternoon, the chamber’s Affordable Housing Committee, led by Chairman Bob Fusari, will host a special presentation which will focus on the affordable housing landscape in Connecticut as we enter 2022. Presenters include: CT Department of Housing Commissioner Seila Mosquera-Bruno, Dawn Parker who serves as Director of UniteCT, Greg Ugalde who formerly served as Chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, and RiverCOG Executive Director Sam Gold. We look forward to this important discussion which will include everything from available incentives and tax credits from the state level, landlord and tenant relations, national issues currently impacting Connecticut like supply chain and labor issues, and an update on the regional plan of conservation and development.

On the chamber meeting front, this week will feature virtual meetings of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee, Killingworth Division, Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee, and Cruise Night on Main Committee. Our Board of Directors meeting, scheduled for Thursday at 11:30 a.m., 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. In addition to these important updates, the meeting will feature remarks from Patrick Flaherty, Director of Research and Information for the Connecticut Department of Labor’s Office of Research. We look forward to hearing from Patrick on the current health of the state’s economy as we embark on what we hope is a full year of positive economic news. Finally, in addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I also look forward to attending a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity & Accountability Initiative on Friday. As you can see, the chamber continues to be on the move.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting celebration in honor of Fresh Greens & Proteins on Main Street. Fresh Greens and Proteins’ mission is to create healthy options so you can eat better, which allows you to feel better, so you can live better. I would like to wish AJ Cooney, Mack Cianciolo, Zakary Cianciolo and the entire team great success on Main Street and we look forward to supporting their business moving forward.

Before closing, I would like to thank the chamber’s Executive Committee which formally adopted our 2022 Public Policy Agenda at its January meeting which was held last Monday. This year, the chamber is once again urging the General Assembly to focus its efforts on providing meaningful support to the businesses in the state, and helping them as they work to recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. The chamber’s 2022 Legislative Event Series kicks off on Friday, Feb. 4, when we welcome Speaker of the House Matt Ritter to a special meeting at the Inn at Middletown, and continues on Friday, February 25, with our annual Legislative Breakfast at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. I will have much more to share on these important events as we approach the legislative session which begins on February 9th.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Carolyn Adams, a well-known, and well-respected local businesswoman, and friend to many in the Middlesex County community. Carolyn opened the Lighting Barn of Durham, which later became Carolyn Adams Country Barn, in the mid 1970’s. She operated this local staple for over 40 years until her retirement in 2017. Carolyn Adams Country Barn offered couches, chairs, tables, home decor items, seasonal decorations and much more. She served her customers with a personal touch that made a lasting impression, and the business was a key part of Main Street in Durham for decades. Carolyn was kind, generous and loyal, and is someone who will be missed dearly by all who knew her. I am grateful for her many years of chamber membership and her support of many community-based causes. Our thoughts and prayers are with her entire family who adored her, and for good reason. Carolyn Adams made quite an impact, and she will certainly be missed.

Middletown supplies local businesses with COVID tests

January 10, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

As we enter the second full week of 2022, it is no secret that we are not where we expected to be when it comes to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Case rates, and unfortunately, hospitalizations, are both at very high and very concerning levels. The chamber continues to do everything we can to support our membership and the business community at large throughout this challenging period. From the very beginning, we have pledged to do the best we can to be a constructive community partner as we battle this common foe together. Just last week, we worked with our partners at the City of Middletown on the distribution of BinaxNOW COVID-19 Antigen Self-Test Kits for the Middletown business community. As is commonly known, these tests are currently in very limited supply, so we tried to focus on businesses that come into contact with a significant number of people on a regular basis. We were able to supply many local restaurants, retail establishments, and businesses from other industries with two kits which contain two tests each. I want to take a moment to thank Mayor Ben Florsheim, Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak, and Emergency Management Director Rob Kronenberger for reaching out to our team and for always keeping the local business community in mind. This effort follows up on vaccine and booster clinics held at the chamber in partnership with the city, distribution of PPE and other critical supplies, and of course, helping the business community access badly needed relief funds. We will continue to do the best we can to support the efforts of our partners in the public sector, and I know that better days are ahead for all of us.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team and for our membership. The chamber’s Executive Committee will hold its first meeting of the year on Monday, Jan. 10 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. As I have noted many times over the years, our Executive Committee features a variety of local business and community leaders. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. This meeting will also feature a discussion and ultimate adoption of the chamber’s 2022 Public Policy Agenda. This Tuesday, Jan. 11, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series with a critically important session on Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. This session will be held virtually on the zoom platform, and will begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed, and the session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. We have over 60 already registered to attend, but other interested parties can visit www.middlesexchamber.com to register. Finally, this week also features important virtual meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Golf Committee, and Environment and Infrastructure Committee.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting celebration in honor of Reboot Eco on River Road in Middletown. This important event will be held on Friday morning at 9:00 a.m. Reboot Eco is a zero-waste company that is working to support the fight for less waste, smaller carbon footprints, and more approachable and affordable sustainable options. Local entrepreneur Yasemin Ugurlu, a friend to many on the chamber team and throughout the community, offers refill stations for household cleaners and bath products. She is truly committed to reducing the purchase of single use plastics and promoting the use of sustainable cleaning and bath products. As she worked to develop this important local business, Yasemin enlisted the help of the MEWS+, the chamber’s entrepreneur development initiative that works to support local entrepreneurs with their business concepts. In fact, she was presented with the MEWS+ Entrepreneur of the Year Award at the chamber’s Small Business Awards in June of 2021. We are proud of Yasemin and look forward to her event on Friday. We will continue to support her moving forward.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on Bill Russo, who recently retired as Middletown Department of Public Works Director and took on a similar position in the Town of Cromwell. Bill served as Public Works Director in Middletown for over 36 years. He is an extremely dedicated public servant and is someone who clearly loves his home city. His legacy is clearly visible as you travel around Middletown. From the city’s parks and athletic fields, to the wonderful monuments dedicated to our veterans, to the boardwalk at Harbor Park, and much more, Bill certainly made his mark. He especially shined as he led the department during cleanup from snowstorms and other weather events, and during major city-wide events when the public works teams was always there, and always ready. I look forward to continuing our good work with Bill as he transitions to Cromwell, but I want him to know just how proud I am of the job he did in Middletown, and how grateful I am for his support of our chamber over the years. I am glad he is not going far.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County. Hang in there!

Middlesex Chamber crafting its ’22 public policy agenda

January 3, 2022

By: Larry McHugh

2022 is off and running, and the chamber team is off to a real fast start.

The first week of the year is a busy one with a number of important meetings and events scheduled. The first chamber division meetings of the year take place this week, with the Portland and East Hampton Division meeting on Wednesday morning, the Central Business Bureau (Middletown) on Thursday morning, and the Chester, Deep River and Essex Division on Friday morning. On the council and committee front, this week also features meetings of the chamber’s Business and Education Advisory Council on Tuesday, and Real Estate Committee on Thursday. In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, we also look forward to partnering with the Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC) on a webinar focused on new Connecticut Paid Leave (CTPL) program which went into effect on January 1, 2022. This webinar will be held on Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m. The CTSBDC team, along with experts from The Human Resources Consulting Group, will present an informational webinar on how to continue running your business as this new law gets implemented. The updated law includes all employers with one or more employees. For many small businesses, this law can have a significant impact on operations so it is important to have a plan and processes in place. These experts will provide actionable advice that small businesses can incorporate into their planning for 2022 and beyond. We look forward to this important webinar, and thank our partners at the Small Business Development Center for providing this important content. Closing out the week, Friday morning features 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 in the new year as we continue our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant State of Connecticut.

Looking ahead to next week, the chamber’s Executive Committee will hold its first meeting of the year next Monday, Jan. 10. As I have noted many times over the years, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Next Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. Next Tuesday, Jan. 11, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series with a critically important session on Sexual Harassment Prevention Training. This session will be held virtually on the zoom platform, and will begin promptly at 8:30 a.m. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed, and the session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com for registration information. As you can see, the chamber team is on the move in the new year.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining First Selectman Ryan Curley and other local dignitaries on Wednesday morning for a Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting celebration in honor of Absolute Air Services, LLC on Portland Cobalt Road in Portland. Absolute Air provides heating and cooling services, furnace and air conditioning installation, and repair and maintenance support throughout Portland and beyond. We are happy to have this important local company as part of our regional business community, and wish Bonnie and Steve Graff all the best as they move their business forward. We will have their back along the way.

I would like to close this week’s column by noting that the chamber’s Legislative Committee is hard at work preparing for the 2022 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly that begins on Feb. 9. Our Executive Committee will formally adopt the chamber’s 2022 Public Policy Agenda at its meeting next Monday. This year, the chamber will once again urge the General Assembly to focus their efforts on providing meaningful support to the businesses in the state. We will also stress the importance of partnering on measures to assist in recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, and push them to avoid imposing unnecessary tax or regulatory burdens on businesses and residents of Connecticut. We will also continue to promote just how important economic development, infrastructure, workforce development, manufacturing, and tourism are to our regional and statewide economy. The chamber’s 2022 Legislative Event Series kicks off on Friday, Feb. 4, when we welcome Speaker of the House Matt Ritter to a special meeting at the Inn at Middletown. This event is sponsored by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C. We thank Speaker Ritter for joining us once again, and look forward to a productive discussion. I also ask that members and other interested parties save the date of Friday, February 25, for our annual Legislative Breakfast with the Middlesex County legislative delegation. I will have much more to share on these important fronts as we approach the legislative session, but it is safe to say that we look forward to working with our partners in state government to continue moving Connecticut forward.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County. Happy New Year!

New year yet another chance to support small businesses

December 27, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Happy New Year!

Now that a challenging 2021 is coming to an end, and 2022 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.

Before looking ahead however, I want to take a moment to reflect on the past year, and to express appreciation to many partners, colleagues and friends.

I first want to send out a word of thanks to the many elected leaders that have served us so well during this difficult period. Serving in public office is never easy, but serving during a pandemic is especially challenging. These public servants at the local, state and federal levels have worked so hard over the past two years. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that you can join me in thanking them for their around the clock efforts, and for their public service.

On the chamber side, we are truly lucky to have a dedicated Board of Directors which is led by our outstanding Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook. Maureen, like all of our past chairs, exemplify what this chamber is all about, working together to make sure Middlesex County is a great place to live, work and play. In addition to our board leadership, the chamber staff has stepped up this year in so many ways in support of the Middlesex County business community. Led by our Vice Presidents, Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, our team worked hard every day to advocate for our membership. I am very proud of Jeff and Johanna, along with chamber team members Steve Ciskowski, Danielle Aletta, Jennifer De Kine, Cathy Duncan, Daniellelee Gagnon-Smith, Sandy Heinly, Sierra Lopez, Lorenzo Marshall, Charles Mitchell, and Haley Stafford. I know their efforts are recognized and appreciated in our community. When it comes down to it, all of this is not possible without the unwavering support of our entire membership. I am so fortunate to travel around Middlesex County and experience firsthand the amazing diversity and level of commitment that exists within our regional business community. From our large employers and outstanding corporate citizens, to the small and micro businesses and entrepreneurs who make such an impact, and everyone in between, we are truly blessed. 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 both personally, and on behalf of the chamber.

It is safe to say that the chamber 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 town or their industry sector. We will continue to host important meetings, virtual and in-person, that feature important and helpful content for 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 support new business growth and entrepreneurship in Middletown and throughout Middlesex County. We also plan to continue our focus on manufacturing and tourism in 2022. These two critical industry sectors will be key to a full-blown economic recovery in our region and our state. On the infrastructure front, we look forward to working with Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation and leaders in our state to support important projects in Middlesex County. We will be sure to be a constructive partner on the East Haddam Swing Bridge Project which will begin in the coming year. This project is necessary for the safety of motorists, pedestrians and marine traffic, but it is sure to have a major impact on our community. The chamber will work with all stakeholders and will strive to minimize the impact on our members and the business community at large. We will also work closely with our legislative delegation at the state level during the very important upcoming session of Connecticut General Assembly. On all of these fronts and many more, we will do our very best.

In closing, I say without reservation, that I am very optimistic about 2022. You can bet that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will be on the move in the new year. Thank you for your great support, and Happy New Year!

Support small businesses with holiay shoppping

December 20, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Before sharing some personal thoughts and some thoughts from the chamber about the holidays, I want to take a moment to provide a wrap up of another very successful Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown. Thanks to the efforts of a great committee, our dedicated chamber staff, and a whole lot of holiday spirit, the Magic of Middletown inspired our community while providing family friendly fun for all. I would like to offer a sincere thank you on behalf of the chamber to our 2021 sponsors: Presenting Sponsors- City of Middletown and Pratt & Whitney; Mistletoe Sponsor- Frontier Communications; Jingle Bell Sponsor- Downtown Business District; Snowflake Sponsors- Community Health Center, Orthopedic Associates of Middletown and Root Center for Advanced Recovery; Holly Sponsors- Bank of America, Dunkin Batista Companies, Malloves Jewelers, Middlesex Eye Physicians, Seasons Federal Credit Union and Xavier High School; Jingles the Gnome Sponsors- Apple Rehab of Middletown, Brown and Wimler Construction LLC, Cavanaugh & Company LLC, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Fox Pest Control, Jersey Mikes of Middletown, Rotary Club of Middletown, Russell Library, St. Vincent de Paul of Middletown and Saint John Paul II Regional Catholic School; and Reindeer Sponsors- Heritage Commons Retirement Community, Kidcity Children’s Museum, Kronenberger & Sons Restoration, Middlesex Music Academy, Middlesex YMCA and Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore. As always, the City of Middletown went above and beyond in support of the event. Mayor Ben Florsheim, the Common Council, and many different city departments supported the event in a variety of important ways. From the Police and Fire Departments, to Recreation and Community Services, to Public Works, and more, the city team stepped up once again. The Holiday on Main Street Committee, under the leadership of Al Santostefano, put in many volunteer hours over the past several weeks. Finally, chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, as well as Haley Stafford, Danielle Aletta, and Sierra Lopez from the chamber team, did a great job as usual with this large and important series of events. I thank them all for their support, and I am so proud of Middletown yet again.  The Magic of Middletown is in the books, and we are already looking ahead to next year.

In addition to Holiday on Main Street, the chamber is fortunate to have two other time-honored traditions during the holiday season. The first is to welcome our state’s sitting governor as keynote speaker at our December Member Breakfast Meeting. This tradition goes back to the days of Gov. William A. O’Neill in the 1980’s. Gov. Ned Lamont did a great job at last Tuesday’s event which was sponsored by Eversource. A large crowd of businesspeople, public officials, and other supporters joined us at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill for the event. The governor provided us an update on the state’s fight against the pandemic, an update on Connecticut’s fiscal health, and a look ahead to 2022. He was introduced by Eversource CEO Joe Nolan who also did a terrific job with his uplifting remarks. Finally, the event featured a surprise appearance by new UConn Football Coach, Jim Mora. Optimism won the day, and I know I for one, am very bullish about the future of Middlesex County and the great State of Connecticut. The month of December also annually features our Board of Directors meeting at the Gelston House in East Haddam. Last Thursday’s meeting featured an update on important economic development projects in the area around the Swing Bridge, terrific reports from the chamber staff, and an update from our county-based divisions and industry specific committees. I would like to once again thank Past Chamber Chairman and longtime supporter Anthony Assante for sponsoring this important and productive meeting of our Board of Directors.

Switching gears to the pandemic, I want to take a moment to thank Kevin Elak and his team at the Middletown Department of Health for holding the third COVID-19 vaccine clinic of 2021 for the business community. This event was held at the chamber building last Friday afternoon. Kevin has done amazing work throughout this crisis, and he has reached out to and worked with the chamber every step of the way. He has our gratitude, and the gratitude of this entire community. We also appreciate the work of the outstanding Middletown Medical Reserve Corps (MRC). We appreciate and value these partnerships very much.

Before closing, I would like to send out one final plea that we all consider supporting the local business community for our holiday shopping needs this year. These small business owners are our friends, colleagues, and neighbors, and they deserve our support and patronage. Please support local, and let’s continue to make strides towards a stronger Middlesex County in 2022 and beyond.

In closing, I 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.

2022 is on the horizon, and the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County.

Lamont keynote speaker at 1st in-person member meeting

December 13, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

The main event of what is another busy week is of course our annual Governor’s Breakfast scheduled for Tuesday, Dec. 14 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. 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. This is our first in person Member Breakfast Meeting since February of 2020, and our members and our staff are really looking forward to it. In fact, we announced last week that this event is officially sold out, which is truly a testament to the support of our outstanding membership. The Member Breakfast Meeting will be a fully masked event unless the individual is actively eating or drinking. We are also strongly encouraging that all participants be fully vaccinated. Gov. Lamont will undoubtedly cover the state’s ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic, along with a general outlook as we collectively head into a new year. The governor has done a terrific job leading our state through a very challenging period. Along with DECD Commissioner David Lehman, he has made some critically important decisions that spared the state even more economic pain resulting from the pandemic. I thank him for his leadership, and for agreeing to speak at our event on Tuesday. This event is sponsored once again by Eversource, a longtime and strong supporter of our chamber. Eversource supports our Business and Education Partnership, our Business “Know How” minority business development initiative, the efforts of our Legislative Committee, and much more. In 2022, we also look forward to continuing our work with the company on economic resilience in Middlesex County. If the past two years have taught us anything, it is that having emergency preparedness and business continuity plans in place is of the utmost importance. I thank them for sponsoring Tuesday’s event, and for their longtime support.

In addition to the Member Breakfast Meeting with the governor, we also look forward to the final 2021 meeting of the chamber’s Board of Directors on Thursday at The Gelston House in East Haddam. As I have noted many times, the chamber’s board is a dynamic group of businesspeople that represents every corner of our region and every industry sector in our economy. Our 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 productive meeting which will be led by our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, who is doing a great job in this important leadership position for our chamber.

Looking ahead to the weekend, Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown wraps up on Saturday with its final slate of events and activities. Join us for our 2nd Annual Dashing Through Downtown decorated vehicle parade, dashing off from Middletown High School at 6:30 p.m. The creative event is designed to once again spread holiday cheer throughout Main Street and its surrounding areas. This year, you can also enjoy a little friendly competition as Mayor Ben Florsheim, Jingles the Gnome, and Santa will select their favorite vehicles in the parade. Registration will be held from 4 – 6 p.m. in the Middletown High School parking lot. Please bring a donation of an unwrapped toy and a cash donation of $5.00 fee per vehicle. If you would prefer to enjoy the festive parade as a spectator, you can setup on Main Street behind your parked vehicle. If you’re looking for some holiday adult fun, join us on our double-decker bus for our first ever Magic of Middletown Pub Crawl. The bus will be participating in our holiday parade, and will then make four stops at local establishments. Both of these events will benefit Holiday on Main Street and Middletown Youth Programs. For more information on registering for either of these events, please visit www.holidayonmain.com.

Before closing, I ask that everyone please support the Middlesex County business community for all of their holiday shopping needs this season. We are blessed with a wonderful business community here in our region. I am immensely 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. They have really hung in there throughout this challenging period and they need our support now more than ever. After all, we are all in this together.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Middlefield First Selectman Ed Bailey. Ed was a wonderful man and was truly a class act. He was a great supporter of our chamber since winning the office in 2015. He also served as Chairman of the Middlesex County Revitalization Commission, and was an advocate for economic and community development throughout Middlesex County. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ed’s family and all those who counted him as a friend. We are grateful for his public service, and he will certainly be missed.

Retiring Middlesex United Way CEO to be feted

December 6, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Another busy week is on tap which features a number of important chamber meetings and community events throughout our region and our state. On the chamber calendar front, this week features meetings of our Executive Committee on Monday at the chamber office, Durham & Middlefield Division on Wednesday at the Durham Public Library, and Cromwell Division at Barb’s Pizza on Thursday morning. Tuesday morning will feature the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series. This important session is titled, “Successful Content Marketing for the Holidays”. This presentation, led by Lauren Middleton of Forest City Marketing, focuses on creating a content marketing plan to boost your holiday sales. I thank Laruen for leading the conversation and for her great support of our chamber, and KeyBank for their longtime sponsorship of this series which has been especially valuable during the pandemic. Beyond these meetings that are specific to our chamber, this week features a meeting of the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) Advisory Committee on Friday morning.

On the community front, Tuesday also features two exciting events that will honor the work of two distinguished gentlemen. In the morning, I look forward to traveling to Eastern Connecticut State University for a naming dedication of the Dr. David G. Carter Science Building. Dr. Carter was the fifth president of ECSU and went on to become chancellor of the Connecticut State University System which included Eastern, Central, Southern and Western Connecticut State Universities. Dr. Carter, who passed away in 2018, dedicated his professional life to education. I was honored to serve with him during my tenure as chairman of the CSU system from 1995 to 2009. This is a well-deserved honor for David and his family, and I look forward to returning to the campus that he helped build, and at which his impact is still felt.

Tuesday evening brings me back to Middletown for a Retirement Party in honor of Kevin Wilhelm who is stepping down as CEO of Middlesex United Way after 30 terrific years. Kevin has made an impressive impact during his run at the United Way. He developed funding priority areas that include housing, education, youth development and much more. He has worked very well with other community organizations and has been an important member of a variety of stakeholder groups. I will always appreciate his support of our chamber including attendance at many events over the years, a funding partner of our Middletown Youth Employment Program, and a member of our Affordable Housing Committee. I thank him for his longtime community efforts, and wish him well in all future endeavors.

Rounding out the week of community events, I look forward to attending the Middlesex Historical Society’s Holiday Reception and Exhibit Opening on Thursday evening at the General Mansfield House on Main Street. The new exhibit, “A Century of Devotion: The St. Sebastian Feast in Middletown, 1921-2021” is fantastic, and I thank Jesse Nasta, the Board of Directors, and everyone involved in this important community organization for their great work.

On the economic development front, I look forward to an exciting Ground-Breaking event on Friday morning in Haddam for a 56 Unit Multi-family Development by Elm Tree Partners. The chamber has been supportive of this project since it was originally proposed because we believe it will have a major economic and community impact in town and in our region. This development will also complement recent infrastructure improvements in that section of town. Finally, there is no question that Elm Tree Partners is a group of professionals that is committed to not only the success of this project, but to being a strong community partner as we move forward.

Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown is cruising right along with two exciting Saturdays still to come. This Saturday, Dec. 11, will feature our second annual Holiday Pop-up Vendor Fair. Explore extensive selections of unique handcrafted and manufactured products including the best in holiday decorations, handmade crafts, stylish jewelry and clothes, children’s toys and much more. Don’t forget to stop by our popcorn and pretzel stand staffed by the Middletown Rotary Club, get a free picture with Santa and his sleigh, enjoy live holiday music by Bryan Titus, check out our story time with Middletown’s new Fire Chief Jay Woron at 11:30am at RJ Julia Wesleyan Book Store, and take a free horse and wagon ride down Main Street. Parking is free in all city lots during Holiday on Main Street events. For additional information on events and activities, please visit www.holidayonmain.com.

In closing, I again ask chamber members and other interested parties to save the date of Dec. 14 for a special Member Breakfast Meeting featuring Gov. Ned Lamont at the Sheraton Hartford South. 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 a great event, and I thank Gov. Lamont for joining us, and Eversource for sponsoring. I will have much more on this important event in next week’s chamber column.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Family-friendly Holiday on Main continues this weekend

November 29, 2021

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.

Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown is off to a great start after a very successful opening night on Nov. 26th and a busy follow-up on Saturday the 27th. This Saturday, December 4th, the fun continues throughout the downtown area with a variety of events and activities. Join us for readings of the Polar Express with Conductor Phil at Spear Park at 10 a.m. and 12 p.m., the first ever Reindeer Games officiated by the Middletown Recreation Department at Spear Park from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m., free pictures with Santa, free horse and wagon rides, live music by Bryan Titus in front of Webster Bank, and much more. “Tis the Season to Find a Gnome” Scavenger Hunt will also take place throughout downtown. Families can search for Jingles the Gnome at different locations throughout downtown and enter a drawing to win a $100 Downtown Middletown Gift Card. Volunteers from the Disabled American Veterans Middletown Chapter # 7 will staff the popcorn and hot pretzels stand in front of the chamber building from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Stop by and thank these patriots and community servants. Finally, be sure to check out the Artists for World Peace Holiday Marketplace and Gallery at 428 Main Street from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and don’t forget to stop by the Russell Library on Broad Street to pick up a winter themed craft kit. 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 again want to thank Presenting Sponsors, Pratt & Whitney and the City of Middletown, and our Mistletoe Sponsor, Frontier Communications, for their support, our longtime event chairman, Al Santostefano, for his efforts, chamber Vice President Johanna Bond and event coordinator Haley Stafford, and the entire Holiday on Main Street Committee for its outstanding work. The Magic of Middletown continues on December 11 and December 18. Visit www.holidayonmain.com for all the details.

In addition to the holiday magic, this week also features important in person 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 “Big 8,” a group of dedicated chamber members who meet biweekly to discuss the current status of the chamber’s financials. The main chamber event of the week however is an important webinar hosted by our Recovery Employment Program titled, “Facing the Holidays II.” This important virtual event, which is free to attend, will focus on how individuals who are in recovery face the holidays. Topics such as alcohol consumption, family dynamics, coping through the day, and even how people recently released from prison can successfully navigate the holiday season will be explored. I would like to thank our presenters: Harry Burry of Brown and Brown Insurance, Peter Faulk of Sober World, Reverend Robyn Anderson of the Ministerial Health Fellowship, Daryl McGraw who is formerly incarcerated, and Reverend Robin Ross of How Can We Help. I also want to thank The Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), and the CT. Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS), for their longtime support of these important chamber efforts.

On the business development front, this week also features a Grand Re-Opening & Ribbon Cutting celebration for the newly renovated Quarry Ridge Golf Course banquet and restaurant facilities in Portland on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. Owner Patti Vale, Restaurant Owner Anthony Bonanno, and the entire Quarry Ridge team has done a great job with this important local facility, and we wish them nothing but the best. I look forward to joining Portland First Selectman Ryan Curley and other local dignitaries for the occasion.

Before closing, I again ask chamber members and other interested parties to save the date of Dec. 14 for a special Member Breakfast Meeting featuring Gov. Ned Lamont at the Sheraton Hartford South. We look forward to a great event and I thank Gov. Lamont for joining us, and Eversource for sponsoring. Stay tuned for more on this important event.

In closing, I would like to offer a heartfelt congratulations to Jerry Augustine of Middletown and Bill Currlin of Middlefield who will be formally inducted into the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame on Friday evening in Hartford. I look forward to attending the ceremony. Both of these gentlemen have served this nation, and this community, with honor and distinction. They are both great supporters of our chamber and very active members of our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee. Jerry and Bill are also both past recipients of our William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award. The Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame was established to increase the awareness of the lifetime contributions of Veterans after completion of honorable military service. Jerry and Bill are worthy of this high honor, and they join fellow chamber supporters and past Pomfret Award recipients Phil Cacciola, Larry Riley, Norm Hanenbaum, Peter Galgano and Morty Pear as members of the Connecticut Veterans Hall of Fame. They all have our unending thanks and appreciation.

Support local entrepreneurs on Small Business Saturday

November 22, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

It is Thanksgiving time once again in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. As I note every year, 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 1,900 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 Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, 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.

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. 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. They continue to have our unending gratitude.

On the chamber calendar front, we do have a few important meetings scheduled in advance of the Thanksgiving holiday. This Tuesday, our Westbrook Division makes its annual visit to the Westbrook Outlets. Our very active Women’s Leadership Collaborative also looks forward to continuing a string of productive virtual meetings when they get together later on Tuesday morning. The main event of the week is of course on Friday evening in downtown Middletown.

It is hard to believe, but Holiday on Main Street presents The Magic of Middletown is back! Presented by The City of Middletown and Pratt & Whitney, this series of fun community events will once again be held in Downtown Middletown on the weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas. This Friday evening serves as the official kickoff and the chamber team is feeling merry and ready to go. Festivities begin at 4 p.m. with free wagon rides on Main Street. In front of the chamber building, the Kiwanis Club of Middletown will be selling hot pretzels & popcorn, and in front of the Church of the Holy Trinity, the 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 6:00 p.m., will illuminate the big tree on the South Green and will be led by Mayor Ben Florsheim and Santa Claus. The Middletown High School Concert Choir and the Beaman Middle School Choir will also be on hand for some old-fashioned holiday caroling. After the tree is lit on the South Green, there will be a parade up Main Street to the chamber for a second tree lighting at 6:15 p.m. Immediately following that 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 presents the Magic of Middletown will continue on the next four Saturdays, November 27, December 4, December 11 and December 18.

This Saturday, Small Business Saturday, will feature The Civitan Club of Middletown selling popcorn and hot pretzels in front of the chamber, and carols sung by The Connecticut Yuletide Carolers. Saturday also features “Tis the Season to Find a Gnome” Scavenger Hunt, free pictures with Santa, free horse and wagon rides and more. Please be sure to stop and visit one or more of our wonderful small businesses in this community. Please visit www.HolidayOnMain.com for more information on the holiday festivities. See you downtown!

In closing, I again ask chamber members and other interested parties to save the date of Dec. 14 for a special Member Breakfast Meeting featuring Gov. Ned Lamont at the Sheraton Hartford South. As I noted last week, this is our first in person Member Breakfast Meeting since February of 2020, and we couldn’t be more excited. I thank Gov. Lamont for joining us, and Eversource for sponsoring the event. Stay tuned for more on this important event.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Gearing up for Holiday on Main Street in Middletown

November 15, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Another busy chamber week kicks off with an exciting Ribbon Cutting and Grand Re-Opening celebration for Apollonia Dental on Main Street Extension in Middletown on Monday afternoon. Dr. James McGrath DMD and his team provide patient-centered dentistry to clients from Middlesex County and beyond. They are a team of professionals who care about you and your course of treatment. We look forward to celebrating the Grand Re-Opening of this important local business and look forward to supporting the Apollonia team as we move forward.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features meetings of our East Haddam and Haddam Division on Wednesday morning, our Killingworth Division on Thursday morning, and our Board of Directors on Thursday afternoon at Sicily Coal Fired Pizza in Middletown. The meeting at Sicily marks our return to in person Board of Directors meetings, which is something I am thrilled about. I would like to thank Tony Prifitera and his team for hosting us, and David Glidden and Liberty Bank for sponsoring the gathering. Additional important meetings this week include the Metro Chamber of Commerce Executives from throughout the state on Tuesday, a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee on Wednesday morning, the Annual Meeting of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County on Wednesday evening, and a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee on Thursday morning. An important chamber workshop, hosted by our Human Resource Council, will be held on Wednesday morning via zoom. This virtual gathering is titled, “The Legalization of Recreational Cannabis in Connecticut”, and will be held from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. Presented by Megan Carannante and Zachary Zeid of Pullman and Comley, LLC, the workshop will focus on employer protections and guidance on updating drug free workplace policies and employee handbooks. Finally, I also look forward to serving as Master of Ceremonies at Thursday evening’s Connecticut High School Coaches Association Hall of Fame Banquet at which former Middletown High School Football and Track and Field Coach Rich Rosek will be inducted. This is a well-deserved honor for Rich and his fellow inductees, and I look forward to joining Association President Deb Petruzzello and all attendees for this important event.

Looking ahead, Holiday on Main Street presents The Magic of Middletown will once again be held in Downtown Middletown on the weekends from Thanksgiving to Christmas. Due to the ever changing COVID-19 landscape, we will continue to provide interactive, safe, and socially distant events that will get the community in the holiday spirit. Join us on Friday, November 26 for our in-person Magic of Middletown Tree Lighting Ceremony on the South Green beginning at 6:00 p.m. I will have much more to share in upcoming chamber columns, but in the meantime, please visit www.holidayonmain.com for all the details. Also on the save the date front, we look forward to continuing the annual chamber tradition of welcoming our state’s sitting chief executive for a December Member Breakfast Meeting when we welcome Gov. Ned Lamont to a special in person event on December 14 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. This is our first in person Member Breakfast Meeting since February of 2020, and we couldn’t be more excited. I thank Gov. Lamont for joining us, and Eversource for sponsoring the event.

I am afraid I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the passing of two esteemed local individuals.

Carroll J. Hughes Sr. passed away recently at the age of 79. Carroll Hughes was a longtime government relations professional that represented a variety of key interest groups in our state. He was a true professional and was seen by many as the standard in the lobbying business. Carroll successfully represented the interests of the Connecticut Package Stores Association, the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, and many other groups. He was well respected by everyone he worked with, from public officials, to fellow lobbyists, and he was always willing to offer a helping hand or a piece of advice. I am most grateful for his longtime membership and support of our chamber. He attended many chamber events over the years and always had kind words to say about our organization. Our thoughts are with Carroll’s wife Jean and his entire family at this difficult time. Carroll Hughes made quite an impact in our state, and he will certainly be missed.

We also mourn the loss of Lester D. "Mickey" Fowler Jr. who passed away recently at the age of 97. Mickey Fowler was a longtime supporter of our chamber and a key stakeholder in the Town of Middlefield. He built the professional building on Way Road, which includes the Blackbird Restaurant and many other local businesses. It has been a staple in town for many years. Mickey was also instrumental in the founding of our Middlefield Division which is now an important part of our organization. For that, I will always be grateful. Mickey led an amazing life which included an Ivy League education, extensive traveling, service in the US Navy, numerous professional successes and most importantly, a wonderful family. Our thoughts are with Mickey’s five children, their spouses, his grandchildren, and his vast network of family and friends. Mickey Fowler made quite an impact throughout his life, and he will be sorely missed.

Two business grand openings this week

November 8, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

This week, here in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation, we celebrate Veterans Day. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce is eternally grateful to veterans and their families for their sacrifice and their service. Last Monday, the chamber held its 20th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting. We were honored to welcome Retired Army Colonel Robert Cassidy as our keynote speaker at this event. In addition to Bob’s remarks, we presented the 2021 William J. Pomfret Community Service Award to William F. “Skip” Petras III of Portland, and the 2021 AT&T Veteran Support Business of the Year Award to Eversource. We also took the time to showcase the Greater Middletown Military Museum, The Trees of Honor Memorial and the State Veterans Cemetery, and we recognized the many veterans’ organizations that do great work in our community all year long. 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. We appreciate them, and all of our veterans, not only this Thursday, and not only this week, but every single day. Please consider supporting the many celebrations and remembrances that are planned in honor of Veterans Day this week. It is the least we can do.

In addition to the Support the Troops Breakfast, last week also featured the chamber’s 125th Annual Awards Dinner which was held on Wednesday evening at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. The event, which was enjoyed by over 250 chamber members, friends and guests, honored four outstanding Middlesex County citizens. Jaqui Hubbard, Kelly Smith and Bill Corvo were presented with Distinguished Citizen Awards, and Rob Kronenberger with the Michael L. Green Award. We also honored our two most immediate past chairmen, Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne, who led our chamber with class and professionalism during the height of the pandemic. They are all terrific individuals who very much deserve these prestigious honors. I also want to take a quick moment to thank past chamber Chairman and longtime supporter Anthony Assante for doing a fantastic job as Master of Ceremonies. It was a great night in Middlesex County, and the chamber is officially back to in person events.

This week’s chamber calendar includes the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series titled, “Pay Equity Law”. This presentation will focus on helping employers understand their obligations and to ensure compliance with the new Pay Equity Law in the State of Connecticut. On the chamber division front, this week features meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division at Fire at the Ridge and Ridgeside Tavern in Middlefield, and our Cromwell Division at Adelbrook Behavioral and Developmental Services. These meetings continue to be a great way for chamber members to connect with each other and their elected officials in our valued member towns.

On the business development front, last week featured an exciting Grand Opening celebration for Body Temple Fitness located in Durham. Body Temple Fitness provides clients with the motivation and guidance that is necessary to build confidence through personal training, chip/military training, sports specific training and firefighter boot camp training. I would like to wish Terrace Johnson and the entire BTF team great success in Durham as they launch this new local business. This week features two more Grand Opening celebrations in Portland and Middletown respectively. This Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., I look forward to heading to Portland for the Grand Opening of Portland Ale House on Main Street. Portland Ale House, which occupies the old Portland Restaurant building, features a new 16-draft bar system, delicious food with daily specials, and a terrific staff. I would like to wish Paul Olson and the entire team a long and successful run in Portland. On Thursday, I will join Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local leaders for the Grand Opening of Connecticut Blood Center located on Washington Street in Middletown. Connecticut Blood Center (CTBC) supplies blood and blood products to patients being cared for in over a dozen Connecticut hospitals. I would like to wish Jonathan DeCasanova and the entire staff all the best and thank them for developing this critically important blood center right here in Middletown.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on a beautiful Celebration of Life that I attended along with chamber Vice Presidents Johanna Bond and Jeff Pugliese on Oct. 22 at Shiloh Christian Church. This celebration was held in honor of Kerry L. Marshall who passed away on Oct. 14. Kerry’s brother, Lorenzo Marshall, is a valued member of the chamber team and someone who is well known and well respected throughout this community. Quite simply, the Celebration of Life for Kerry was amazing. From the words of Pastor Paul Hylton, Mother Mary Marshall, and the other speakers, to the incredible music, to the outpouring of support and emotion in honor of Kerry, it is safe to say that the event was uplifting and inspirational to everyone who attended. Kerry Marshall made quite an impact in his 62 years, and he will be missed by all who knew him, especially his wonderful family. Take the time to hug your loved ones and your friends, and remember, the sun always shines in Middlesex County.

Distinguished Citizen Awards, veterans breakfast this week

November 1, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Before getting into what is another busy chamber week, I want to take a quick moment to review what was a busy last weekend for the chamber team at multiple events throughout Middlesex County. On Saturday, our very active Real Estate Council hosted another successful Food Drive to help support community members impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Council members and other event supporters collected an amazing 2,049 pounds of boxes filled with an assortment of food that has been donated to Amazing Grace Food Pantry and St. Vincent dePaul. The drive was held in the parking lot of ShopRite of Cromwell and we certainly appreciate the support of Matthew Lacerte and his entire team. I also want to thank our Real Estate Council Co-Chairs, Juliet Cavanaugh and Nancy Currlin, and chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, for their great work on this important community event. Further down county, members of the chamber staff and the Killingworth Division hosted the 8th Annual Pumpkin Carving at Parmelee Farm. Families from the town of Killingworth and beyond came to carve pumpkins, enjoy apple cider and other treats, and enjoy a great Fall day in Middlesex County. The chamber would like to thank the Killingworth Lions Club for their generous sponsorship and the support of many of their members who worked hard to pull the event off. We would like to also thank all event sponsors which include: Offerdahl Emerson & Company, LLC, Barnum Capital Management, Essex Savings Bank, Killingworth Garage, Conway Painting, Andie’s Cookies, Robert’s Food Center, and Triangle Building Associates, INC. Finally, we would also like to thank the Killingworth Volunteer Fire Company for its support, and Tim Gannon and his team at Parmelee Farm for all of their hard work. We are already looking forward to next year.

Back to the chamber calendar, another busy week includes our 20th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Breakfast Meeting and meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, and Chester, Deep River and Essex Division. On Friday, I will also attend a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity & Accountability Initiative.

Of course, the main event of the week is the chamber’s Annual Awards Dinner which will be held on Wednesday night, from 5-8:00 p.m. at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. Each year at this event, the chamber presents a series of Distinguished Citizen Awards to deserving individuals who serve as an inspiration to others, and are recognized by the Middlesex community as unselfishly giving his or her time and talent to produce a lasting benefit to the area. The Distinguished Citizen Committee chose the recipients from a list of over 230 nominees. The 2021 recipients of the Distinguished Citizen Award are: William Corvo, Jacqueline Hubbard and Kelly Smith. Once again, our Distinguished Citizen Committee has chosen three outstanding individuals. In addition to the Distinguished Citizen Awards, the chamber also presents the Michael L. Green Award to a member of the police or fire community for his or her outstanding service to the community and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. The 2021 recipient of the Michael L. Green Award is Retired Chief Robert Kronenberger of the Middletown Fire Department. Finally, we will honor our two past Chamber Chairmen, Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne, who both stepped up to lead our organization through a very challenging time for all of us. Each of these deserving honorees are committed to making Middlesex County a better place to work and live, and we are extremely proud of all of them. We look forward to honoring them, and celebrating with their families.

Before closing, I want to note that this week also includes Election Day 2021. 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, especially during these challenging times.

I am afraid I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Richard W. “Dick” Bishop of Cromwell at the age of 79. Dick was the longtime owner and operator of Bishop’s Automotive Group in Cromwell and Middletown. Dick Bishop was many things. He was a hard-working professional that supported a variety of community causes along the way. He was a great supporter of our chamber, and of me personally, for which I will always be grateful. I have many wonderful memories of this terrific man and friend. Most importantly, Dick was a dedicated family man. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of 56 years, Sharon, his sons William and Daniel, his grandchildren, and his entire network of family and friends at this difficult time. Dick Bishop will be missed.

2 Middletown beauty businesses opening this week

October 25, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

October winds down this week in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Before getting into what is another busy chamber week, I want to take a quick moment to review what was a wonderful Rededication Ceremony of the Russell Chapel at Indian Hill Cemetery in Middletown held last Sunday. The chapel looks outstanding along with the entire grounds of Indian Hill Cemetery. The views from the top of the hill are simply astounding. I congratulate Jeff Burgess and the entire volunteer Board of Trustees, Superintendent Normand Emond, and everyone involved with this gem that we are lucky to have in Middletown. I also want to congratulate Brian Kronenberger and his team at Kronenberger & Sons Restoration. Brian did a great job with his remarks at the event, and he and his team did an amazing job restoring the historic chapel which will serve as a source of comfort for many, and a source of pride for Middletown, for many years to come.

Back to the chamber calendar, another busy week includes two more municipal candidate forums at our chamber divisions in the great towns of Westbrook and East Haddam. We continue to appreciate the participation of our candidates for public office, and are grateful for their willingness to run and serve. This week also includes a meeting of our Chamber Finance Committee, or The Big 8, a meeting of the Board of Directors for the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, and a meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council.

On the business development front, this week features two exciting Grand Opening celebrations in downtown Middletown. On Monday at 12:00 p.m., I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele, and other distinguished guests for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting for Ch’i Lash the School. Ch’i Lash the School is dedicated to preparing their students for success by creating a professional and positive environment where students receive quality educational training in a respectful, fun, and motivating atmosphere. On Thursday morning, I will again join the mayor and Pam for the Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting for Mood Studio on upper Main Street. Mood Studio is an all-in-one beauty studio offering brow, lash, hair, and skin services as well as spray tans, massages, faux freckles, and tooth gems. I would like to wish John and Samantha DiFilippo of Ch’i Lash the School great success with their school, and Erica Moody of Mood Studio all the best with the studio. We look forward to supporting them along the way.

Jumping ahead to next week, when two major and exciting chamber events will take place.

The 20th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting will be held through virtual means on Monday, November 1, 2021. This important annual 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 event will include the presentation of the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award to William F. “Skip” Petras III of Portland, the presentation of the AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award to Eversource, and keynote remarks from Bob Cassidy, Ph.D., Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), the Andersen Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy at Wesleyan University. We are honored to have Colonel Bob Cassidy as our speaker and thank him for his service to our nation. I also want to once again thank Middlesex Health CEO Vin Capece and his team for sponsoring this important event, and Chairman Phil Cacciola and our outstanding Support the Troops Planning Committee for their great work.

As I have mentioned many times, one of the most important events the chamber holds every year is our Annual Awards Dinner. This year’s event is scheduled for next Wednesday, November 3, from 5:00 to 8:00 p.m. at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. Each year at this event, the chamber presents a series of Distinguished Citizen Awards to deserving individuals who serve as an inspiration to others, and are recognized by the Middlesex community as unselfishly giving his or her time and talent to produce a lasting benefit to the area. The Distinguished Citizen Committee chose the recipients from a list of over 230 nominees. The 2021 recipients of the Distinguished Citizen Award are: William Corvo, Jacqueline Hubbard and Kelly Smith. Once again, our Distinguished Citizen Committee has chosen three outstanding individuals. In addition to the Distinguished Citizen Awards, the chamber also presents the Michael L. Green Award to a member of the police or fire community for his or her outstanding service to the community and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. The 2021 recipient of the Michael L. Green Award is Retired Chief Robert Kronenberger of the Middletown Fire Department. Finally, we will honor our two past Chamber Chairmen, Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne, who both stepped up to lead our organization through a very challenging time for all of us. Each of these deserving honorees are committed to making Middlesex County a better place to work and live, and we are extremely proud of all of them. We look forward to honoring them, and celebrating with their families.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Multiple business openings ahead in 3 towns

October 18, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

October is moving right along, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

On the chamber calendar front, this week will feature another important municipal candidate forum at a chamber division, this time in the great town of Killingworth. Last week featured two very well attended and productive forums in Middlefield and in Cromwell respectively. We continue to appreciate the participation of our candidates for public office, and are grateful for their willingness to run and serve. This week also features a Human Resource workshop titled, “Are You Ready for Connecticut’s New Paid Family and Medical Leave Act?” This meeting will take place on Tuesday, October 19 at 9:00 a.m. via Zoom. To register for this workshop, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. Rounding out the week, our Board of Directors will be meeting on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. via Zoom. This 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. 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). DECD is the state agency that oversees a wide range of programs promoting business retention and recruitment, brownfield redevelopment, the arts, historic preservation and tourism. We look forward to continuing our great working relationship with DECD as we collectively pursue strategic economic development in our great state. In addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I also look forward to attending two important Corporators meetings. On Monday evening, I will attend the Annual Meeting of the Middlesex Health Corporators, and on Tuesday, I will attend the Annual Meeting of Corporators and Donor Appreciation Reception for Hospital for Special Care. We are lucky to have these two outstanding health care facilities in our state, and I thank them both for their support of our chamber.

On the business development front, I look forward to attending three exciting Grand Opening celebrations this week. The celebration for Owen’s Emporium in Portland will be held on Monday morning. Owen’s Emporium offers an eclectic flare with consignment furniture, gifts, high quality artisan wares, old fashioned candy & much more. I would like to wish Amy Milardo and her staff great success with this new Middlesex County business. The celebration for CleanHeart Juice Bar will be held on Tuesday afternoon. I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local dignitaries for this exciting local business which offers fresh cold pressed juices, smoothies and smoothie bowls, coffee, tea and many other items. We would also like to wish Jillian Webber and her team great success at their Washington Street location. Finally, on Thursday afternoon, I look forward to attending the Grand Opening for The Landon of Cromwell with Mayor Enzo Faienza and other local officials. The Landon of Cromwell is a brand-new apartment complex on Country Squire Dr. in Cromwell which features great amenities, a convenient location, and floor plans to suit any needs. We wish them nothing but the best. As you can see, the chamber continues to be on the move.

On the major event front, the highlight of this week is our Virtual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach Dan Hurley which will be held this Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 8:00 a.m. Coach Hurley is about to begin his fourth season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and as always, will provide us with some insight on leadership and effective management strategies which is certainly relevant to the business community. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring and for their longtime support of our chamber. I also ask that everyone save the dates of Nov. 1st for our Annual Support the Troops Breakfast, and Nov. 3 for our in person Annual Awards Dinner. More to come on both of those events in next week’s column.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Edward Mann at the age of 69. Ed Mann, or “Eddie” as many of us called him, was a great friend and someone who helped many people throughout his life. I was fortunate enough to coach him on the football field and got to watch him grow into a true professional and a wonderful family man. Ed served in a variety of public service positions in his career including as District Manager for the US House of Representatives Second Congressional District and a 15-year stint as State Director for US Senator Christopher Dodd. Those of us who knew Ed well were never surprised at how good he was at constituent services. The people of this state were lucky to have him in these important roles. Ed never forgot where he came from and was a strong supporter of many community organizations and initiatives along the way. He was recognized on many occasions with a variety of honors and well-deserved awards. On a personal note, I was certainly proud to call him my friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ed’s wife Jillene, their daughter Melissa, son Matthew, their grandchildren, and their vast network of family and friends. Eddie Mann was one of the best, and he will be missed by many.

Many employers, now hiring, expected at career fair

October 11, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

The highlight of this week, another busy one, is our Middlesex County Career Fair which will take place on Wednesday, October 13 from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell. This important event will feature the following employers that are currently hiring: Aaron Manor Nursing & Rehabilitation Center, Apple Rehab; Aquiline Drones; Atlantis Management Group; Best Cleaners; Chestelm Health & All Care LLC; Chestelm Health & Rehabilitation Center; Combined Insurance of America, Covenant Living of Cromwell; Data-Mail; DATTCO, Inc.; Disaster Restoration Services; ECHN (Eastern Connecticut Health District); Ehrlich Pest Control; FedEx Ground; Gaylord Specialty Healthcare; General Dynamics Electric Boat; Goodwill Industries of Southern New England; Hobson & Motzer, Inc.; Home Instead; Klingberg Family Center, Inc; Kuhn Employment Opportunities; Lucas Tree Expert Co.; MARC Community Resources, Ltd; Middlesex Habitat for Humanity of CT; Middlesex Health; Middletown Police Department; Pieper Olson Veterinary; Porter & Chester Institute; Project Genesis; Recovery Employment Program; Roto Frank of America; Russell Library; SARAH, Inc.; ShopRite; Smiths Medical; StanChem, Inc.; The Connection; TOMZ Corporation; Tower Laboratories; UPS; USA Hauling & Recycling, Inc.; Vista Life Innovations; and Water’s Edge Resort & Spa. The State of Connecticut Department of Labor, Workforce Alliance – South Central Workforce Investment Board, and our chamber’s Recovery Employment Program will also be on-site with resource tables. This event comes at a particularly important time for our workforce and for our regional economy. As I have noted many times, the chamber strives to be a bridge between job seekers and employers, and our Career Fair has always been a big part of this effort. I want to take a moment to thank CT. Department of Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for supporting this effort, and for their longtime support of workforce development in our state. We look forward to a very productive event.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features two more important municipal candidate forums in Middlefield and in Cromwell respectively. Every October, whether we are in a municipal election year or legislative election year, the chamber hosts these candidate forums which feature candidates for public office from throughout our service area. Wednesday’s meeting will feature candidates for First Selectman in Middlefield, and Thursday’s will feature candidates for Mayor in Cromwell. These forums are a great opportunity for our members to interact directly with the candidates that hope to represent them in public office. I continue to be grateful to all of these civic minded individuals who are willing to put their name on a ballot and serve our communities. We will continue to host these important forums through the end of October. This week is also set to feature the latest installment of our KeyBank workshop series on Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. on the Zoom platform. Courtney Spencer of Courtney Spencer Coaching will lead the conversation on, “Breaking Bad Communication Habits by Motivating and Inspiring Employees.” For more information on these meetings and many more, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to a virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state on Tuesday afternoon. 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. I also look forward to joining my fellow members of the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee on Thursday for an important virtual meeting regarding economic recovery. Finally, on Friday, 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, is continuing our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant state of Connecticut. As you can see, it is another busy chamber week.

Looking ahead, I ask chamber members and other interested parties to save the date for our upcoming Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Men’s Basketball Dan Hurley. This important virtual event is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 8:00 a.m. and is sponsored by ConnectiCare. Coach Hurley is about to begin his fourth season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and as always, will provide us with some insight on leadership and effective management strategies which is certainly relevant to the business community. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring and Coach Hurley for joining us.

Finally, the chamber looks forward to the 20th Annual Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held through virtual means on Monday, November 1, 2021. This important annual 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 event will include the presentation of the William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award to Skip Petras of Portland, the presentation of the AT&T Veteran Support Champion of the Year Award to Eversource, and keynote remarks from Bob Cassidy, Ph.D., Colonel, U.S. Army (Retired), and the Andersen Fellow in Defense and Foreign Policy at Wesleyan University. I will have much more as we get closer, but please save the date.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Restaurant reopening, career fair on horizon

October 4, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

The week will kick off with a meeting of the chamber’s Executive Committee on Monday morning. Led by chamber Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, this important session will feature timely updates from a variety of business and community leaders in Middlesex County on everything from pandemic recovery, economic development projects that are planned or underway, upcoming events and activities, and much more. On Wednesday afternoon, the Portland and East Hampton Division will host the second in a series of municipal candidate forums that are scheduled throughout the month of October. Candidates for First Selectman in Portland and for Town Council in East Hampton will visit with our members to discuss their vision for their respective towns. Last Friday featured our forum for Chester, Deep River and Essex, and next week features Middlefield and Cromwell. Speaking of the chamber’s divisions, an important meeting of all of our Division Chairs is scheduled for this Wednesday at 12:00 p.m. via zoom. While our staff of course plays a key role in our monthly division meetings, our chairs provide us with valuable information from each of our member towns. We look forward to a productive discussion, and I want to once again thank all of these business and community leaders for stepping up to lead our divisions which are so important to our operation. We also look forward to Thursday morning when the chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB) will meet via the zoom platform at 8:00 a.m. As you can see, the chamber calendar continues to be full of events and activities.

Switching gears to tourism, I look forward to joining my fellow members of the Connecticut Tourism Council on Tuesday morning. These important meetings continue to focus on supporting the hospitality and lodging businesses, and making sure our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. I want to take a moment to thank chamber Vice President and Central Regional Tourism District Director Johanna Bond, and chamber Marketing and Public Relations Coordinator Sierra Lopez, for representing the chamber and the district last week at the Big E up in Massachusetts. Tourism is critical to our future economic prospects, and the chamber will continue to be a key stakeholder in our state’s promotional efforts.

On the business development front, I look forward to attending the Grand Re-Opening Celebration for The Cooking Company on Main Street in Middletown this Tuesday at 12:30 p.m. Joining me for this important occasion will be Mayor Ben Florsheim, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele, and other local dignitaries. The Cooking Company, owned and operated by Sue Bauer, offers, “fresh prepared food… everyday” which is available for take-out as well as casual dine-in. While the pandemic forced The Cooking Company to close its doors for a period of time, they have returned to Main Street, and we are looking forward to supporting them on Tuesday and well into the future.

Before closing, I would like to remind readers that the Middlesex County Career Fair is making its return after a year off due to the pandemic. Scheduled for Wednesday, October 13 from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, this important event will feature over 40 employers that are currently hiring. The Middlesex County Career Fair is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Labor, Workforce Alliance, and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This event comes at a particularly important time for our workforce and for our regional economy. The chamber strives to be a bridge between job seekers and employers, and our Career Fair has always been an important part of this effort. I want to take a moment to thank CT. Department of Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for supporting this effort, and for their longtime support of workforce development in our state.

In closing, I ask that everyone please save the date for our Annual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach, Dan Hurley. This important virtual event is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 20 at 8:00 a.m. and is sponsored by ConnectiCare. Coach Hurley is about to begin his fourth season at the helm of the Huskies. He will offer the audience a preview of this year’s team, and as always, will provide us with some insight on leadership and effective management strategies which is certainly relevant to the business community. We look forward to another great event, and thank ConnectiCare for sponsoring and Coach Hurley for joining us.

Finally, the chamber’s Annual Awards Dinner will take place on Wednesday, November 3 at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. We look forward to honoring Past Chamber Chairmen Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne for their great work during these difficult and unprecedented times. We will also honor our 2021 Distinguished Citizens Honorees: William Corvo, Jacqueline Hubbard and Kelly Smith. These three outstanding Middlesex County citizens are very deserving of this special recognition. Finally, a special presentation of the Chief Michael L. Green Award to a member of the police or fire community for his or her outstanding service to the community and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will take place. I will have much more to share as we get closer, but please save the date.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Middlesex Chamber to welcome UConn's Hurley at next breakfast

September 27, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached the Fall season in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week’s chamber calendar includes important meetings of our Westbrook Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, Chamber Finance Committee, and our Holiday on Main Street Planning Committee. After a brief summer hiatus, the Westbrook Division will meet via the Zoom platform on Tuesday at 8:00 a.m. The meeting will feature updates from local leaders, business owners, members of the General Assembly, and the chamber team. The Women’s Leadership Collaborative meeting, led by committee Chairwoman Barbara Taylor-Hatje, will be also be held on Tuesday morning and will feature planning discussions for the group’s events and activities in late 2021 and early 2022. The chamber’s Finance Committee, also known as “The Big 8”, has been meeting throughout the COVID-19 pandemic to discuss the state of the chamber’s financials. This group of dedicated and engaged chamber members continues to do great work as we navigate this ever-changing climate. The Holiday on Main Street Committee will meet Friday morning at 8:30 a.m. to continue its planning for this year’s Holiday on Main Street presents The Magic of Middletown which is scheduled for late November and early to mid-December. I will have much more information on Holiday on Main Street as the busy holiday season approaches.

On Thursday evening, there is a celebration of life and launch of the “Biagio ‘Billy’ & Jeanne Ciotto Memorial Fund” at the Tunxis Pavilion Country Club. The Biagio “Billy” & Jeanne Ciotto Memorial Fund was created to honor the legacy of Billy and Jeanne Ciotto, who were married for over 66 years, and made an indelible impact on the entire State of Connecticut. I was fortunate to know Billy well and to work with him for several years. For 42 years, he worked for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, serving as deputy commissioner from 1987-89. He was elected to the state Senate in 1994, and served six terms representing the towns of Wethersfield, Newington, Rocky Hill, Cromwell and part of Middletown. He was extremely well-liked and well-respected by both sides of the aisle, and by all of those he worked with during his time in office. He then went on to work for U.S. Congressman John Larson in a constituent service role, a role that suited Billy perfectly. Billy Ciotto was one of the best. He was a strong supporter of our chamber, a fixture at our Member Breakfast Meetings, and a friend to countless people around the state and around the country.

On Friday evening, I look forward to celebrating the 51st year of continuous operation for LABCO Welding as well as the partial retirement of Vinnie LaBella. After completing eight great years in Rockfall, LABCO moved to the Industrial Park in Middletown over 43 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. It is 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.

This weekend here in Middletown will feature the return of the Amistad. The historic ship will dock at Harbor Park as they pay honor to and acknowledge the resiliency and determination of the Mende captives during the 1839 Amistad Uprising. The Amistad’s visit will feature on-board tours of the flagship on Saturday, along with other culturally enriching opportunities. It is amazing that 21 years has passed since the Amistad’s last visit to Middletown, and I for one, am very much looking forward to its return. For more information, please contact the City of Middletown Arts & Culture Office, or visit The Amistad’s website, www.discoveringamistad.org.

To close out this week’s column, I want to make everyone aware that the Middlesex County Career Fair is making its return after a year off due to the pandemic. Scheduled for Wednesday, October 13 from 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell, this important event will feature over 40 employers that are currently hiring. The Middlesex County Career Fair is sponsored by the Connecticut Department of Labor, Workforce Alliance, and the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce. This event comes at a particularly important time for our workforce and for our regional economy. We hear every day from employers that they are having a difficult time filling open positions and retaining good employees. This is especially true of key industry sectors for our economy. The chamber strives to be a bridge between job seekers and employers, and our Career Fair has always been an important part of this effort. I want to take a moment to thank CT. Department of Labor Commissioner Dante Bartolomeo and Workforce Alliance President and CEO Bill Villano for supporting this effort, and for their longtime support of workforce development in our state. For more information on registering your organization to be a part of this results-oriented career fair, or to view our current listing of participating companies, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com/careerfair/.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Durham Fair important economic driver in Middlesex County

September 20, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Welcome to Durham Fair week!

The much-anticipated 101st Durham Fair has finally arrived and will be held on the famous Durham Fairgrounds from Thursday, September 23 through Sunday, September 26. As I have noted many times, we are so fortunate to have this large-scale, all-volunteer-run agricultural event right here in Middlesex County. The Durham Fair, which remains the largest fair in the state of Connecticut, continues to provide four terrific days of good, clean wholesome fun. It kicks off Thursday with a wide range of events and activities including an antique farm equipment demo, demolition derby, outstanding entertainment from a number of country musicians, and a fireworks display to close out the evening. Friday, Saturday and Sunday are packed, including live entertainment on their many stages, monster truck rallies, vehicle pulls, livestock barns featuring prize-winning animals, the educational discovery tent, arts and crafts, rides and games on the midway, a scavenger hunt, and a number of outstanding shopping and culinary options. This year, the Durham Agricultural Fair Association is taking extra precautions to ensure the health and safety of volunteers and fairgoers. The Durham Fair intends to implement, as well as follow, all recommended local and state department of public health guidelines. DurhamFair.com has all the details on events, activities, COVID precautions and more. The Durham Fair is so important to our region. It is one of the largest fairs in North America managed entirely by unpaid volunteers, and it attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to our region every September. In recent years, the fair has received the Connecticut Governor’s Tourism Volunteer of the Year Award for being a 100-percent volunteer-led event, and the Best Country Fair by Connecticut Magazine, something we have all known for many years. I am very proud of Durham Fair Association President Dan Miramant, Marketing Director Debbie Huscher, and the entire committed team of volunteers who have been hard at work preparing for this year’s fair. I am also proud that Sunday has once again been designated as military appreciation day, and all active duty U.S. military personnel and veterans will receive free admission. The chamber will be right there with Dan and his team as they continue to move the fair forward, and I congratulate them on over a century of success. See you on the fairgrounds!

In addition to the Fair, this week’s chamber calendar features meetings of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee, East Haddam and Haddam Division, and Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee. Speaking of our divisions, our team continues to plan for the October meetings which will feature candidates for First Selectman from throughout Middlesex County. We look forward to productive discussions, and I thank these local citizens for their willingness to run and serve.

Looking ahead to later in the year, the chamber’s Annual Awards Dinner has been rescheduled for Wednesday, November 3 at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam. We look forward to honoring Past Chamber Chairmen Don DeVivo (2019-2020) and Tom Byrne (2020-2021) for their great work during these difficult and unprecedented times. These two gentlemen stepped up, during challenging periods for their respective businesses, and led the chamber with professionalism and dedication. Our current Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, has followed in their footsteps and has kept the ship moving forward despite the ongoing pandemic. We will also honor our 2021 Distinguished Citizens Honorees: William Corvo, Jacqueline Hubbard and Kelly Smith. These three outstanding Middlesex County citizens are very deserving of this special recognition. Finally, a special presentation of the Chief Michael L. Green Award to a member of the police or fire community for his or her outstanding service to the community and to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will take place. I will have much more to share as we get closer, but please save the date for Nov. 3.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of George Hamrah and John J. Ziomek, Sr.

George Hamrah was a wonderful man who lifted the spirits of all he came in contact with. He was a proud veteran of the US Army with service in Asia during World War II. After his military service was completed, he went on to have a great career in business and was a strong supporter of a host of community organizations. He was also a supporter of mine, and attended many chamber events over the years for which I will always be grateful. Our thoughts are with George’s family, especially his brother and my close friend, Albert, and his vast network of friends at this difficult time. George Hamrah made quite an impact, and he will be missed.

John Ziomek was a true gentleman who was held in high regard in Middletown and throughout our region. He was also a veteran of the US Army, with service in Korea, who went on to have a very successful career at Jacobs Manufacturing, Pratt & Whitney, and eventually as Tax Assessor in Middletown. On the personal side, John was a strong supporter of mine going back to my coaching days at Xavier High School, and then eventually during my early years here at the chamber. Our thoughts and prayers are with John’s devoted wife, Diane, his daughter and son in law, brother, grandkids, and entire network of family and friends. John J. Ziomek, Sr. will be missed by many.

Co-working space anticipates bright, innovative future

September 13, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached the final week of summer in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week’s calendar is highlighted by meetings of our Executive Committee, Killingworth Division, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee and Affordable Housing Committee. As I have noted, our Executive Committee and Board of Directors, both led by Chamber Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of critical industry sectors in Middlesex County. These meetings will focus on the continuing economic impacts of the pandemic, upcoming events and activities, our efforts to support our members in a variety of strategic ways, and other important topics. The Killingworth Division will cover some important issues facing the local business community in town along with a discussion on the Killingworth Krier, the Legislative Committee will begin the process of previewing the 2022 legislative session, and the Affordable Housing Committee will continue planning for a committee hosted event scheduled for this coming Fall. I also look forward to representing the chamber on a virtual meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee on Thursday morning. Another busy week is upon us, and the chamber team is ready to go.

In addition to these important meetings, the chamber’s KeyBank Workshop Series continues on Tuesday morning with a session titled, “Advanced Selling Secrets.” The session will cover the principles and details of a successful consultative selling process based on actual field experience. To register for this workshop, or the many other workshops on the chamber calendar, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. I want to once again thank KeyBank for its longtime support of this important chamber series.

The signature event of this week is our Virtual Member Breakfast Meeting on Wednesday morning featuring the newly named President of Connecticut Sun, Jennifer Rizzotti. This exciting event is sponsored by Webster Bank. Prior to becoming President of the Connecticut Sun, Jen had an extremely successful career on and off the court. Some of her career accomplishments include: Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame Inductee, 2-time WNBA Champion, NCAA Champion, 3-time Big East Champion, Associated Press Player of the Year, ECAC Player of the Year, Big East Co-Rookie of the Year, 3-time NCAA Coach of the Year, USA Basketball Coach of the Year, 4-time FIBA World Championship Gold Medalist, Summer Olympics Team Assistant Coach, and USA Americup Team Assistant Coach. We look forward to a great event, and to formally welcoming her back to the great State of Connecticut. To register for this exciting Member Breakfast Meeting, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On Wednesday afternoon, a special virtual Chamber Health Plan Roundtable Meeting will be held from 12-1:00 p.m. This session is designed for chamber members who are seeking more information about available health insurance plans that might be a good fit for their business and their employees. These plans feature many attractive elements including competitive rates and stable plan designs. To learn more about the Chamber’s Level Funding Plan, visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Before closing, I want to wish Dan Miramant and his outstanding team of volunteers all the best as they continue planning for the 101st Durham Fair which will take place from September 23-26. We had a great visit to the fairgrounds last Wednesday for a meeting of our Durham and Middlefield Division. The team is ready to put on another great fair, and I will have more information in next week’s column.

I would like to close this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on one of our most exciting initiatives, the MEWS+. On June 19, 2018, the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce opened the Middletown Entrepreneurs Work Space (MEWS+) at our downtown Middletown facility. This co-working initiative is designed for startups, small businesses, entrepreneurs, freelancers, and the Wesleyan University community. The focus is to create a space for entrepreneurs to collaborate and turn ideas into businesses. It is also designed to encourage communication between public, private, and institutional organizations; and to develop an innovative partnership of entrepreneurs and professional resources. Over the past year or so, and right through the pandemic, the MEWS+ team has provided over 150 hours of mentorship to small and micro businesses in various stages of development. We held over 40 events, including a variety of webinars, and our very popular online Midweek Marketing series. We have established an Incubator Program, which graduated four companies from the Fall 2020 co-hort, and six more from the Spring 2021 co-hort. Perhaps of the crown jewel of the MEWS+ operation is our COLLISION pitch competition series. This innovative series brings startups and people with big ideas together. It facilitates competition for potential investors and other avenues of growth for their business. Pitches are evaluated on originality, potential, functionality, and social impact. Also, over the past year, we have continued to develop our relationship with The Hive, a co-working space that opened in March of 2020 in downtown Chester. Like with any comprehensive effort, it is important to have great partners, and do we ever. CT Next, The City of Middletown, Wesleyan University, Liberty Bank, Middlesex Health, Tower Laboratories and Pratt & Whitney have stepped up to support the MEWS+, and we are very grateful. Finally, I want to thank our MEWS+ Community Manager, Rebecca Mead, for the great work she is doing leading this important chamber effort. The MEWS+ looks forward to a bright and innovative future, and like the chamber, it is on the move.

The world changed forever on 9/11

September 6, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

I would like to begin this week’s chamber column with some thoughts on the 20th Anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on our country which is this coming Saturday. It amazes me that it has been two decades since that terrible day. We all remember where we were on that late summer morning when the world changed forever. We were all shocked and deeply saddened, but nothing compares to the pain that has been endured by the family members of those who perished. It was really inspirational for me and my team to welcome retired United Airlines flight attendant Paul Veneto who is pushing a beverage cart from Logan Airport Boston to Ground Zero New York for the 20th anniversary.  Paulie’s Push is an amazing story about a man who is honoring the flight attendants who died in the attacks. He calls them, “the very first responders.” Paul pushed the cart through the towns of East Hampton, Portland, Middletown and Durham and made a stop in front of the chamber last Tuesday for some pictures and cold waters for the road. These communities welcomed him with open arms, from the elected leadership, to the Police and Fire Departments, and much more. During our conversation, he mentioned that this stretch was one of his favorites because of the outpouring of support he received. Paul is also an inspiration to those who are in recovery from addiction as he has been since 2015. We here in this community wish Paul all the best on the rest of his journey, and beyond, and thank him for coming through Middlesex County. May the families who lost loved ones on that terrible day find peace and comfort, not only on Saturday, but every day. On a personal level, our thoughts are with the family of Bruce Eagleson who died in the attacks on the World Trade Center. Bruce was a community leader in Durham and Middlefield and someone who was very well respected. One of his sons, Brett, has been a leading voice for the families of 9/11 victims. Brett is a longtime chamber member and a close friend to many of us. We are proud of his efforts, and will hold him and his family in our thoughts and prayers this weekend. We still remember.

Also this week, we celebrate Labor Day in Middlesex County and throughout our great country. A strong workforce is the key to a strong economy, and as some of the COVID relief measures begin to sunset, the chamber looks forward to being a resource for employers and job seekers alike. As we move forward, let’s commit to working together to support our fellow citizens who are looking for work, and our outstanding employers who are looking to hire them. We are all in this together.

This short holiday week is still a busy one for the great chamber team. Two of our divisions are very excited to hold in person meetings this week, the Durham & Middlefield Division on Wednesday, and the Cromwell Division on Thursday. We look forward to safe networking and the usual comprehensive reports from town and business leaders. On the business development front, I look forward to joining Essex First Selectman Norm Needleman and other local leaders for a Ribbon Cutting ceremony in honor of Alchemi Wealth’s new Connecticut location on Thursday morning. Alchemi Wealth offers comprehensive financial planning as part of its investment management services for their clients. We appreciate their commitment to Essex and Middlesex County, and look forward to working with Investment Adviser Representative Laurie Tomlinson and the entire local team as they work to grow this important business. Another busy week is upon us, and the chamber team is ready to roll.

Before closing, I ask that everyone please save the date of Wednesday, September 15 for a Special Virtual Member Breakfast featuring Connecticut Sun President, Jennifer Rizzotti. This exciting event is sponsored by Webster Bank. Jen is a former UConn Women’s Basketball Star and Current Assistant Coach of the USA Women’s Olympic Basketball Team. We look forward to a great event, and I will have a full event preview in next week’s column.

I must close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of William “Bill” Wasch Sr. at the age of 90. Bill Wasch was a real community champion and someone that was well liked and respected by all who knew him. He was a graduate of Wesleyan University and a lifelong supporter of the school. Bill served as Director of Development and Alumni Affairs from the late 1960’s into the mid 1980’s and supported Wesleyan’s development efforts well beyond that. Together with his wife, Susan, he developed the Susan B. and William K. Wasch Center for Retired Faculty which opened in 2004. In 2012, he was awarded the Baldwin Medal for extraordinary service to Wesleyan. Bill also supported a variety of community organizations along the way, including the Middlesex Chamber. I am very grateful for Bill’s support and friendship, his service in the U.S. Navy, and his leadership in our community for many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bill’s children, their spouses, his grandchildren, and his vast network of family and friends at this difficult time. Bill Wasch made quite an impact on Wesleyan, on Middletown, and on Middlesex County, and he will certainly be missed by many.

Work on Arrigoni, East Haddam swing bridges will have impact

August 30, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

On the chamber calendar front, this week features the return of the chamber divisions after a brief summer hiatus. We will kick off the division year on Wednesday morning with an important meeting of the Portland and East Hampton division via the zoom platform. Thursday morning features the September meeting of the chamber’s Central Business Bureau which covers issues of importance to the business community in downtown Middletown. Finally, on Friday, the Chester, Deep River and Essex Division will get together for the first time since June. As always, these meetings will feature reports from local and state officials in attendance, business leaders in each respective town, and other important stakeholders. While our staff of course plays a key role in these meetings, I want to take a moment to thank our division chairs and all members that support these important meetings on a monthly basis. Our grassroots divisions help us keep a close eye on the issues that directly impact or have the potential to impact our members in each of our towns. We look forward to a productive week of meetings.

On the infrastructure front, the chamber continues to do its best to play a constructive role in the important river crossing projects happening in Middlesex County. The rehabilitation of Arrigoni Bridge approach spans and operational improvements at Saint John’s Square / Main Street Intersection in Middletown and Portland are moving right along and expected to wrap up in the early part of 2022. The Work Group that we established in 2020 has been meeting regularly and has done a great job of ensuring access to the bridge for emergency management and other critical vehicles, all while doing its best to minimize the economic impact of the construction on local businesses. This committee features municipal and state leaders from both sides of the bridge, district and project leaders from the CT. Department of Transportation, the Project Manager from the contractor, Mohawk Northeast, first responders from both sides, Middlesex Health, and of course, businesspeople of all stripes. After the project on the Arrigoni wraps up, our attention will turn towards the East Haddam Swing Bridge Rehabilitation Project which is scheduled to begin in the Spring of 2022. There is no way around the fact that this project will have a major impact on the towns of Haddam and East Haddam and the whole central part of Middlesex County over the course of three construction seasons. The bridge needs to be closed for significant stretches in order for the work to get done. Last Thursday, the chamber hosted a special meeting of our East Haddam and Haddam Division which featured a presentation from DOT on the current plan for the project and over 50 of our member businesses. The chamber will be launching a new committee that will work to minimize the impact of this project as well, using the Arrigoni Bridge Work Group as a model. We look forward to playing an important role throughout this project, and I would like to thank DOT, our elected leaders, and everyone who is working together to manage this in an effective and efficient way as we move forward.

Switching gears back to business development, I look forward to joining Cromwell Mayor Enzo Faienza, Town Manager Tony Salvatore, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and other local leaders, for the Grand Opening celebration for Café Fiore Cromwell at 134 Berlin Road on Thursday afternoon. Conveniently located off Interstate 91 and close to Route 9, Cafe Fiore Cromwell offers an outstanding menu, a cocktail lounge, indoor and outdoor dining, banquet rooms, and much more. We wish Executive Chef Rusty Cecunjanin and the entire Café Fiore Cromwell team nothing but the best as they embark on this delicious new venture.

Closing out the week on Friday, I look forward to joining chamber Vice President Jeff Pugliese for a trip down to Essex to meet with the new President and CEO of Essex Savings Bank, Diane Arnold. Diane recently took over for longtime President Greg Shook who did a great job in this important role. Essex Savings Bank is a very important member of our chamber and lower county stakeholder here in our region. We look forward to a great discussion, and to continuing a strong working relationship.

In closing, I want to take a moment to thank all of our local and state leaders, Eversource President Joe Nolan and his team, and the emergency management teams in the State of Connecticut who were ready to respond in a big way to Tropical Storm Henri. While the storm tracked east and spared Connecticut a direct hit, the infrastructure for a strong response was in place, and we here at the chamber are grateful for everyone’s efforts. This will not be the last storm that will hit our state, and every time we are faced with this situation, we learn a little bit more. The chamber looks forward to supporting these efforts moving forward, and we will continue to stress the importance of having an Emergency Plan and Business Continuing Plan in place and ready to go because as we have learned, it is not if, but when, another storm will hit.

However, despite this fact, the sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Vigilance key to stemming spread of COVID

August 23, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

I would like to begin this week’s chamber column by addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic which continues to impact our community and our regional economy. From a chamber perspective, we had hoped to be fully back to in person events and networking and focusing in on recovery and growth as we look ahead to 2022. However, we are simply not at a place where we can let our guard down. I encourage all of our members and the community at large to remain vigilant on the COVID front. We must continue to get as much of the population as possible vaccinated. We must commit to the mask wearing and social distancing strategies that have been proven to slow the spread of the virus. We also must continue to support our local business community as best we can. We are blessed to have a very resilient business community in Middlesex County but pandemic related challenges remain. We will get through this, and the sun will continue to shine on Middlesex County if we work together to end this pandemic once and for all. The chamber will continue to work every day to support our members, provide advice and counsel to our partners in the public sector, and be a constructive community partner wherever we can. As always, we are just a call away.

This week features a lot of planning for the chamber team as we approach what will be an extremely busy month of September. However, I do want to make readers aware of a special meeting of the East Haddam and Haddam Division on Thursday morning which will focus solely on the upcoming East Haddam Swing Bridge Construction Project. This meeting will preview the project and will formally launch a new chamber committee that is designed to minimize the impact of the project on the local business community. The meeting will include chamber leadership, representatives from the CT. Department of Transportation, state and municipal leaders from Haddam and East Haddam, and other stakeholders. This major project on a key river crossing in our region will span three construction seasons and will undoubtedly have a major impact. It is our job to minimize the impact on the business community and the community at large as best we can, and to work with all parties involved to make sure an open line of communication is maintained at all times. We look forward to a productive meeting on Thursday, and I will certainly have more to report as we approach the start of the project in the Spring of 2022. This week also features meetings of our Holiday on Main Street Planning Committee, Affordable Housing Committee, and a meeting of the South-Central Manufacturing Industry Partnership’s Competitive Cost Topography Action Team.

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

Giulio S. Giuffrida II, who made a major impact in this community over a period of many years, passed away recently at the age of 81. Giulio was a Middletown guy to the core. He was a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School and was an owner of a terrific local company, Giuffrida Electric Co. He was also very active in the community including with service as a Corporator for Middlesex Health and Liberty Bank, and as Co-President of the Board of Trustees of Indian Hill Cemetery. More important than all of this however, was his love for his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Susan, to whom he was married for 47 years, his two children, Sharon Cahill and Giulio Giuffrida III, his four grandchildren, his siblings, and his vast network of extended family and friends. Giulio will certainly be missed by all of those who knew him, and he will certainly be remembered fondly.

Personally, I lost a longtime and dear friend when Robert B. “Bobby” Gill passed away last week at the age of 79. Bobby and I were the closest of friends for over 65 years. During his days as a student athlete at Amity High School, Bobby excelled in swimming and golf, and he went on to have a very successful career in business in the New Haven area. He loved Xavier football and attended countless games over the years going back to my years as Head Coach in the 1960’s. In recent years, we would attend UConn football games together, and what brings me the most joy, is that Bobby’s wonderful wife, Debbie, and my wife, Patty, are also longtime, close friends. I was honored to be asked by Debbie to say a few words at Bobby’s service last Friday. The outpouring of love and support since his passing has been nothing short of remarkable. I will miss my friend, and I know many more will too, but we are comforted by the fact that he led a life well lived, and that he always did it his way. Our thoughts are with Debbie and their entire family, especially his two granddaughters Sarah and Grace who were the apples of his eye, and their vast network of loyal friends at this difficult time. Robert B. “Bobby” Gill will be missed.

70 youth finish Middletown summer employment program

August 16, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

We have reached mid-August in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

This week is another busy one for the chamber team which is highlighted by our virtual Member Breakfast Meeting and an important meeting of our Board of Directors.

The Member Breakfast Meeting is set for Wednesday morning via Zoom. Coach Edsall enters the fifth season of his second stint as the UConn head football coach after being with the program for 12 seasons from 1999-2010. This event, sponsored by People’s United Bank, will feature an update from the coach on the upcoming season of Husky football, along with some important thoughts on leadership and character development which will certainly resonate with our audience. Coach Edsall always does a terrific job with his remarks, and I thank him for taking the time to speak to our chamber. I also want to thank People’s United Bank for sponsoring this Member Breakfast Meeting. Mike Casparino, who heads People’s United Bank in Connecticut, will once again introduce the coach at the event. I look forward to seeing Mike again, and thank him for his longtime friendship and support.

Thursday afternoon features the August meeting of the chamber’s Board of Directors. This meeting will feature an update from key chamber members and staff, along with a breakdown of our efforts to support the business community in our region as it transitions from COVID mitigation to a full-blown economic recovery. This meeting will be led by our Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, President of Connecticut Water Company. We look forward to another productive meeting, and I again want to thank Maureen for stepping up to this important chamber leadership role at this critical point for our organization.

Switching gears to workforce development, I am proud to announce that another successful Middletown Summer Youth Employment Program is in the books after the work experience portion wrapped up on Friday. 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 15 to 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. Before beginning the work experience, 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 nonprofit sector, and most notably the private sector. This program teaches our young people not only the fundamentals of employment, 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 70 youngsters primarily from Middletown were placed into summer employment at over 30 businesses and organizations in Middletown. 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 like to take a moment to thank the businesses and organizations in Greater Middletown that are serving as host worksites this summer: Amazing Grace Food Pantry; Buttonwood Tree (North End Arts Rising); Camp Cromwell; CHANGE Inc.; Changing Looks Hair Salon; Cross Street AME Zion Church; DCF Wilderness School; Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut; Finese Cuts LLC; Futures Inc.; Goodwill Industries / Easter Seals; Habitat for Humanity ReStore; ID Mail Systems; It's Only Natural; Kronenberger & Sons Restoration; Legacy Lawn Care; Lyman Orchards; MARC Community Resources; Greater Middletown Military Museum; Middletown Recreation Department, Parks Department, and Public Works Department; Mind Brakes Wellness; Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits & Yarn; Rev. D. Lawrence Community Garden; Russell Library; Save-A-Dollar Cleaning Services; Seasons Federal Credit Union; Stylz by Q; Suburban Stationers; Town and Country Early Learning Center; Tschudin Chocolates & Confections; Vargas, Chapman, and Wood LLC; The Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estates; William Raveis-Linda’s Team; Middlesex YMCA; and Vale Sports Club.

In addition to our host worksites, this program would of course also not be possible without the support of our funders. I thank all of them on behalf of the chamber for their unbelievable support of this, and many other community initiatives that they support in our area. Our 2021 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Liberty Bank Foundation, State of CT Judicial Branch, Jarvis Products Corporation, and Middlesex United Way.

I also 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 70 young individuals into constructive employment is a challenge in a normal year, and the ongoing pandemic of course complicates that process. With the support of our staff, Lorenzo persevered, and once again did a fantastic job. I appreciate his strong effort and leadership of the program.

We will continue to grow this important community work program, and the sun will continue to shine on Middlesex County.

UConn coach Edsall set for chamber breakfast next week

August 9, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Before previewing another busy chamber week, I want to take a moment to review two outstanding events that were held last Tuesday. In the morning, we partnered with Pullman & Comley on the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series. This important session for employers was titled, “Mandating the Vaccine or Not”, and it covered a myriad of issues surrounding mandatory testing and vaccinations in the workplace. Pullman & Comley attorney’s Melinda Kaufmann and Zachary Schurin did a great job exploring state and federal law regarding vaccinations, privacy issues, workplace security concerns, updates on current litigations, and how to evaluate and respond to requests for accommodations. During the lunch hour, the chamber hosted a special Virtual Luncheon which featured U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney. Congressman Courtney, who has some very important committee assignments in Congress, provided our audience with wide ranging remarks which touched on COVID recovery, infrastructure, American Rescue Plan Funds, manufacturing and the defense sector in Connecticut, and much more. This important virtual event was sponsored by Tower Laboratories. I would like to once again thank Congressman Courtney for speaking with our members, and Norm Needleman and his team at Tower Labs for sponsoring. Recordings of both of these events, as well as many other KeyBank seminars, various workshops, Member Breakfast and Luncheons, and much more can be viewed on our YouTube by searching Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce, or by using the link available on our website www.middlesexchamber.com. While you are there, don’t forget to subscribe to our channel so you don’t miss out on any recordings.

Turning our attention to this week which features a few more important virtual meetings for the benefit of our members. Wednesday morning will feature a meeting of our Human Resource Council Steering Committee at 8:00 a.m. The Human Resource Council provides an opportunity for HR Professionals to discuss employment related topics, exchange ideas with their peers, and receive professional development and training. This council, under the leadership of Nancy Nesbit, explores critical topics for the business community. On Thursday morning, our very active Cromwell Division will meet at 8:00 a.m., and the Health Care Council Steering Committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. The Cromwell Division, under the leadership of Rodney Bitgood, focuses on local economic development and community issues in Cromwell, and its meetings always feature reports from town leaders. Thanks to the work of these officials, Cromwell continues to move forward in a positive direction for its businesses and residents. The Health Care Council Steering Committee continues to monitor the ever-changing COVID-19 pandemic among other topics. We look forward to another productive meeting of this group as well.

Before closing, I again want to remind members and other interested parties about our in-person Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall on Wednesday, August 18 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. Coach Edsall enters the fifth season of his second stint as the UConn head football coach after being with the program for 12 seasons from 1999-2010. This event, sponsored by People’s United Bank, will feature an update from the coach on the upcoming season of Husky football, along with some important thoughts on leadership and character development which will certainly resonate with our audience. Please visit www.middlesexchamber.com for more information, and to register for this event.

I would like to close this week’s column by previewing a very important event that we have coming up in September. Our Annual Awards Dinner is always an exciting event for our organization, however this year’s event will be extra special. Scheduled for Wednesday, September 22, from 5:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam, this event will honor our two most immediate Past Chairs, Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne, and three outstanding supporters with our Distinguished Citizen Award, Bill Corvo, Kelly Smith and Jacqueline Hubbard. These three individuals are the epitome of professionals who are not only committed to their respective careers, but to their community, their fellow citizens, and of course, their wonderful families. The Distinguished Citizen Awards are presented annually to individuals who serve as an inspiration to others, and are recognized by the Middlesex community as unselfishly giving his or her time and talent to produce a lasting benefit to the area. Bill, Kelly and Jackie fit this description perfectly, and we look forward to honoring them in September in Haddam. Don DeVivo and Tom Byrne are two gentlemen who continued the tradition of leading this organization through the Chairman’s role with grace and dedication. They were both faced with a very challenging period for their own businesses over the past year and a half, but their commitment to our chamber and to the Middlesex community never wavered. We are grateful for their service, and we look forward to honoring their commitment and leadership. Finally, the event will give us the opportunity to formally welcome our new Chairwoman, Maureen Westbrook, who is off to a great start in this important position. We also sincerely appreciate Maureen’s dedication and support, and look forward to recognizing her as well. I will have much more information on this important event in the coming weeks, but it is safe to say that we look forward to it. To register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Three grand opening celebrations this week

August 2, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

The first major meeting of the month takes place on Monday with a hybrid gathering of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee, led by Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of critical industry sectors in Middlesex County. Moving to later in the week, Wednesday features a meeting of our Arrigoni Bridge Committee which will continue its discussions about the ongoing construction work on the bridge and in the surrounding areas. This committee has done a very good job ensuring access for emergency and other critical vehicles, all while minimizing the economic impact of the work on our Portland and Middletown businesses. On Thursday morning, the chamber’s Central Business Bureau (CBB) will meet via the zoom platform at 8:00 a.m. Under the leadership of Chairwoman Pam Steele, CBB continues to bring together key leaders in the City of Middletown for important conversations about supporting the critical central business district. I appreciate all of our city leaders, from Mayor Florsheim to our many department heads, who continue to support this meeting on a monthly basis. As you can see, the chamber calendar continues to be full of events and activities.

On the special event front, Tuesday morning features the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series beginning at 8:30 a.m. “Mandating the Vaccine or Not”, presented by Attorney’s Melina Kaufmann and Zachary Schurin of Pullman & Comley, will discuss the myriad of issues surrounding mandatory testing and vaccinations in the workplace. This important session will explore the underlying legal obligations with respect to religion and disability exemptions for employees. Attendees will have the opportunity to explore state and federal law regarding vaccinations, privacy issues, workplace security concerns, updates on current litigations, and how to evaluate and respond to requests for accommodations. I want to take a moment to thank Pullman & Comley for helping us provide this critical content for our members. For more information and to register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

During the lunch hour on Tuesday, the chamber will host a special Virtual Luncheon featuring U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney. Congressman Courtney, who serves on the House Armed Services Committee, as Chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, and on the House Education and Labor Committee, will touch on the important issues that he is working on as he represents his constituents in Washington, D.C. including COVID recovery, infrastructure, American Rescue Plan Funds, manufacturing and the defense sector in Connecticut, and much more. This important virtual event is sponsored by Tower Laboratories. I would like to take a moment to once again thank the Congressman for visiting with our members, and Norm Needleman and his team at Tower Labs for sponsoring. We look forward to a great discussion. To register for this Virtual Luncheon, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Switching gears to the business development front, I look forward to three exciting Grand Opening celebrations scheduled for this week throughout Middletown. Mayor Ben Florsheim, Chamber Chairwoman Maureen Westbrook, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele and other local dignitaries will join me as we collectively wish these inspiring entrepreneurs all the best with their new ventures.  On Tuesday afternoon, the celebration for Mediterranean Flavors Bar & Grill on Saybrook Road is scheduled for 3:00 p.m. Mediterranean Flavors serves up delicious food based on Greek Mediterranean, with a touch of Italian and American dishes. I wish Vasileios Gkavos and his entire team all the best with this tasty new addition to Saybrook Road. Wednesday brings us to South Main Street for the Grand Opening of Caribou Smokehouse, LLC. Caribou promises food that is prepared with love, age-old recipes, a precise combination of hardwood, paired with their famous rubs to equal outstanding flavor. I would also like to wish the Caribou Smokehouse team, led by Elaine Wilson, great success with this exciting new business on South Main. Finally, Thursday afternoon brings us back downtown where Downtown Business District Director Sandra Russo-Driska will join the above-mentioned team for the Grand Opening of Sugar Leaf on College Street. Sugar Leaf is an intimate and upscale boutique featuring CBD wellness products and a curated collection of functional glass art hand crafted by local artisans.  I would like to wish owner Kristin Souza all the best as she embarks on this exciting journey. As I have noted many times over the years, attending Grand Opening celebrations is one of the most rewarding aspects of this job, and I look forward to a week full of celebrating these terrific local businesspeople.

In closing, I again want to remind members and other interested parties of our in-person Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall on August 18 at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. Coach Edsall enters the fifth season of his second stint as the UConn head football coach after being with the program for 12 seasons from 1999-2010. This event, sponsored by People’s United Bank, will feature an update from the coach on the upcoming season of Husky football, along with some important thoughts on leadership and character development which will certainly resonate with our audience. www.middlesexchamber.com has much more info, and I will share much more as we get closer.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Mourning loss of decades-long owner of Cromwell Concrete

July 26, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but July comes to an end this week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. However, make no mistake, the chamber calendar is still hot with events and activities.

On the business development front, I very much look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local dignitaries on Monday afternoon for a ceremony at 211 South Main Street which will formally recognize the building as the Michael F. Dowley Building. This is a well-deserved honor for a man who did so much for Middletown. Mike Dowley was an excellent local attorney for over 40 years who was trusted by members of local boards and commissions and other key stakeholders on very important matters dealing with economic development, land use, zoning and more. He was also a true family man. I want to take a moment to thank Rocky Kempenaar not only for recognizing Mike and his contributions to this city, but for doing a great job with this important building which is located in a key commercial corridor. I look forward to a great event.

On Tuesday evening, I will head down to Madison for the retirement celebration of Greg Shook who is retiring from his position as President and CEO of Essex Savings Bank after 22 years at the helm. Greg Shook is one of those individuals who has made a tremendous impact in business and in our community. He has led Essex Savings Bank, a true community bank, with the utmost professionalism, and has been a huge supporter of our chamber every step of the way. We were honored to present him with our Distinguished Citizen Award in 2011, and will always be grateful for his membership on our Board of Directors and Executive Committee including service as chamber Chairman in 2016-2017. We wish him nothing but the best in his well-deserved retirement, and thank him for his longtime support and friendship.

After the event in Madison, we will jump onto the zoom platform for the Side Street to Main Street “BUSINESS KNOW-HOW” Class 10 Certificate Presentation which will be held at 6:15 p.m. The Side Street to Main Street “BUSINESS KNOW-HOW” Program is an intensive four-session entrepreneurial program which provides practical knowledge for starting and building a small business. This is the second time that this important chamber initiative will take place through an online portal. I thank Eversource for its sponsorship of this important economic community development program, and chamber Staff Liaison Jennifer De Kine for her great work since the program’s inception.

Looking ahead to Thursday, I also look forward to the Grand Opening celebration of MARC Community Resources’ new facility at 25 Industrial Park Road in Middletown. MARC continues to do extremely important work in our community, and we congratulate them as they christen their new building right here in town. I also want to take a moment to wish departing President Linda Iovanna all the best as she transitions out of MARC and into a new phase in her professional career. She has done a great job with MARC through a challenging period, and we certainly thank her for her efforts and wish her well.

Before closing, I again want to ask members and other interested parties to support two upcoming chamber events in August. Join us on Tuesday, August 3 for a special Virtual Luncheon featuring U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney. Congressman Courtney’s district includes many of the down-county towns within the chamber’s service area. His remarks will touch on the important issues that he is working on as he represents his constituents in Washington, D.C. including COVID recovery, infrastructure, American Rescue Plan Funds, manufacturing and the defense sector in Connecticut, and much more. This important virtual event is sponsored by Tower Laboratories. Later in the month, on Wednesday, August 18, we will welcome UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall to an in-person Member Breakfast Meeting at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. Sponsored by People’s United Bank, this event will feature an update from the coach on the upcoming season of Husky football, along with some thoughts on leadership and character development. www.middlesexchamber.com has much more info, and I will share more as we get closer.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Raymond (Ray) Libera at the age of 73. Ray owned and was the former President of Cromwell Concrete Products, a local supplier of contractors, towns and the State of Connecticut for over 85 years. Amazingly, he worked at the company for over 60 years. Ray was a great guy who was a strong supporter of our chamber, and of many other community-based initiatives along the way. He was a staple in the Town of Cromwell, from his high school days as a stand out athlete, to this business career, and more. Ray was well known in the community and of course, very well liked. I was fortunate to attend a wonderful celebration of life for Ray, held last Monday, at the Middletown Elks Lodge. It was a fitting tribute for a man who did so much for so many. Our thoughts and prayers are with Ray’s wife of 56 years, Mary Ann, his children, Tara, Lisa and Jason, his grandchildren, and their entire network of devoted family and friends. Ray Libera will be missed by many.

Citizens Bank fun run set for this week in Middletown

July 20, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

On the business development front, a lot of exciting Grand Opening celebrations have taken place over the past few weeks with many more scheduled in the coming weeks. This Wednesday at 12:30 p.m., Mayor Ben Florsheim and other local dignitaries will come to the chamber for a Grand Opening celebration for Nat’s Honey Bee Real Estate, a home-based business here in Middletown. Nat’s is a real estate brokerage company that is in the business of helping clients seamlessly conduct their real estate transaction. From listing, to buying and selling, Natalie Grant aims to make your experience as smooth as possible. We wish her all the best with her exciting new venture, and look forward to supporting her as we move forward.

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

On to workforce development, Week Three of the chamber’s Youth @ Work Summer Employment Program is underway at almost 40 different host worksites across greater Middletown. As I have mentioned many times, this program is especially important because it deals with our youth population. I would like to take a moment to thank the businesses and organizations in Greater Middletown that are serving as host worksites this summer: Amazing Grace Food Pantry; Buttonwood Tree (North End Arts Rising); Camp Cromwell; CHANGE Inc.; Changing Looks Hair Salon; Cross Street AME Zion Church; DCF Wilderness School; Epilepsy Foundation of Connecticut; Finese Cuts LLC; Futures Inc.; Goodwill Industries / Easter Seals; Habitat for Humanity ReStore; ID Mail Systems; It's Only Natural; Kronenberger & Sons Restoration; Legacy Lawn Care; Lyman Orchards; MARC Community Resources; Greater Middletown Military Museum; Middletown Recreation Department, Parks Department, and Public Works Department; Mind Brakes Wellness; Pamela Roose Specialty Hand Knits & Yarn; Rev. D. Lawrence Community Garden; Russell Library; Save-A-Dollar Cleaning Services; Seasons Federal Credit Union; Stylz by Q; Suburban Stationers; Town and Country Early Learning Center; Tschudin Chocolates & Confections; Vargas, Chapman, and Wood LLC; The Wadsworth Mansion at Long Hill Estates; William Raveis-Linda’s Team; Middlesex YMCA; and Vale Sports Club. Without the support of these outstanding local stakeholders who are stepping up to provide work experiences this summer, this important community program would not be possible. It would of course also not be possible without the support of our funders. I thank all of them on behalf of the chamber for their unbelievable support of this, and many other community initiatives that they support in our area. Our 2021 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Liberty Bank Foundation, State of CT Judicial Branch, Jarvis Products Corporation, and Middlesex United Way.

Before closing, I ask members and other interested parties to support two upcoming chamber events in August. Join us on Tuesday, August 3 for a special Virtual Luncheon featuring U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney. Congressman Courtney’s district includes many of the down-county towns within the chamber’s service area. His remarks will touch on the important issues that he is working on as he represents his constituents in Washington, D.C. including COVID recovery, infrastructure, American Rescue Plan Funds, manufacturing and the defense sector in Connecticut, and much more. This important virtual event is sponsored by Tower Laboratories. Later in the month, on Wednesday, August 18, we will welcome UConn Head Football Coach Randy Edsall to an in-person Member Breakfast Meeting at the Sheraton Hartford South in Rocky Hill. Sponsored by People’s United Bank, this event will feature an update from the coach on the upcoming season of Husky football, along with some thoughts on leadership and character development. www.middlesexchamber.com has much more info, and I will share more as we get closer.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Jane Marino at the far too young age of 65. Jane was the loving wife of Larry Marino who serves on our Executive Committee and served as Chamber Chairman in 2005-2006. Jane and Larry were fixtures at chamber events, and at many other events throughout our community. Jane was a smart, thoughtful, caring, and kind individual. She was also a fantastic wife and mother, and she will be missed by all of those who knew her. Our thoughts and prayers are with our friend, Larry, their four sons, Daniel, Andrew, Christopher and Ross, and Larry and Jane’s entire family at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that Jane led a life well lived, and that she made a positive impact on so many people along the way.

Tourism industry hit especially hard by pandemic

July 12, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

We are starting the height of summer in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

While the chamber calendar is a little lighter through July and August, our team is working hard every day to implement a safe return to in person meetings, along with other strategic initiatives for the benefit of our members.

A key goal moving forward is to assist in the relaunch of the key industry sectors in our region, and tourism is at the top of that list. Chamber members and readers of this column know that I have been a strong and vocal supporter of the tourism industry for many years. The reason, is that it is a critically important economic sector in Middlesex County and the State of Connecticut. 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 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 Vice President 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 promoting the Connecticut summer while at the same time planning for the Fall. The tourism industry was hit especially hard by the pandemic, so we encourage everyone to get out, visit our tourist attractions, see our sights, and take advantage of all our beautiful state of Connecticut has to offer. We will continue to support this vital sector as we move forward, and everyone should take the time to visit www.ctvisit.com for all of the best information on tourism in Connecticut.

Switching gears from tourism to workforce development, the 2021 version of the chamber's Youth @ Work Summer Employment Program kicks off the second week of its work experience this week at almost 40 different host worksites across greater Middletown. As I noted last week, the chamber is proud to put almost 75 kids to work this summer in constructive employment environments throughout the city thanks to the support of Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Liberty Bank Foundation, State of CT Judicial Branch, Jarvis Products Corporation, and Middlesex United Way. I will offer some additional thoughts on our almost 40 host worksites in next week’s column. We also have a very important KeyBank Workshop Series on Sexual Harassment Prevention Training presented by Attorneys from the law firm Jackson Lewis, P.C. that will show you how to limit your company’s exposure to charges of sexual harassment on Tuesday, July 13, 2021 at 8:30 a.m. via Zoom.

Despite the fact that the summer is heating up, the chamber team is continuing to plan for the rest of 2021 and beyond. The 20th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Member Breakfast Meeting is scheduled for Monday, Nov. 1, 2021. The chamber is now accepting applications for the 2021 William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award. This prestigious award is presented annually at this important chamber event. The William J. Pomfret Veteran Community Service Award is presented 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.  The recipient of this award is decided by a committee of its previous winners. Candidates must meet the following criteria to be considered for the award: He or she must live or work in the following Middlesex County towns: Chester, Cromwell, Deep River, Durham, East Haddam, East Hampton, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Middlefield, Middletown, Portland or Westbrook; he or she must have served in a branch of the United States Armed Forces and continues to promote Veterans Affairs; and he or she must participate in local and state community organizations and/or initiatives.  To nominate a candidate for this award, please contact Jeff Pugliese at jpugliese@middlesexchamber.com.

In closing, I want to note that I look forward to stopping by and supporting the second Thomas J. Serra Memorial Golf Tournament at Portland Golf Course on Friday. This event will once again honor Tom’s life and career, and will support the scholarship at Middletown High School and Vinal Technical High School which now bears his name. Readers of this column and friends of the chamber know how much Tom meant to me and to our organization. Tom dedicated himself to public service throughout a long and distinguished career as an educator, principal, mayor, member of the Middletown Common Council, and a supporter of countless community initiatives. He was a fixture at chamber events, and the volunteer efforts he put into reviewing scholarship applications and executing the chamber’s annual High School Career Fair Expo was nothing short of remarkable. We were honored to present him with the Governor William A. O’Neill Public Service Award in September 2013 — an honor very well-deserved. I congratulate his family on setting up this important scholarship, and the tournament that will support it. Tom Serra is missed by many, every day.

New ownership at Dexter's Tunes Tales & Ales

July 5, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The summer is in full swing in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move. I would like to begin this week's chamber column by recapping what was an outstanding 2021 Small Business Awards Ceremony held last Wednesday at Saint Clement's Castle in Portland. We were thrilled to host an in-person event that reconnected friends and colleagues from across the community. The event featured good old-fashioned networking, outstanding presentations by our chamber Vice Presidents, Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, and keynote remarks by the Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development, Glen Thames. Glen did a great job with her remarks, which focused on where we go from here as we collectively pivot from pandemic mitigation to economic recovery. We really appreciate the fact that she took the time to come to Middlesex County to visit with our members and help us celebrate our award winners. I thank her for coming, and for the great work she has done along with DECD Commissioner David Lehman, Gov. Ned Lamont, and many others in and out of government on the economic response to COVID. While our speakers were all great, the real champions of the evening were, of course, our honorees. We would like to once again congratulate all of them on this well-deserved honor. They are: Business of the Year Award (1-30 Employees)-Lino’s Market, Inc., Durham, Business of the Year Award (31+ Employees)-Arborio Corporation, Cromwell, Business Growth & Expansion Award-William J. Petzold Inc. & Petzold’s Chester Boat Basin, Portland & Chester, Manufacturer of the Year-LABCO Welding, Inc., Middletown, Minority Owned Business of the Year-ProShield Glass Tinting, Southington, Non-Profit of the Year-Gilead Community Services, Inc., Middlesex County, Outstanding New Business Under 5 Years-Sweet Jean’s Café, East Hampton, Retail Business of the Year-Amato’s Toy & Hobby, Middletown, Tourism/Hospitality Business of the Year-Westbrook Inn Bed & Breakfast, Westbrook. They come from many different industry sectors, but they all share a commitment to Middlesex County, and they are all great representatives of our business community. We are very proud. Finally, a special thanks to the team at Saint Clement’s. The venue looked terrific, the food was delicious, and Peter Callan, Pam Marshall and the entire team were right there with us. It is fair to say that our return to in person events is off to a good start. Those who are interested can view the event by visiting the chamber’s social media platforms and YouTube channel.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining East Hampton Town Manager David Cox and other local stakeholders on Thursday afternoon for the Grand Opening Celebration of Dexter's Tunes Tales & Ales, which is now under new ownership. Dexter’s is more than a music store, bookstore or a bar, it’s a place to gather and meet new friends in the heart of East Hampton. Visitors can enjoy music, a good book, a Connecticut made micro beer, or all of the above. We wish new owner Martha Wick and her team nothing but the best, and we look forward to supporting their efforts as they move forward with their exciting new business venture.

Switching gears from business development to workforce development, the 2021 version of the chamber's Youth @ Work Summer Employment Program kicks off its work experience this week at almost 40 different host worksites across greater Middletown. 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 Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, and a number of terrific private funders, we are able to put nearly 75 kids to work this summer in constructive employment environments throughout the city. I thank all of them on behalf of the chamber for their unbelievable support of this, and many other community initiatives that they support in our area. Our 2021 team of funding partners is as follows: Workforce Alliance, the City of Middletown, Peach Pit Foundation, Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Liberty Bank Foundation, State of CT Judicial Branch, Jarvis Products Corporation, and Middlesex United Way. In addition to the team of funders, I also want to take a moment to thank the almost 40 businesses and organizations in greater Middletown that will serve as host worksites this summer. Finally, I want to thank our Workforce Development Director Lorenzo Marshall for his outstanding leadership of this program on an annual basis. I will provide updates on the Youth @ Work program as the summer progresses.

In closing, I would like to take a moment to offer heartfelt congratulations to Middletown Fire Chief Rob Kronenberger on his well-deserved retirement. Chief Kronenberger has done a great job in this critically important role for our city. He has also stepped up to serve as Emergency Management Director, another vital role, and as Co-Chair of the chamber’s Arrigoni Bridge Project and Related Construction Work Group. Rob was a strong supporter of our chamber during his time as Chief, and we appreciate his support, his commitment to the city, and his professionalism, very much. I also want to congratulate Deputy Chief Al Leary on his retirement, and also wish him and his family all the best. We thank both of these gentlemen for their service.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Honor military members on the Fourth of July

June 28, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Before covering what continues to be a busy chamber calendar, I want to acknowledge Independence Day which is this coming Sunday, July 4th. 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 our Armed Forces who protect this independence every day. 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. 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 2021 Virtual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting, sponsored by Travelers Companies and featuring PGA Pro Cameron Smith as guest speaker, was held on the zoom platform. I would like to once again thank Travelers 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 Cameron for speaking at the event. He did a great job with his remarks, and he proved why he is a popular young player on the tour. It was also great to once again see large crowds of fans at the TPC River Highlands in Cromwell to watch the tournament. What a sight to see after a year without fans in 2020. In addition to Alan, Andy, Cameron, and all the players, 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 2022 Travelers Championship, and couldn’t be prouder of the fact that Travelers Companies has extended its sponsorship until at least 2030.

The main event of this week is the chamber’s 11th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, presented by the MEWS+, which is scheduled for Wednesday at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland. We can’t wait to honor our 2021 small business champions which are as follows: Business of the Year Award (1-30 Employees)-Lino’s Market, Inc., Durham, Business of the Year Award (31+ Employees)-Arborio Corporation, Cromwell, Business Growth & Expansion Award-William J. Petzold Inc. & Petzold’s Chester Boat Basin, Portland & Chester, Manufacturer of the Year-LABCO Welding, Inc., Middletown, Minority Owned Business of the Year-ProShield Glass Tinting, Southington, Non-Profit of the Year-Gilead Community Services, Inc., Middlesex County, Outstanding New Business Under 5 Years-Sweet Jean’s Café, East Hampton, Retail Business of the Year-Amato’s Toy & Hobby, Middletown, Tourism/Hospitality Business of the Year-Westbrook Inn Bed & Breakfast, Westbrook. We are very proud of our awardees who were all nominated by their fellow chamber members. Congratulations to them all on this well-deserved recognition.

Switching gears quickly to the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening celebration for Story and Soil Coffee Bar and Kitchen in Wesleyan RJ Julia Bookstore on Thursday at 11:30 a.m. Story and Soil is committed to creating a supportive and positive culture that celebrates vibrant communities. We look forward to supporting their entire team as they work to grow their brand right here on Main Street. Later in the day, we will head across the river to join Portland First Selectwoman Susan Bransfield for the Grand Opening of Concentric Brewing Company & Hotdogs in the Hallway on Main Street in Portland. These two exciting businesses are led by local entrepreneurs that are committed to good beer, good food, and growing their respective brands right here in our community. We wish them all the best.

In closing, I would like to take a moment to thank our outgoing chamber Chairman, Tom Byrne, for a terrific year of leadership and support. Tom, President of Connecticut Rental Centers, Inc., has led our organization through a challenging year and he has done so with class, humility and humor. I am so proud of the man and the leader he has become since his days playing football for me at Xavier High School. Tom learned many things from his father, Bob, who also served as chamber Chairman and a true leader in this community. What really stands out for me is Tom’s professionalism, his character, and his loyalty to his family and friends. I know that Tom isn’t going far, and that we can continue to count on him as one of our best supporters. We thank him for his leadership this year, and look forward to our continued good work together moving forward. We also look forward to working with our incoming Chairwoman, Connecticut Water President Maureen Westbrook. Maureen is a longtime chamber supporter who has served as Co-Chair of our Legislative Committee for many years. She is a wonderful person, a great corporate leader, and another true leader. Welcome Maureen!

It's summer again in Middlesex County

June 21, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

It is hard to believe, but we have officially reached 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, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Bubba Watson, Phil Mickelson, and Cameron Smith, who will serve as guest speaker at Tuesday morning’s Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting. Although we plan to hold the Member Breakfast Meeting through virtual means, it will certainly be great to once again see fans out at the TPC River Highlands for this major PGA event. As I have repeatedly noted over the years, the Travelers Championship is a major economic generator that fills our area hotels, restaurants and other businesses. The tournament not only attracts most of the best golfers in the world, but it also attracts huge crowds to Cromwell and generates millions of dollars for charity. It is hard to believe, but this is now the 15th 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. They are the best in the business, and we truly appreciate their great support. As always, a key part of Travelers Championship week is our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held virtually once again this year. We look forward to welcoming PGA Pro Cameron Smith as guest speaker next Tuesday morning on the zoom platform. Cameron is an exciting young player on the tour who has big time golf experience through his five professional wins, three PGA Tour wins, and multiple top ten finishes in major tournaments. I thank Cameron for playing in this year’s tournament, and for speaking at our virtual event. We wish him, and all the players, good luck, and a great week on the course. For more information, visit www.travelerschampionship.com. See you at the TPC, where we expect to shine on this gem that is the Travelers Championship.

In addition to the Travelers Championship Breakfast, this week’s chamber calendar features some important workshops on very important topics for our members. On Tuesday morning, the latest installment of our Tuesday Tips campaign will take place a 12:00 p.m. via the zoom platform. Titled, "Strategies for Effective Communication with Difficult Customers", this session will explore best practices when it comes to dealing with disgruntled or difficult customers. Wednesday morning features a session titled, “Mindfulness in Turbulent Times: Cultivating Calm and Clarity”, also through the zoom platform. In this program, Tara Healey will introduce the fundamental principles and practices of mindfulness in clear and practical terms. Tara is the creator and director of Mind the Moment, the mindfulness program of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care. Finally, this week’s chamber calendar features meetings of Women’s Leadership Collaborative, East Haddam and Haddam Division, and Travel & Tourism MIX Group. As always, the chamber is on the move.

Looking ahead to next week, excitement continues to build for our 11th Annual Small Business Awards celebration, presented by the MEWS+, which is scheduled for next Wednesday, June 30 at Saint Clement’s Castle in Portland. We can’t wait to honor our 2021 small business champions which are as follows: Business of the Year Award (1-30 Employees)-Lino’s Market, Inc., Durham, Business of the Year Award (31+ Employees)-Arborio Corporation, Cromwell, Business Growth & Expansion Award-William J. Petzold Inc. & Petzold’s Chester Boat Basin, Portland & Chester, Manufacturer of the Year-LABCO Welding, Inc., Middletown, Minority Owned Business of the Year- ProShield Glass Tinting, Southington, Non-Profit of the Year- Gilead Community Services, Inc., Middlesex County, Outstanding New Business Under 5 Years-Sweet Jean’s Café, East Hampton, Retail Business of the Year-Amato’s Toy & Hobby, Middletown, Tourism/Hospitality Business of the Year-Westbrook Inn Bed & Breakfast, Westbrook. We are very proud of our 2021 Small Business Award winners who were all nominated by their fellow chamber members. They come from many different industry sectors, but they all share a commitment to Middlesex County and they are all great representatives of our business community. I will have more on the Small Business Awards in next week’s column, and www.middlesexchamber.com has all the info.

In closing, I 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 since the beginning of the pandemic in March of 2020. We are so fortunate to have this critical institution in our region. Middlesex Health is not only a provider of non-stop, life-saving health care, but it is a strong community partner, and a supporter of a variety of community-based initiatives. Vin and his team are true professionals, and we are very grateful for their presence in our region, and their outstanding work on so many fronts. They are our heroes.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Travelers Championship is on the horizon

June 14, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Amazingly, we have reached mid-June in Middlesex County, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy week on the chamber calendar features meetings of our Westbrook Division, Arrigoni Bridge Construction Workgroup, Finance and Budget Committee, Killingworth Division, and Board of Directors. We look forward to all of these important meetings with businesspeople from a variety of industry sectors from all over the county. Wednesday afternoon features the chamber’s annual Real Estate Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank, at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. Each year at this important event, the chamber presents the Mary Ellen Klinck Real Estate Industry Leader of the Year Award. Mary Ellen Klinck is a past chamber chair and longtime member of our Executive Committee. This year’s recipient of the award is Sue Fasciani of Tiger Home & Building Inspections. We look forward to honoring Sue at the event, and look forward to once again getting together with our many active members from the real estate industry. On Friday morning, the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Council (MCSAAC) Advisory Committee will meet at the chamber office. MCSAAC, chaired by Cromwell Town Manager Tony Salvatore, works to reduce substance abuse in our region through grassroots and community activities. Sadly, there was uptick in overdoses and other instances of drug abuse through the pandemic. The chamber will continue to work with our partners to address these issues that are very important to our community, and communities across the country.

In addition to these meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to a virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state on Tuesday. Chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will continue his efforts on the South-Central Manufacturing Industry Partnership, and chamber VP Johanna Bond will continue her efforts with the Central Regional Tourism District. As is the case every week, the chamber team is working hard on a number of important fronts.

On the business development front, I look forward to traveling to Westbrook on Friday afternoon to join First Selectman Noel Bishop and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening celebration of Platinum Natural CBD’s new location at Westbrook Outlets. Established in 2020, Platinum Natural CBD is committed to a holistic approach to health and wellness for their clients in Middlesex County. We wish them the best with this new venture, and look forward to working with them as we move forward.

Switching gears a bit, June in Middlesex County is of course synonymous with the Travelers Championship. Anyone interested in tickets can visit www.travelerschampionship.com. It will certainly be great to once again see fans out at the TPC River Highlands for this major PGA event. As always, a key part of Travelers Championship week is our annual Travelers Championship Member Breakfast Meeting which will be held virtually once again this year. We look forward to welcoming PGA Pro Cameron Smith as guest speaker next Tuesday morning on the zoom platform. Cameron is an exciting young player on the tour who has big time golf experience through his five professional wins, three PGA Tour wins, and multiple top ten finishes in major tournaments. I thank Cameron for playing in this year’s tournament and for speaking at our virtual event. I would also like to thank Tournament Director Nathan Grube, and Travelers Companies Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette, for their outstanding support of our chamber, and their year-round effort to make the tournament a success. I will have much more on this year’s Travelers Championship in next week’s column.

Before closing, I would like to take a moment to thank Gov. Ned Lamont and the General Assembly for coming together to produce a state budget for the next biennium which avoids major tax increases and sets a path forward for a strong economic recovery from the pandemic. Speaker of the House Matt Ritter, House Republican Leader Vin Candelora, Senate President Martin Looney, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff and Senate Republican Leader Kevin Kelly all worked hard to make this bi-partisan budget a reality. All of us here at the chamber appreciate their good work and dedicated service to our state. Our Legislative Committee has had a variety of important discussions this session with the governor’s office, our Middlesex County Legislative Delegation, and the leaders of each legislative caucus. I thank our Co-Chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook, and all of our committee members for staying engaged through this unique, but very important legislative session.

In closing, I would like to congratulate the Community Health Center whose recent Vaccine Hesitancy Ad was recognized as part of the 42nd Annual Telly Awards, the world’s largest honor for video and television content across all screens. CHC’s campaign received recognition in the following categories: Public Service/PSA (Gold), Social Impact (Gold), Not-for-Profit (Silver) and Public Interest/Awareness (Silver). I also want to congratulate Motion, Inc., who produced the ad. Motion, Inc., under the leadership of Ed McKeon and Todd Sanderson, is a great local company that continues to produce high level and professional grade content, which is also making an impact in our community. Finally, I want to congratulate and thank CHC on the news that it recently administered its half-millionth dose of COVID-19 vaccines. Mark Masselli and his team continue to do critical, and life saving work in our community. We appreciate it.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Middletown Pride was a great success

June 7, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Before getting into the details of what is another busy chamber week, I would like to put a bow on what was a very successful Middletown Pride Showcase held this past weekend. The weather was beautiful, the large crowd was proud and energetic, and Middletown stepped up again to produce a wonderful event. I want to take a moment to once again thank the City of Middletown, led by Mayor Ben Florsheim, our Pride partners, Wesleyan University, led by President Michael Roth, and Russell Library, led by Ramona Burkey, the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, our outstanding sponsors and supporters, the volunteers who did a great job, the chamber staff who showed their dedication and drive once again, the Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works Department, Planning, Conversation and Development Department, Public Health Department, Parking Department, Parks Division, Emergency Management and all other city personnel that supported the event, and of course, Middletown Assistant General Counsel Christopher Forte, the creator of Middletown Pride, for his year round work to make Middletown Pride happen. We are already looking forward to next year when Middletown Pride will return in full force.

Another busy chamber week kicks off with the June meeting of the chamber’s Executive Committee, the final meeting that will be led by our outstanding Chairman, Tom Byrne. I want to take this opportunity in the chamber column to thank Tom for his unbelieve leadership during what has been a very challenging year. We look forward to honoring Tom’s work in September at our in person Annual Awards Dinner, and continue to appreciate his dedication to our chamber.

In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, this week also features meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, important sessions of the KeyBank Workshop Series and Tuesday Tips campaign, meetings of our Middlesex Information Exchange (MIX), and more. Beyond these meetings that are specific to our chamber, this week features meetings of the State of Connecticut Tourism Advisory Council and the Connecticut Valley Hospital (CVH) Advisory Committee. The Tourism Advisory Council works to support the hospitality and lodging business, and strives to make sure our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. The CVH Advisory Committee continues its important work on the substance abuse prevention and mental health fronts. I also look forward to joining my fellow members of the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee on Thursday for an important virtual meeting regarding economic recovery. As we continue to pivot from mitigation to recovery, 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.

On the business development front, chamber VP’s Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond will represent us at two important grand opening celebrations in different parts of the state. On Wednesday, Johanna will travel to West Hartford for the Grand Opening celebration of Cross-Country Mortgage. The Cross-Country team works together to give clients the smoothest home loan experience possible. We appreciate their membership in our chamber, and look forward to supporting them along the way. On Friday, Jeff will travel to Deep River for the Grand Opening of SoMA or “South of Main Art Collective.” SoMA, which is focused on connecting community and arts, was founded in an effort to form a creative collective where workshops, events, and classes are run. We look forward to supporting them as well and wish them all the best.

In closing, I want take this opportunity to preview this Sunday’s “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. “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 hundreds of vehicles, and the 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 for all of the latest and most up to date information about registration, awards, and much more. I want to once again take a moment to thank Operations Manager Missy Branchaud and the entire team at NAPA Genuine Parts Company for their great support of this event and of our chamber. I also want to thank William (Woody) Ferguson and the team at Mohawk Manufacturing Co. for the use of their parking lot. Finally, I want to send out a special thank you to Joe Santaniello who serves as Chairman of the Car Cruise 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, those of the entire committee, my wonderful chamber staff, and everyone who works hard to make this important event happen.

As you can see, the chamber is on the move, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County!

Time to honor true meaning of Memorial Day in Middletown

May 31, 2021

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. 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. Memorial Day is a time for remembrance, reflection and pride. So, before we fire up the grills, head to the beach, or put the boats in the water, let us again pause to recognize and honor the true meaning of Memorial Day. There are a number of outstanding Memorial Day Parades being held in Middlesex County and throughout our state. We continue to be grateful to all of those who serve or have served, and we will always remember those who perished in defense of our freedom.

The chamber team will hit the ground running as a busy month of June is upon us. On the chamber calendar, this week features meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Chamber Finance Committee, Central Business Bureau, Real Estate Council, Down County Division and Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC). In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to the virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will continue his efforts on the South-Central Manufacturing Industry Partnership, and chamber VP Johanna Bond will continue her efforts with the Central Regional Tourism District. As always, the chamber is on the move.

On the business development front, this week features two exciting Grand Opening celebrations in different parts of the county. On Tuesday afternoon, we look forward to joining Killingworth First Selectwoman Cathy Iino, Killingworth Division Chairman Franco Piscitelli, and other local dignitaries for the Grand Opening of Insurance Plans CT in Killingworth. Nancy Allision and her team do a great job walking clients through the ABC’s of Medicare, and we wish them nothing but the best as they work to grow their brand right here in Middlesex County. On Wednesday, I will join Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim, CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele and others for the Grand Opening celebration of RWC, LLC Attorneys and Counselors at Law. Whether it is Elder Law and Medicaid/Title 19, Estate Planning, Probate, or Real Estate, the RWC team is ready to help and provide professional service. We wish Partner Joan Reed Wilson and their entire team nothing but the best, and look forward to supporting them along the way.

Now that June is upon us, it is time to start celebrating Pride month. On Tuesday morning, the City of Middletown will commemorate the start of Pride Month with a crosswalk dedication on Main Street and a flag raising ceremony at City Hall. These celebrations will begin at 11:30 a.m. Middletown Pride 2021 will be a month-long celebration of inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity. Pride will take a balanced approach this year, and events will take place virtually and in-person. Middletown Pride 2021 festivities will begin on the morning of June 5, when we join together with Cinder + Salt for our second annual Main Street Cleanup. Later in the day, Middletown Pride’s first-ever virtual Pride Parade will be broadcast on Middletown Pride’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.  The Middletown Pride Showcase Event will be held over the course of two days, Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6 on the South Green in Middletown. The chamber team is ready to roll for a busy, and proud, month of June. For a full listing of Middletown Pride events and activities, please visit www.middletownpride.org. Before closing, I want to take a moment to once again thank the City of Middletown, led by Mayor Ben Florsheim, Wesleyan University, led by President Michael Roth, and Russell Library, led by Ramona Burkey, for partnering with us on this community event. I also want to thank the LGBTQ+ Advisory Committee, our outstanding sponsors and supporters, the volunteers who are ready to work hard in support of the event, the chamber staff who, as always, is stepping up to get the job done, the Triangle Community Center, and everyone who supports Middletown Pride. A special thank you goes out to the City of Middletown. The Police Department, Fire Department, Public Works Department, Planning, Conversation and Development Department, Parking Department, and all other city personnel that support the event are outstanding, and Mayor Ben Florsheim and the Middletown Common Council stepped up and made this event happen once again. Finally, I want to take a moment to especially thank Middletown Assistant General Counsel Christopher Forte, the creator of Middletown Pride, for his work to make this a reality. Chris has led this effort from the beginning, and he has done a fantastic job.

We look forward to a great month, and the sun will continue to shine on Middlesex County.

Middletown Pride to celebrate inclusivity, acceptance, diversity

May 24, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

We are now just one week away from the unofficial start of summer in Middlesex County, and as always, the chamber team is on the move.

Another busy chamber week features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, East Haddam and Haddam Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, and more. On Tuesday afternoon, the latest installment of our Tuesday Tips campaign will take place at 12:00 p.m. “Reach More Customers with Google” presented by Sixcia Devine, will explore how Google Search works and how you can improve a website's visibility with Search Engine Optimization (SEO). The session also introduces products like Google My Business, Google Trends, Search Console, Google Analytics, Google Ads, and more. I encourage all members to take advantage of this important series. www.middlesexchamber.com has all the details.

I look forward to attending another important meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council which is also scheduled for Tuesday. These meetings continue to focus on supporting the hospitality and lodging businesses in our state, and making sure our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. This group also continues to discuss federal dollars coming in via the American Rescue Plan, and how a portion of those funds can be used to support the vital tourism industry. As I have maintained for many years, tourism is very important to the economic prospects of our region, and we will continue to do our best to support and promote this critical sector.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Cromwell Mayor Enzo Faienza, Town Manager Tony Salvatore and other local dignitaries for a Ribbon Cutting at Covenant Living of Cromwell which will celebrate its new expansion. Dan Stegbauer and his team do a great job with this important local retirement community. The newly renovated and expanded facility looks outstanding, and we continue to appreciate Covenant Village’s commitment to its residents, to the Town of Cromwell, and to Middlesex County.

Quickly on entrepreneurship, the MEWS+ continues to do its best to serve as the entrepreneur development headquarters in Middlesex County. This Wednesday evening, our Spring 2021 Incubator Cohort wraps up with a virtual pitch competition. Interested parties are welcome to attend and meet our participating entrepreneurs, hear their stories, see their hard work, and find out how you can support them as they grow. The MEWS+ will continue its effort to develop a true innovation eco system in Middlesex County as we move forward.

The main event of the week is the sold out, 38th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament which is scheduled for Thursday at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. 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 does so much to contribute to the success of our organization. I appreciate their effort, and that of our entire staff, on a daily basis. We expect the sun to shine on Middlefield on Thursday, and look forward to another great day on the course. A key part of the tournament every year is the presentation of the Robert Briggs Award which recognizes contributions made to the community and to the chamber's Golf Tournament. We look forward to honoring our 2021 recipient, Rich Carella, who is another in a long line of deserving recipients of this award. Rich is a longtime friend and supporter of our chamber, and of our annual Golf Tournament. He is a Past Chair of our organization, the current Co-Chair of our Legislative Committee, and much more. We appreciate his unending support, and look forward to honoring his commitment on Thursday in Middlefield.

Finally, on Friday, 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 continuing our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant state of Connecticut.

Looking ahead, Middletown Pride 2021 will be a month-long celebration of inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity. Pride will take a balanced approach this year, and events will take place virtually and in-person. Middletown Pride 2021 festivities will begin on the morning of June 5, when we join together with Cinder + Salt for our second annual Main Street Cleanup. Later in the day, Middletown Pride’s first ever virtual Pride Parade will be broadcast on Middletown Pride’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.  The Middletown Pride Showcase Event will be held over the course of two days, Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6 on the South Green in Middletown. I will have much more on Middletown Pride as we move closer to June, but we are gearing up for a busy, and proud, month of June. For a full listing of Middletown Pride events and activities, please visit www.middletownpride.org.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

SoulFully Vegan Food Truck launching in Middletown

May 17, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The summer is fast approaching in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Another busy week on the chamber calendar includes three exciting grand openings, an important workshop, a number of committee and division meetings, and the May meeting of our Board of Directors. On Monday afternoon, I will join Mayor Ben Florsheim, Chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, and Central Business Bureau Chairwoman Pam Steele for the Grand Opening of SoulFully Vegan Food Truck. We wish Allison Vaughan nothing but the best with this tasty new venture, and look forward to supporting her along the way. On Tuesday afternoon, Tom and I will travel to Chester to join First Selectwoman Lauren Gister and other dignitaries for the Grand Opening of Petzold’s Chester Boat Basin. The Petzold family, strong supporters of our chamber, have owned Petzold’s Marine Center in Portland since 1945 which is now being operated by the 3rd and 4th generation. They purchased the Chester facility last summer, and we are very proud of their expansion in, and commitment to, Middlesex County. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to traveling to East Hampton for the Grand Opening of Roberts LakeHouse on North Main Street. Robert Reneson and his team have done a great job with this lakeside restaurant which has a delicious menu and an amazing view. We wish them the best and look forward to supporting them along the way.

On Tuesday afternoon, the latest installment of our Tuesday Tips campaign will take place at 12:00 p.m. “Essentials of Microsoft Teams Virtual Platform, presented by Don Gozauckas Jr. of HB Live, will explore the fundamentals of Microsoft Teams and real-world applications for small businesses. I encourage all members to take advantage of this important series. www.middlesexchamber.com has all the details.

Other important meetings on the calendar this week include our Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), Chamber Finance Committee, Golf Committee, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee and Affordable Housing Committee. The Golf Committee will continue planning for the upcoming sold out 38th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament on Thursday, May 27 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield. The committee has done a terrific job once again, and I am so appreciative of all of our sponsors, players, those who donated gifts, purchased tee signs, and many other chamber members who offered their support in a number of different ways. We look forward to a great day on the course!

In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting on Tuesday with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state, and Thursday with the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee.

Bringing it back to the local scene, Middletown Pride 2021 will be a month-long celebration of inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity. Pride will take a balanced approach this year, and events will take place virtually and in-person. Middletown Pride 2021 festivities will begin on the morning of June 5, when we join together with Cinder + Salt for our second annual Main Street Cleanup. Later in the day, Middletown Pride’s first ever virtual Pride Parade will be broadcast on Middletown Pride’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.  The Middletown Pride Showcase Event will be held over the course of two days, Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6. on the South Green in Middletown. I will have much more on Middletown Pride as we move closer to June, but we are gearing up for a busy, and proud, month of June. For a full listing of Middletown Pride events and activities, please visit www.middletownpride.org.

Finally, get your cars ready for the “Start Your Engines to Sunday Funday”, Middletown is Virtually Cruisin’ 2021. This year’s event, scheduled for Sunday, June 13, will kick off from NAPA at 12:30 p.m. and head through the North End onto Main Street. Please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com for more information. More to come on this front as well!

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of a gentleman who was a great supporter of our chamber, and someone who was held in high regard in this community. Bob Grenier was the owner of Uncle Bob’s Garden Center in Middlefield. He was rightly proud of this important local business that has provided professional landscaping and gardening services since 1990. Bob was also a proud veteran who was stationed at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center during Vietnam. In addition to serving our country, Bob served our community in the Portland Fire Department, by coaching youth sports in Durham and Middlefield, and through his support of many community causes along the way. More important to Bob than all of this however, was his beloved family. Our thoughts are with his wife, JoAnne, his three children, Michele, Jeff and Michael, their spouses, his seven grandchildren and his vast network of extended family and friends. Bob’s daughter, Middlesex YMCA President Michele Rulnick, is a member of the Chamber Board and is following in her Dad’s footsteps by supporting our organization and our community. Bob Grenier was humble, he was honest, and was always willing to lend a helping hand. He will be missed by many, but his family should be proud of a life well lived and of an impact that will not be forgotten.

Virtual cruise night, Pride festivities ahead for June

May 10, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

I would like to begin this week’s chamber column by congratulating Mark Masselli and his team at the Community Health Center on the 49th Anniversary of its opening in May of 1972. CHC has grown from a small, free clinic, to a vital provider of health care and a key stakeholder in the State of Connecticut. The COVID-19 pandemic has truly put a lens on the Community Health Center’s value and impact in our community. From COVID testing, and now to the extremely important vaccine clinics, CHC has been a leader during this very trying time for our state and nation. Cheers to Mark and his team on 49 amazing years, and we look forward to many more.

The chamber calendar is poised for another big week from start to finish. On Tuesday morning, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series is scheduled for 9:00 am. “Best HR Practices in Hiring, Disciplining and Firing Employees”, presented by Attorney Zachary Schurin of Pullman & Comley, LLC, will provide attendees with a look at the employment law landscape and will discuss best practices in hiring, disciplining and firing employees. In addition to the KeyBank Workshop Series, our Tuesday Tips campaign has also been providing terrific content for our members for some time now. This Tuesday’s event, “How COVID-19 has Changed the Payment Landscape,” will be presented by representatives from PAYROC. Attendees will get a glimpse into what is available for their business, along with banking trends and how your business can take advantage of available resources. For more information, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Other important meetings on the calendar include our Automotive Council, Durham & Middlefield Division, Strategic Planning Committee, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council Steering Committee, and Cruise Night on Main Street Planning Committee. I also look forward to attending another meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council on Tuesday. These meetings focus on supporting the hospitality and lodging businesses in our state, and making sure that our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. In addition to all of these meetings, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese and I will participate in the Region 2 Long Term Recovery Steering Committee meeting on Thursday afternoon. As we transition from pandemic mitigation to recovery, the chamber will do its best to be a constructive partner on everything from emergency management, to economic development, to workforce development, and much more.

Looking ahead, excitement continues to grow for our 38th Annual Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Golf Tournament which is sold out once again. This year’s event, scheduled for Thursday, May 27 at Lyman Orchards Golf Club in Middlefield, will feature a full field of 144 golfers. Our Golf Committee has done a terrific job once again, and I am so appreciative of all of our sponsors, players, those who donated gifts, purchased tee signs, and many other chamber members who offered their support in a number of different ways. We look forward to a great day on the course!

Speaking of major events, Middletown Pride 2021 will be a month-long celebration of inclusivity, acceptance, and diversity. Pride will take a balanced approach this year, and events will take place virtually and in-person. Middletown Pride 2021 festivities will begin on the morning of June 5, when we join together with Cinder + Salt for our second annual Main Street Cleanup. Later in the day, Middletown Pride’s first ever virtual Pride Parade will be broadcast on Middletown Pride’s website, Facebook and Instagram accounts.  The Middletown Pride Showcase Event will be held over the course of two days, Saturday, June 5, and Sunday, June 6. on the South Green in Middletown. I will have much more on Middletown Pride as we move closer to June, but we are gearing up for a busy, and proud, month of June. For a full listing of Middletown Pride events and activities, please visit www.middletownpride.org.

Finally, get your cars ready for the “Start Your Engines to Sunday Funday”, Middletown is Virtually Cruisin’ 2021. This year’s event, scheduled for Sunday, June 13, will kick off from NAPA at 12:30 p.m. and head through the North End onto Main Street. Please visit www.cruisenightonmain.com for more information. More to come on this front as well!

I would like to close this week’s column by acknowledging the passing of Lloyd J. Duggan, Jr. of Middletown, a good man, a supporter of our chamber, and a friend to many in this community. Lloyd had a decade long career in the energy sector before launching gL Marketing Consultants, a full-service marketing consulting firm based in Middletown. He was a longtime member of our chamber, and served as an instructor in our 21st Century Advance Office Training Program for many years. Lloyd was also very community minded. He was a founding member of the Middletown Men’s Club and the Brothers Assisting Brothers Golf Tournament, served on the Middletown Board of Education, and supported a variety of other community organizations along the way. Finally, Lloyd was also a good friend to many on our staff, most notably our Workforce Director, Lorenzo Marshall. Our deepest sympathies are with Lloyd’s wife, Gerri, his children, grandchildren, and vast network of family and friends. Lloyd J. Duggan, Jr. will be missed by many.

Harrie's Jailhouse restaurant opens in historic building

May 3, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The first full week of May is another busy one for the chamber team. The first major meeting of the month takes place on Monday with a virtual gathering of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, this week also features important meetings of our Portland & East Hampton Division, Central Business Bureau, Chester, Deep River & Essex Division, LEAD CT Steering Committee, Environment & Infrastructure Committee, Real Estate Council and Chamber Finance Committee. We also look forward to another installment of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign which brings in professionals from a variety of industry sectors for in depth conversations. This Tuesday’s event is titled, Technology Trends & What to Invest In, and is presented by Charles IT. We have seen over the past year how important IT is to small businesses. Tuesday’ session will cover strategic technology investments and how critical they are to your business or organization. To register or for more information on our Tuesday Tips series, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com. On Wednesday evening, the MEWS+ will host the first installment of its Spring 2021 Incubator. The MEWS+ Incubator is designed to assist entrepreneurs with refining their ideas, understanding fundamental business concepts, and working through the initial stages of their business. The program is offered over a nine-week schedule and includes a workshop series with topics ranging from business strategy, finance, legal, marketing, technology and productivity, and wellness and personal development. I continue to be very proud of how far our MEWS+ effort has come, and we look forward to making it even stronger in the coming months. This busy week shows the true depth of the chamber calendar which is always packed with events and activities.

In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, 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. On Friday morning, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will represent us on a meeting of the South-Central Manufacturing Industry Partnership. This important effort is an industry-led regional sector partnership focused on growing and supporting the manufacturing industry in the South-Central region of our state. Friday’s meeting will focus on identifying outcomes and early wins for each of the priority areas that were identified at the partnership’s launch meeting in March. We will continue to do everything we can to support this critical industry sector in our region and in our state. Speaking of critical industry sectors, the Central Regional Tourism District will hold its annual brochure swap at the Courtyard by Marriott in Cromwell on Friday afternoon. The brochure swap will help visitors and residents explore everything that our state has to offer on the tourism front. Chamber VP Johanna Bond continues to do a great job in her role as Executive Director of the district, and we will continue to support this vital industry as well moving forward. As I have noted in the past, all of these strategic partnerships are more important now than ever before.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau (CBB) Chairwoman Pam Steele, and Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim on Tuesday afternoon for the Grand Opening celebration of Middlesex Auto Service & Sales on North Main Street. We wish George Piel, Rick Gaboury and Kathy Allen all the best as they continue to grow this refurbished garage and car repair shop in the North End.  We also look forward to the Grand Opening Celebration for Harrie’s Jailhouse on Warwick Street which is scheduled for Thursday afternoon. Harrie’s Jailhouse, located in the old historic Pamecha Jailhouse, offers comfort cuisine and classic cocktails along with a great atmosphere. The menu looks fantastic, and we would like to wish Heather Kelley and Carrie Carella all the best as they embark on this new adventure. We will be there to support them all along the way.

Finally, I would like to close this week’s chamber column by noting just how much I enjoyed my visit to the Coleman Brothers Carnival in Middletown last weekend. The familiar vibe at the carnival was back, and everyone was really happy with how well this year’s event was managed, from cleanliness, to social distancing, and more. The Coleman Brothers Carnival is an institution in Middletown that goes back over 100 years. The return of this beloved community event proves that we are on the right track, and that we have to stay positive and believe that we will all be stronger on the back end of the pandemic. I would like to thank Tim and Arlene Coleman, the entire family, and their entire team for their commitment to Middletown, and for their annual efforts to provide a safe and fun environment for our community.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

Black Hall Outfitters, Firestone opening in Westbrook, Middletown

April 26, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The calendar continues to move forward as April turns to May, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Before getting into what is another busy week for me and the chamber team, I want to take a moment to briefly recap what was a very enjoyable Annual Meeting of the Middlesex County Historical Society last Thursday evening. Bill Corvo did an excellent job with his presentation about the rich history of the Italian community in the City of Middletown. Bill is a former student of mine at Xavier who has become a very successful professional, a good friend, and a strong supporter of our chamber. I am proud of him and enjoyed his talk very much. I again want to thank the Middlesex County Historical Society for the great work they do for our community.

This week’s chamber calendar includes important meetings of our Westbrook Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, Golf Committee and more. The Golf Committee will continue planning for our sold out 2021 Golf Tournament on May 27 at Lyman Orchards which will feature 144 golfers and a great time for all. I also look forward to attending the Liberty Bank Corporators meeting on Monday, and the Community Foundation of Middlesex County Board of Directors meeting on Tuesday.

The main event of the week of course is our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This event will be held on Tuesday via the zoom platform. Wesleyan President Michael Roth will serve as Keynote Speaker, and he will address a number of important topics including how Wesleyan has managed the pandemic over the past year, and how their students are doing as we approach the end of another academic year. This event has really become a celebration of our efforts to connect the business community and the education community in our region, efforts that we are very proud of. I want to take a moment to thank David Glidden and his team at Liberty Bank for supporting this important chamber event, and for being the epitome of a strong corporate citizen. We are lucky to have Liberty Bank in Middletown.

I look forward to attending another important meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council which is also scheduled for Tuesday. These meetings continue to focus on supporting the hospitality and lodging business in our state, and making sure our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. This group also continues to discuss federal dollars coming in via the American Rescue Plan, and how a portion of those funds can be used to support the vital tourism industry. As I have maintained for many years, tourism is very important to the economic prospects of our region, and we will continue to do our best to support and promote this critical sector.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series will wrap up with a special meeting featuring Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly this Thursday, April 29. This event follows up on our successful Legislative Breakfast with the Middlesex delegation in January, and our events with Speaker Matt Ritter in February and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in March. I continue to appreciate the work of our Legislative Committee which is led by our outstanding Co-Chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook.

Switching gears to COVID mitigation, this Thursday features our second vaccine clinic for Middletown businesses at the chamber office. This clinic, which will provide the second dose of the Moderna vaccine to over 100 local business owners and employees, is a follow up to the clinic we held on April 1. I would like to once again thank Kevin Elak and Rob Kronenberger, Mayor Ben Florsheim, and the outstanding Middletown Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) for making this important clinic happen. We appreciate and value these partnerships very much.

Finally, on the business development front, I look forward to celebrating three exciting Grand Opening celebrations throughout the county this week. On Thursday afternoon, I will join Westbrook First Selectman Noel Bishop, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese and Past Chamber Chairwoman Darlene Briggs for the grand opening of Black Hall Outfitters on Boston Post Road. The Black Hall Outfitters Westbrook location will serve as an epicenter for inshore, offshore, kayak, and surf fishing gear, as well as home to Wetmore’s Marina, a state-of-the-art sportsman marina facility. On Friday afternoon, I will head to Washington Street in Middletown with Mayor Florsheim and Central Business Bureau Chairwoman Pam Steele and Chamber Chairman Tom Byrne for the Grand Opening of Firestone Complete Auto Care. Firestone promises to offer not only the best customer service and quality products for our auto care needs, but also initiatives that support the community and improve the environment. We look forward to working with them and supporting their efforts moving forward. Rounding out the week, I will head to Cromwell for the Grand Opening celebration of Willowbrook Health Center. I look forward to joining Mayor Enzo Faienza, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood and other town leaders for this important occasion. Willowbrook Health Center, led by Dr. Sara B. Frawley, is a naturopathic health center that specializes in nutrition, physical medicine and much more. We wish Dr. Frawley and her team all the best.

As you can see, the chamber is on the move, and the sun continues to shine on Middlesex County.

Ice cream shop, physical therapy office open this week

April 19, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The chamber calendar is hot with activity as the weather warms up in Middlesex County.

Two exciting grand openings in different parts of Middlesex County highlight another busy week for the chamber team. On Monday, I will join chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau Chairwoman Pam Steele and Mayor Ben Florsheim for the grand opening of Orthopedic Associates of Middletown’s new Physical Therapy and Clinical Services Office on South Main Street. OAM Physical Therapy provides a full range of pain management and injury prevention services that complements its orthopedic care. We wish their entire team all the best moving forward, and look forward to supporting them along the way. On Friday afternoon, I will join Chester First Selectwoman Lauren Gister, Chamber Vice President Jeff Pugliese, and other county dignitaries for the grand opening and ribbon cutting at Honeycone Cream Co. on Main Street in Chester. Honeycone works to craft the highest quality frozen desserts one small batch at a time, all while supporting the community where they operate. We wish Tula McDougal and her team all the best, and I know the chamber team looks forward to sampling their menu.

Other important items on this week’s calendar include meetings of our Westfield Division, Arrigoni Bridge Committee, Business and Education Advisory Council, Human Resources Steering Committee, Chamber Finance Committee, and East Haddam and Haddam Division. I also look forward to a meeting with my fellow metro chamber executives from throughout the state on Tuesday, a meeting which will cover a variety of topics important to the business community.

As I mentioned last week, we are excited about the return of our successful Tuesday Tips campaign, which brings in professionals from a variety of industry sectors to address topics of importance to small businesses. This Tuesday’s event, “COVID-19 Vaccinations: What Employers and Employees Need to Know,” is presented by Christopher Brigham and Valerie Ferdon with Updike, Kelly & Spellacy P.C. They will provide practical advice to employers and employees regarding their legal responsibilities and rights in connection with COVID-19 vaccinations. For more information, please visit middlesexchamber.com.

On the tourism front, I attended a meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council last Tuesday and look forward to participating in these important biweekly meetings moving forward. The meetings will continue to focus on supporting the hospitality and lodging business, and making sure our tourist attractions come back strong after a tough stretch through the pandemic. This group will also be discussing federal dollars coming into the state via the American Rescue Plan, and how a portion of those funds can be used to support the vital tourism industry.

Switching gears a bit, I want to take a moment to mention that the Middlesex County Historical Society will hold its annual meeting this Thursday evening through virtual means. Founded in 1901, the Middlesex County Historical Society is dedicated to preserving the history of Middletown and Middlesex County. I thank this wonderful organization for its commitment to our history, and encourage everyone to check out the terrific content that they provide.

Briefly on the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series will wrap up with a special meeting featuring Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly April 29. This event follows up on our successful legislative breakfast with the Middlesex delegation in January, and our events with Speaker Matt Ritter in February and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in March. Our Legislative Committee will continue to stay engaged as this important session moves forward.

Before closing, I would like to once again ask that chamber members and other interested parties save April 27 for our annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This year’s event will be held virtually, and will feature Wesleyan University President Michael Roth as keynote speaker.

President Roth will address a number of important topics, including how Wesleyan has managed the pandemic over the past year, and how their students are doing as we approach the end of another academic year. I would like to thank him once again for speaking, and of course, Liberty Bank for sponsoring. This event has really become a celebration of our efforts to connect the business community and the education community in our region, efforts that we are very proud of.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Mario Vinci at the age of 63. Mario was a really good man and a friend to many people in this community. He was a longtime member of the Middlesex YMCA and was dedicated to staying fit. I always enjoyed working out with Mario and catching up with him about what’s going on in town, sports, and most notably, family. After his retirement from the state Department of Corrections, Mario worked part time for the Duksa Family Funeral Homes in Newington, which he really enjoyed. He was also a longtime supporter of our chamber who attended many events over the years. I will miss Mario’s fresh-grown tomatoes that he would share with family and friends, but most importantly, I will miss our conversations at the Y, and his friendship. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mario’s wife, Linda, and his entire family at this difficult time. Mario Vinci will be missed by many.

Companies in Cromwell, Essex, Middletown to host ribbon cuttings

April 12, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Before covering some of the many events and activities on this week’s chamber calendar, I want to look back quickly on what was a very successful vaccine clinic for Middletown businesses that was held at the chamber on April 1st. Public Health Director Kevin Elak and Emergency Management Director Rob Kronenberger partnered with our team to put together this important event for the benefit of our business community. I would like to thank Kevin and Rob, along with Mayor Florsheim, the outstanding Middletown Medical Reserve Corps (MRC), and everyone else who made this event happen. This is just another example of our chamber partnering with the City of Middletown on an important initiative for our community. We look forward to supporting these important efforts as we collectively move towards brighter days ahead.

Briefly on the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series continues this Monday, April 12, when we welcome House Minority Leader Vin Candelora to a special virtual event. At this important meeting, Rep. Candelora will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2021 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions about the session, and discuss some important issues on our 2021 Public Policy Agenda. This event follows up on our successful Legislative Breakfast with the Middlesex delegation in January, and our events with Speaker Matt Ritter in February and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in March. We will wrap up this year’s series with Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly on Thursday, April 29. Our Legislative Committee will continue to stay engaged as this important session moves forward.

Other important items on this week’s chamber calendar include meetings of our Durham & Middlefield Division, Strategic Planning Committee, Killingworth Division, Recovery Employment Program (REP) Steering Committee, Board of Directors, Cruise Night on Main Planning Committee and Legislative Committee. We also look forward to the return of our very successful Tuesday Tips campaign, which brings in professionals from a variety of industry sectors to address topics of importance to small businesses. This Tuesday’s event is titled, Essentials of the Zoom Virtual Platform, and it is presented by Don Gozauckas Jr. of HB Live. If you are new to Zoom, or considering using it for your business communications, this event is for you. Virtual meetings are very important to business operations and will be moving forward, so it is important to get up to speed on zoom and the other platforms that are available. For more information or to register, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the tourism front, I look forward to attending Tuesday’s meeting of the Connecticut Tourism Council which will be held through virtual means. As I have noted many times over the years, tourism is a critical economic driver in Middlesex County and throughout the state. It has also been especially battered by the pandemic, so we need to work together to make sure that this vital industry is poised for a strong comeback in the coming weeks and months.

Switching gears to business development, we look forward to two exciting Grand Opening Celebrations, and one Grand Re-Opening Celebration, that are scheduled over the next week. On Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to joining Mayor Enzo Faienza, Town Manager Tony Salvatore and other Cromwell officials for the Grand Opening of Labcorp on Shunpike Road in Cromwell. Labcorp provides vital information to help doctors, hospitals, pharmaceutical companies, researchers, and patients make clear and confident decisions. We look forward to welcoming their team to our region on Wednesday, and wish them all the best moving forward. On Thursday, I will join First Selectman Norm Needleman and other leaders in Essex for the Grand Re-Opening of Carlson’s Landing at the historic Essex Boat Works. Carlson’s offers pristine seafood, classic American fare, and craft cocktails in a quintessential New England setting. We look forward to supporting their efforts moving forward, and thank them for their commitment to Essex and to Middlesex County. Finally, I look forward joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau (CBB) Chairwoman Pam Steele, and Mayor Ben Florsheim for the Grand Opening of Orthopedic Associates of Middletown’s new Physical Therapy and Clinical Services Office on South Main Street. We also wish their team all the best moving forward, and look forward to supporting them along the way. Grand openings have really picked up lately, which is a great sign for our regional economy.

In closing, I would like to once again ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the date of Tuesday, April 27, for our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This year’s event will be held virtually, and will feature Wesleyan University President Michael Roth as keynote speaker. President Roth will address a number of important topics including how Wesleyan has managed the pandemic over the past year, and how their students are doing as we approach the end of another academic year. I would like to thank him once again for speaking, and of course, Liberty Bank for sponsoring. This event has really become a celebration of our efforts to connect the business community and the education community in our region, efforts that we are very proud of.

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

Latin, American food eatery opening in Middletown

April 5, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The first full week of April kicks off with a bang as the chamber has a number of important meetings and activities planned.

The latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series takes place on Monday morning with a virtual session titled, “The Skilled Communicator”, presented by Kenya J. Rutland of KJR Consulting. This important workshop will provide information on increasing one’s self-awareness, enhancing their communication skills, and improving teamwork and collaboration. We look forward to another great session.

Our Executive Committee holds its April meeting on Monday morning at 11:30 a.m. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. In addition, this week also features important chamber meetings of our Portland & East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Cromwell Division, Middlesex Information eXchange (MIX) non-profit group, and Down County Division.

This Thursday, we invite all members to join us for a virtual Team Building Zappy Hour held virtually through the zoom platform. The chamber and the Middlesex Information eXchange (MIX) have partnered with Empower Leadership for a one-of-a-kind virtual networking event which will feature fun online team building challenges that will surely lead to new connections, fun group bonding, and plenty of shared laughter. I would like to thank Dan Jaskot, President of Empower Leadership, for leading this exciting event.

In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, this week features a number of other meetings that are important to the business community throughout our state. On Tuesday, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state, and on Friday, 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 in the coming months as we continue to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant state of Connecticut.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau (CBB) Chairwoman Pam Steele, and Mayor Ben Florsheim on Thursday afternoon for the Grand Opening celebration of Latin Flavor on Church Street in Middletown. Latin Flavor offers a blend of Latin and American food made with authentic herbs and spices. We would like to wish Edwin Maldonado and his team all the best with this delicious new business, and look forward to supporting their efforts along the way.

Briefly on the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series continues next Monday, April 12, when we welcome House Minority Leader Vin Candelora to a special virtual event. At this important meeting, Rep. Candelora will visit with chamber members to discuss the 2021 Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask questions about the session, and discuss some important issues on our 2021 Public Policy Agenda. This event follows up on our successful Legislative Breakfast with the Middlesex delegation in January, and our events with Speaker Matt Ritter in February and Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff in March. We will wrap up this year’s series with Senate Minority Leader Kevin Kelly on Thursday, April 29. Our Legislative Committee will continue to stay engaged as this important session moves forward.

Finally, I ask that chamber members and other interested parties save the date of Tuesday, April 27, for our Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Luncheon, sponsored by Liberty Bank. This year’s event will be held virtually, and will feature Wesleyan University President Michael Roth as keynote speaker. I will have more as this important event gets closer, but we look forward to hearing from President Roth on a variety of important issues. I thank him for speaking, and Liberty Bank for sponsoring.

For more information or to register for any or all of these events, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Robert (Bob) Sweeney at the age of 87. Bob had a great professional career with JC Penney, WT Grant and Gillette Company, and he supported a variety of community causes along the way including Mercy and Xavier High Schools, St. Pius X Church, Ronald McDonald House of CT, and Amazing Grace Food Pantry in Middletown. First and foremost, Bob was a dedicated family man, and he was married to his beloved wife Muriel for an amazing 67 years. Bob’s son, Tom, a former outstanding player of mine at Xavier High School who is in the Middletown Sports Hall of Fame, is also a strong member of our chamber through his business, Suburban Physical Therapy & Sports Medicine Center. One of his other sons, Jim, works for the City of Middletown, and is a terrific city employee. Bob Sweeney was a friend, a good man, and someone who made a positive impact throughout his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family at this difficult time. Bob Sweeney will be missed.

Biagio Ciotto was respected by both sides of aisle

March 29, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Now that spring has sprung and April is upon us, I want to take a quick look back at what has been a truly unique year in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. The public health and economic crisis that has been top of mind for all of us has proven many things. It has proven that we always need to look out for those who are most important to us and those who are in need. It has proven that hard fought gains on many fronts are fragile, and that we need to make sure we are strategic in our approach at all times. It has proven that we need to be resilient, in business and in life, and it has proven that when we work together, we can accomplish great things. I continue to be very proud of this amazing community. We are blessed to have strong leaders in critically important positions throughout our county who have been working around the clock for over a year now. Whether it is the public health response, the continuation of vital public services, continuing to educate our children, or helping the business community through this time, the county’s response has been a true team response, and as a former coach, there is nothing I appreciate more than teamwork. Our friends at Middlesex Health and the Community Health Center, along with our region’s first responders, have done remarkable work on the front lines of this crisis in our region. They have our unending thanks. I also continue to be proud of my team at the chamber who has stepped up in support of the business community at a time when it was needed the most. I shared many of these same sentiments a year ago in the chamber column, and they all remain true to this day. Hang in there, Middlesex County. We are going in the right direction, and the sun will continue to shine bright on our beloved region.

Before previewing some important events and activities that are scheduled for this week, I’d like to quickly review last week which was a sprint from start to finish. On Wednesday morning, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese was part of a team that spearheaded the official launch of the South-Central Manufacturing Initiative which is under the umbrella of the Next Gen Sector Partnership effort in Connecticut. Wednesday’s meeting featured almost 30 senior leaders of important manufacturing companies in Middlesex and New Haven counties. Our chamber is working with Workforce Alliance, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and Middlesex Community College on this effort, and we look forward to working with our industry partners on developing action items that will support this vital industry sector moving forward. On the tourism side, chamber VP Johanna Bond continues to support this important sector through her role as Executive Director of the Central Regional Tourism District. Tourism has been hit especially hard by the pandemic, but it is poised for a strong comeback. We look forward to working with our tourist attractions throughout our region on marketing and promotion, reopening, and in other important ways as we move forward. I have always said that manufacturing and tourism are critical to the economic prospects of Middlesex County, and that is as true now as it ever has been.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features a variety of important meetings. The first major meeting of April takes place on Thursday with another virtual gathering of our Central Business Bureau (CBB). Under the leadership of Chairwoman Pam Steele, CBB continues to bring together key leaders in the City of Middletown for important conversations about supporting the critical central business district. I appreciate all of our city leaders, from Mayor Florsheim to our many department heads, who continue to support this meeting on a monthly basis. This week also features meetings of our Strategic Planning Committee, Real Estate Council and Cruise Night on Main Planning Committee.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of a very well-respected gentleman in our state. Biagio "Billy" S. Ciotto passed away recently at the age of 91. Born on Christmas Day in 1929, Billy led a remarkable life full of love, laughter and public service. For 42 years, he worked for the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles, serving as Deputy Commissioner from 1987-1989. He was elected to the State Senate in 1994 and served six terms representing the towns of Wethersfield, Newington, Rocky Hill, Cromwell and part of Middletown. He was extremely well liked and well respected by both sides of the aisle and by all of those he worked with during his time in office. He then went on to work for US Congressman John Larson in a constituent service role, a role that suited Billy perfectly. Billy Ciotto was one of the best. He was a strong supporter of our chamber, a fixture at our Member Breakfast Meetings, and a friend to countless people around the state and around the country. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Jeanne, to whom he was married for an amazing 66 years, his children and their spouses, and his entire family and vast network of friends at this difficult time. Billy Ciotto was a giant, and he will be missed by all of those who knew him.

Middletown couple launches yoga co-op and real estate agency

March 22, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Spring has sprung in our beloved Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move.

Before looking ahead to another busy chamber week, I want to take a quick look back at last week which was very productive and beneficial for our members. On Monday, we welcomed UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma for a Virtual Member Breakfast Meeting sponsored by MiddleOak. Coach Auriemma did a great job as always, and he set the stage for what we all hope is another successful NCAA tournament run for the Lady Huskies. We actually had a record number of over 4000 total views for this virtual event which includes the Facebook live feed and views on the chamber’s YouTube channel. We thank Coach for visiting with us once again, and wish him and the team all the best moving forward.

On Thursday afternoon, U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) District Director Catherine Marx visited with the chamber Board of Directors to discuss the ongoing federal response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She offered some specifics on the expansion of the PPP and EIDL funds, dedicated support for bars, restaurants and shuttered venues, and how state and local governments will benefit from this large package which is of course very important to our partners in Middlesex County. We look forward to staying in touch with Catherine as we move forward, and thank her for visiting with our board.

This week’s chamber calendar is packed once again, and we look forward to productive meetings of our Westbrook Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network, Chamber Finance Committee, and East Haddam & Haddam Division. On Tuesday morning, I look forward to a special meeting of the Board of Directors for the Community Foundation of Middlesex County. President and CEO Cynthia Clegg and her team continue to do great work in our community, and I know Tuesday’s meeting will feature another productive discussion. Wednesday morning’s weekly status meeting, led by Mayor Ben Florsheim, will feature reports from a variety of local leaders on the city’s ongoing pandemic response. Finally, on Wednesday afternoon, I look forward to attending a virtual retirement celebration for Randy Fiveash, Director of the Connecticut Office of Tourism, who is retiring from his position as of April 1st. Randy has done a great job in this important position for over 13 years, and we all wish him the best in all of his future endeavors.

On the business development front, we look forward to two exciting grand opening celebrations coming up this week. On Thursday afternoon, I will join chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and town leaders including Mayor Enzo Faienza and Town Manager Tony Salvatore, for the Grand Opening of Impact Martial Arts on Main Street. Impact Martial Arts Karate instructors strive to help their students become the best they can be through physical and character development. We wish Orest Markiv and the entire Impact team all the best as they move forward with this exciting new business. On Friday afternoon, I look forward to joining Tom, our CBB Chairwoman Pam Steele, Mayor Ben Florsheim and other community leaders at the Grand Opening celebration for Cheemah On South Main, LLC, & Chuck II, LLC. Cheemah On South Main is a new Yoga Co-Op Studio that offers private and group classes, or studio rental, for individual practice or workshops. Owner Mary-Ellen Sutton is a Middletown native returning to her family homestead as a Yoga Instructor, Aromatherapist and Reiki Practitioner. Chuck II, owned by Mary Ellen and her husband John, is a Commercial and Residential Property Management Company that is ready to help you with showings, pricing, availability, and lease applications. We wish Mary Ellen and John nothing but the best as they work to grow both of these new local businesses.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to do its best to stay up to date on the many bills under consideration in Hartford. We have a very important virtual event featuring Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff scheduled for this Friday the 26th at 9:00 a.m., sponsored by Eversource. We look forward to discussing a variety of important issues with Sen. Duff including state budget negotiations, relief funds coming into Connecticut, and how this virtual session is going so far. I thank Sen. Duff for visiting with our members once again, and thank Eversource for its continued support of this event, and of our chamber.

I would like to close this week’s column with some thoughts on one of the key industry sectors in our state, manufacturing. Our chamber is a key player in the South-Central Manufacturing Initiative which is under the umbrella of the Next Gen Sector Partnership effort in Connecticut. In a nutshell, this is a statewide effort to identify key industry sectors in each region in the state, and form partnerships to support those sectors. We chose manufacturing as our focus area because it is such an important industry sector for us here in Middlesex County. There is a formal launch meeting with our industry partners scheduled for this Wednesday at 8:00 a.m. I will have much more on this effort in future editions of the chamber column, but it is safe to say that the chamber is excited about supporting our manufacturers who will be critical to Connecticut’s economic relaunch.

The sun always shines in Middlesex County!

New ping-pong, billiards place to open in Middletown

March 15, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Optimism continues to rise in Middlesex County as we move closer to spring, and closer to a responsible reopening of our beloved State of Connecticut. On orders from Gov. Ned Lamont, and as of this Friday, the indoor event capacity will increase to 50% of the venue capacity capped at 100, and outdoor events will increase from the current limit of 50 to 200 people. The governor also recently announced the easing of pandemic based restrictions on capacity limits at restaurants, retail establishments, libraries, personal service establishments, indoor recreation facilities, gyms and fitness centers, museums, aquariums and zoos, offices, and more. On the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) front, SBA has issued guidance for those businesses that file a Schedule C as part of their taxes. They are now allowed to use their gross income as the starting point of their application, and that revised form should be up in the application portals for all of the participating lenders very soon. The chamber team continues to work hard every day to help businesses respond, recover, and relaunch in the face of the pandemic, and we will continue these all-out efforts as we move forward.

On the Member Breakfast front, we very much look forward to an important virtual event featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach Geno Auriemma this Monday, March 15. 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.

Other important items on this week’s chamber calendar include meetings of our Arrigoni Bridge Construction Workgroup, Nominating Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, Killingworth Division, Recovery Employment Program (REP) Steering Committee, Board of Directors, Legislative Committee and Affordable Housing Committee.

In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, this week features a number of other meetings that are important to the business community throughout our state. On Tuesday, I look forward to my weekly virtual meeting with the leaders of the Metro Chambers of Commerce in our state, and on Friday, 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 in the coming months as we continue our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant state of Connecticut.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau (CBB) Chairwoman Pam Steele, and Mayor Ben Florsheim on Tuesday afternoon for the Grand Opening celebration of King Pong on Court Street. King Pong offers ping pong, billiards, and many more fun activities in their new second floor location at 90 Court Street. We wish Mark, Tina, Anthony and Nikki Loomis all the best with this exciting new business, and look forward to supporting their efforts along the way.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to be very engaged as the Regular Session of the Connecticut General Assembly rolls along in Hartford. We look forward to continuing our Legislative Leadership Series next Friday, March 26 when we welcome Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff to a special virtual event sponsored by Eversource. This event follows up our successful Legislative Breakfast in late January, and the first leg of our Leadership Series in mid-February with Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. This Tuesday, March 16, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese will represent our organization at Connecticut Business Day, being held virtually this year, which is put together by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association (CBIA). Jeff is also working to schedule the final two events of our Legislative Leadership Series which will take place in the coming weeks. I would like to once again thank our Legislative Co-Chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook, for their leadership of this important chamber committee.

Finally, and in closing, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge that one of my favorite days of the year, St. Patrick’s Day, is coming up this Wednesday, March 17. 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, while still wearing a mask and practicing social distancing.

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

Join chamber webinar, 'Learning to Live in Recovery'

March 8, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Optimism continues to rise as 2021 moves along, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Gov. Ned Lamont’s announcement last week regarding the easing of restrictions on capacity limits at restaurants, retail establishments, libraries, personal service establishments, indoor recreation facilities, gyms and fitness centers, museums, aquariums and zoos, offices, and more, is another example of us going in the right direction in Connecticut. The chamber team continues to work hard every day to help businesses respond, recover, and relaunch in the face of the pandemic, and we will continue these all-out efforts as we move forward.

On the chamber calendar front, this week once again features a variety of important meetings. The main event of the week is scheduled for Monday when we welcome U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for a virtual Member Luncheon sponsored by DATTCO. Congresswoman DeLauro was recently elected Chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. While this post has always been an extremely important one in Washington D.C., it is now even more critical as the federal government leads the nation’s response to the pandemic. We look forward to hearing an update from Rosa on the many important issues under consideration in Congress, and thank her very much for her time. I also want to thank DATTCO President, and Immediate Past Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, for his support of this event and for his remarkable dedication to our chamber.

On Tuesday morning, the latest installment of our KeyBank Workshop Series is scheduled for 9:00 a.m. “Time Management”, presented by Courtney Spencer of Courtney Spencer Coaching, will cover practical techniques that individuals can use to immediately gain control over their day and more effectively manage interruptions and distractions. I thank Courtney for leading this important conversation, and offer a sincere thank you to KeyBank for its sponsorship of the workshop series. Looking ahead to Wednesday, our Recovery Employment Program will host an important panel discussion titled, “Learning to Live in Recovery” beginning at 9:30 a.m. This discussion will include general information on taking the next steps on one’s recovery journey. This information is designed to be very helpful to our friends in this community who need to build a new lifestyle that is free from drugs and alcohol. For information on our outstanding panel, and to register or learn more, please visit www.middlesexchamber.com.

Other important items on this week’s chamber calendar include meetings of our Durham and Middlefield Division, Finance Committee, Cromwell Division, and Health Care Council Steering Committee. I once again ask that members and other interested parties save the date of next Monday, March 15, when we will host an exciting virtual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma. This important chamber event is sponsored by MiddleOak. Coach always does a great job with his remarks which focus on leadership, motivation and of course, hoops. I again want to sincerely thank him for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Middletown Mayor Ben Florsheim, and other community leaders on Wednesday afternoon for the Grand Opening celebration of Relish 670 on Newfield Street. Relish 670 offers a delicious take on Southern and Classic American food, and their team has done a terrific job putting together a comfortable, and fully renovated space. We wish owners Debbie Licho and Harold Oliver all the best moving forward, and we look forward to supporting them along the away. Check out Relish 670!

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 who both made quite an impact in this community.

Eugene J. Sullivan passed away recently after a long battle with cancer. Gene, a proud U.S. Marine, was a great supporter of our chamber during his professional career in the telecom industry. He was instrumental in the development of our now very active Portland Division, and was a strong supporter of our Support the Troops and Honor the Veterans Committee. I am grateful not only for Gene’s service to country and community, but for his longtime friendship and support. Our thoughts are with his wife, Shirley, and his entire family and vast network of friends and fellow veterans. Gene Sullivan was a patriot, a community servant, a professional, and most importantly, a family man. He will be missed.

Our thoughts and prayers are also with the family of Frank J. Godwin, Jr. who passed away recently at the age of 92. Frank was a Veteran of World War II with service as a U.S. Marine. After this heroic service, he began a career in banking and eventually became President & CEO of Liberty Bank before his retirement in 1990. Frank not only had a sterling military and professional career, he served his community extremely well through service on a variety of boards, commissions and other initiatives. He was a very strong supporter of our chamber, especially during my early years in this position, and that is something for which I will always be grateful. He was a Past Chairman of our chamber, and was awarded our Distinguished Citizen Award, an honor very well deserved. Frank Godwin will be missed by his family and vast network of friends and colleagues, but his service, and his impact, will not be forgotten.

SBA briefly offering PPP loans solely for small businesses

March 1, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Amazingly, the month of March begins this week in Middlesex County and throughout our great nation. It was one year ago this week that the term COVID-19 and its potential impact began to truly take hold in Middlesex County. It has been quite a year, but I could not be more proud of this community and the resilience it has shown. I continue to be very optimistic as we enter March, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Since the beginning of this crisis, the chamber has done its best to be a resource for businesses as they have navigated the many relief programs available to them. The Biden Administration recently announced changes to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) which are designed to support small and micro businesses, entrepreneurs and sole proprietors. We are currently in a two-week window where the Small Business Administration (SBA) is only accepting applications for PPP loans from firms with fewer than 20 employees. There is still a lot of money available through PPP, so if businesses have not yet explored this option, or they are hesitant to do so because they are worried about the application process, please call the chamber and a member of our team will be happy to help.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features a variety of important meetings. The first major meeting of March takes place on Monday with a virtual gathering of our Executive Committee. As I have noted many times, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, this week also features important meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, Real Estate Council, Golf Committee, Down County Division, and a virtual gathering of our Strategic Planning Committee which has been very helpful as we have steered the chamber through this challenging time.

Looking ahead, a busy March includes a number of important large-scale virtual chamber events. Next Monday, March 8, we look forward to welcoming U.S. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro for a virtual Member Luncheon sponsored by DATTCO. Congresswoman DeLauro was recently elected Chairwoman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee. While this post has always been an extremely important one in Washington D.C., it is now even more critical as the federal government leads the nation’s response to the pandemic. We look forward to hearing an update from Rosa on the many important issues under consideration in Congress, and thank her very much for her time. I also want to thank DATTCO President, and Immediate Past Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, for his support of this event and for his remarkable dedication to our chamber. We look forward to a great event.

The following Monday, March 15, we look forward to an exciting virtual Member Breakfast Meeting featuring UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma. This important chamber event is sponsored by MiddleOak. Coach Auriemma and the Lady Huskies are looking to finish the season strong as they gear up for another NCAA Tournament run. Coach always does a great job with his remarks. He of course talks about his terrific team and their ongoing season, but he also touches on leadership strategy and other lessons that are very relevant to the business community, especially now. I again want to thank Geno for speaking to our membership, and MiddleOak for sponsoring. We can’t wait. Go Huskies!

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

Carmelo “Carl” Marino passed away recently at the age of 77. Carl was President of S.G. Marino Crane, a local, family run business that was started by Carl’s parents in the 1950’s. He was a good man who had a special devotion to community and most importantly, to family. He was a strong supporter of both Middletown Motorcycle Mania, and Cruise Night on Main, for many years. Our thoughts and prayers are with his entire family, including his wife, Stacy, and his brother, Larry, who serves on the chamber’s Executive Committee. Carl Marino will be missed by many.

Finally, our thoughts and prayers are also with the friends and family of John A. “Johnny” Moore who passed away recently at the far too young age of 61. Johnny was a fixture in Middletown and was known throughout this community as the owner of Fat City Cycles and the manager of the city owned Robert M. Keating Historical Enterprise Park on Johnson Street. He was always willing to lend a helping hand, and he was a true and reliable friend to many of us. Johnny was instrumental to the launch of Middletown Motorcycle Mania, and he supported many other community events and initiatives. I will always be grateful for his support of our chamber, and his efforts to support businesses not only in the Keating facility, but throughout Middletown. Johnny will be sorely missed by many, but mostly by his beloved family. May they take comfort in the fact that he is now at peace, and that his memory will endure.

Another busy week on tap as the Chamber looks ahead to brighter days.

February 22, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

As we approach the end of February and look ahead to Spring, optimism abounds in Middlesex County as vaccine administration continues, COVID positivity rates and hospitalizations continue to fall, and our beloved state looks to brighter days ahead.

Our chamber is very encouraged by the recent news released by Gov. Ned Lamont that as of March 19, should the trendlines continue to cooperate, the indoor event capacity will increase to 50% of the venue capacity capped at 100, and outdoor events will increase from the current limit of 50 to 200 people. This is being very well received by the many event venues in our region, and others that support the event industry such as caterers, businesses that rent tents and stages, entertainers, DJs, and cleaning companies. All of these sectors have been severely impacted by the pandemic. This is just one of the many reasons why I continue to be very bullish on Middlesex County and Connecticut. I am also very proud of my chamber team for their commitment to be a resource to not only the business community, but to the community at large. We will continue these efforts until the pandemic is part of history, and will work extra hard to support an economic comeback in Middlesex County and throughout the state.

Before previewing some important events and activities that are scheduled for this week, I’d like to quickly review last week which was a sprint from start to finish. On Tuesday morning, our Legislative Committee kicked off its annual Legislative Leadership Series with a very well-executed event that featured Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. Speaker Ritter did a great job with his remarks and participated in a productive and informative question and answer session that was moderated by our Legislative Co-Chairs, Rich Carella and Maureen Westbrook. Rich’s firm, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, also sponsored the event which we appreciate very much. I would like to once again thank the Speaker for joining us during this critical period, and Rich and Maureen for their continued support and leadership.

On Thursday afternoon, our Board of Directors held its February meeting which featured a visit from DECD Commissioner David Lehman. Commissioner Lehman provided an update from his position as the chief economic development official in the state, and he did a great job on everything from sector rules, to the state of manufacturing, to tax policy, to tourism, and much more. I appreciate his willingness to visit with our group, and thank him for his leadership throughout this crisis.

Finally, last week was Taste of Middlesex County throughout our region. Taste of Middlesex County was a way for us to help drive critically needed traffic to our participating restaurants, El Pulpo & Tapas Bar, Eli Cannons Tap Room, Relish 670 and Spread Cheese Co. in Middletown, Fire at the Ridge & Ridgeside Tavern and 1741 Pub & Grill in Middlefield, Horseshoe Tavern in Durham, Scotch Plains Tavern in Essex, and Water's Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook. We wish them all well, and will continue to support them moving forward. I would be remiss if I also didn’t thank Comcast Business for sponsoring this important initiative for our region. We are grateful for their continued support. The next Taste of Middlesex County is scheduled for June 21-27. Please save the dates, and please continue to support local small businesses as best you can.

On this week’s chamber calendar, we look forward to important meetings of our Westbrook Division, Westfield (Middletown) Division, the chamber’s Finance Committee, and our East Haddam and Haddam Division. On the Grand Opening front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Haddam First Selectman Bob McGarry, and other local leaders on Monday afternoon for a Grand Opening celebration for Wonder Paws, LLC. As knowledgeable Pet Groomers, the team at Wonder Paws offers a full-range of services designed to give pets the best care possible. We wish Gemmina Gorski and the entire Wonder Paws team all the best moving forward, and look forward to celebrating with them on Monday.

Before closing, I ask that members and other interested parties save the date of Monday, March 15 for our annual Member Breakfast Meeting with UConn Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Geno Auriemma. I will have much more on this event as we get closer, but it is safe to say we are excited to welcome Coach back to a chamber event, this time in a virtual setting.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Richard “Dick” Bond at the age of 77. Dick was the father of former Portland Police Officer David Bond, and the father in law of chamber Vice President Johanna Bond. Dick Bond led a life that was marked by service to community, to country, and most importantly, to family. He served as a Police Officer in the Town of Burlington for over 35 years, and served our country in the Connecticut National Guard for over ten years. He was a loyal, honorable man who will be missed by many, especially his loving family. Our thoughts and prayers are with Dick’s wife, Jacqueline, David and Johanna, Dick’s daughters Melissa and Lori and their spouses, his seven grandchildren, and his vast network of extended family and friends. Dick Bond certainly led a life well lived, and his family is forever proud.

Mourning the loss of two community servants

February 15, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

Another busy week for the chamber calendar features a number of important events and meetings. On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee kicks off its annual Leadership Series with an important event on Tuesday morning featuring new Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. At this special meeting, Speaker Ritter will visit with chamber members to discuss the ongoing legislative session. The chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to discuss some important issues on our 2021 Public Policy Agenda. This event is a follow up to our very successful 2021 Legislative Breakfast, featuring the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation, which was held in late January. I would like to once again thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with us at this critical time for the business community in Middlesex County.

Later on Tuesday morning, our Human Resources Committee will host an important workshop titled, Self-Awareness & Adaptability. This session is presented by Maureen Ross Gemme who serves as CEO of Emerge Leadership Academy. Participants will learn best practices for improving relationships at work by exploring issues such as the individual personality, the generation gap, and much more. Our Human Resources Committee continues to do great work during this very important time, and we look forward to another informative session on Tuesday morning.

With respect to chamber divisions and committees, this week features meetings of our Arrigoni Bridge and Downtown Middletown Construction Workgroup, our Human Resource Steering Committee, our Strategic Planning Committee, our Killingworth Division, our Recovery Employment Program Steering Committee, our Legislative Committee, and our Affordable Housing Committee. In addition to all of these meetings, our Board of Directors meets on Thursday afternoon where we will welcome as guest speaker, the Commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), David Lehman. Our chamber has worked very closely with Commissioner Lehman and his team throughout this COVID-19 crisis, and I thank him not only for visiting with our board on Thursday, but for his outstanding leadership throughout this very difficult stretch. We look forward to a productive meeting.

On the restaurant front, I want to take a quick moment to once again preview this year’s Taste of Middlesex County, brought to you by Comcast Business, which begins this week throughout our region. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the chamber team has reinvented Taste of Middlesex County to comply with all safety guidelines and keep all of its participants safe. We understand that this has been a tough stretch for the restaurant community, so we are running two tasty restaurant weeks this year, this week, Feb. 15-21, and June 21-27. Please make sure to visit the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber website for all of the information on participating restaurants and their specially created menus for Restaurant Week. As of Friday, Feb. 12, participating restaurants include: El Pulpo & Tapas Bar, Eli Cannons Tap Room, and Spread Cheese Co. in Middletown, Fire at the Ridge & Ridgeside Tavern and 1741 Pub & Grill in Middlefield, Horseshoe Tavern in Durham, Scotch Plains Tavern in Essex, and Water's Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook. I would like to thank our participating restaurants for joining this important initiative, and Comcast Business for sponsoring.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the passing of two distinguished gentlemen who made a major impact in our community. Donald M. “Don” Russell was a longtime coach and Director of Athletics at Wesleyan University. He was also a community servant in Middletown, where he served as a member of the Board of Education, the Common Council, the Police Commission, Fire Commission, and much more. He was also a great supporter of our chamber and most importantly to me, a friend. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of 38 years, Joyce, and his entire family and friends at this difficult time. He will be missed. We also mourn the loss of Leander “Lee” Crete, a man who served our nation with honor in the US Army, and the business community as Owner and Operator of Crele Construction Corp. Lee was a strong member and a great supporter of our chamber for many years, most notably through our annual Golf Tournament. He was also a proud member of the B.P.O Elks Lodge 771. Our thoughts and prayers are also with his wife, Pauline, his family, and his vast network of friends and colleagues at this difficult time.

Finally, we mourn the loss of Timothy J. Gionfriddo who recently passed at the far too young age of 35. Our thoughts are with Tim’s parents and step parents, Linda Rammler and Mark Partin, and Paul and Pam Gionfriddo. Paul is the former Mayor of Middletown who in recent years has served as President and CEO of Mental Health America. In addition to his parents and step parents, our thoughts are with all of Tim’s friends and supporters at this very difficult time. May his memory provide them with comfort and relief in the days ahead.

Have a great week, Middlesex County, and please know that the chamber continues to work hard every day in support of this community.

Chamber ready for Taste of Middlesex County

February 8, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

Another busy week kicks off on an exciting note as DATTCO, Inc. unveils Connecticut’s first electric school bus on Monday morning during a brief event at Middletown High School. DATTCO, Inc., one of Connecticut’s largest private student transportation contractors, has added a Collins® Type A All-Electric School Bus to its fleet. The bus was recently put into service as part of the Middletown Public School contract. DATTCO was awarded funding to replace one diesel powered school bus with one all electric. I look forward to joining DATTCO President, and Immediate Past Chamber Chairman Don DeVivo, Mayor Ben Florsheim, and many other local dignitaries for the official unveiling. I thank Don for his continued commitment to our state, our region, and our chamber. Later in the day, I look forward to joining Mayor Enzo Faienza, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and other town and community leaders for the Grand Opening celebration at the new Starbucks in Cromwell Commons. We wish David Ledoux and the entire Cromwell Starbucks team nothing but the best, and we look forward to working with them in 2021 and beyond.

Sticking with the business development theme for a moment, I also look forward to traveling across the river to East Hampton on Tuesday morning for a Grand Opening/Ribbon Cutting for Belltown Therapeutic Massage and Wellness, LLC. Belltown focuses on wellness through relaxation and special therapeutic message techniques. We wish owner Marissa Taylor all the best with her business, and we look forward to supporting her as we move forward. Another new business has opened, and another day of the sun shining on Middlesex County.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features important meetings of our Business & Education Advisory Council, Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council Steering Committee, Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC), and the newly developed chamber Finance Committee. The Business & Education Advisory Council will continue to plan for the 2021 Career Fair Expo which will be held virtually for the first time this coming April. More to come on that front. In addition to all of these important, and productive meetings, this week also features the next session of our very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual due to COVID-19. This Tuesday’s session, "The Basics of Web Design", will be held on the zoom platform at 8:00 a.m. Presented by Lauren Middleton of Forest City Marketing, the workshop will cover the basics of web design, and the best practices that will make your site as user friendly as possible. The conversation will also include: picking a domain and site hosting, four basic pages you should have, how to pick colors and themes, and much more. I thank Lauren for presenting, and KeyBank for its continued support.

On the legislative front, the chamber’s Legislative Committee continues to stay very active and engaged as the 2021 Regular Session of the CT. General Assembly rolls along up in Hartford. Our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off next Tuesday, Feb. 16 when we host a virtual meeting with new Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. At this special meeting, Speaker Ritter will visit with chamber members to discuss the legislative session. The chamber’s Board of Directors and Legislative Committee will have the opportunity to discuss some important issues on our 2021 Public Policy Agenda. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly & Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with us at this critical time.

On the restaurant front, I want to take a quick moment to once again preview this year’s Taste of Middlesex County, brought to you by Comcast Business. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the chamber team has reinvented Taste of Middlesex County to comply with all safety guidelines and keep all of its participants safe. We understand that this has been a tough stretch for the restaurant community, so we are running two tasty restaurant weeks this year, Feb. 15-21, and June 21-27. Our restaurant partners are busy developing menus and other creative options for the upcoming Taste, and I will be sure to share more information in upcoming chamber columns. Please keep an eye on the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber website for information as we move forward.

I would like to close this week’s column by once again thanking Pratt & Whitney for purchasing over 1,400 Middletown Downtown Business District Gift Cards for employees of the Middletown production and assembly facility. The company purchased the cards during the 2020 holiday season. Pratt & Whitney not only wanted to do something nice for its employees who work so hard in Middletown, but the company wanted to simultaneously make a local economic impact and support the small business community in the city. Once again, Pratt & Whitney has stepped up and supported this community in an important way. The purchase of these Downtown Business District Gift Cards will not only have a major economic impact downtown, it will reward Pratt & Whitney employees for a job well done during a very difficult stretch. I want to take a moment to thank Heather Summerer, Associate Director of Public Affairs for Pratt, for her great work on this front and for her longtime support of our chamber. We continue to be grateful to Pratt & Whitney, an outstanding corporate citizen in our community.

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

Grand Opening Ahead for Cromwell Starbucks

February 1, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

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

As I have repeatedly noted in the chamber column over the past few weeks, the 2021 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 via the zoom platform. 15 members of the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation joined us for an important discussion on the many issues of importance to the business community in Middlesex County. I would like to once again thank Comcast for hosting this important event, and our legislators who took time out of their busy schedules to join us. Moving forward, our Legislative Leadership Series will kick off on Tuesday, Feb. 16 when we host a virtual meeting with new Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. At this special meeting, Speaker Ritter will visit with chamber members to discuss the legislative session. 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 2021 Public Policy Agenda. I would like to thank Updike, Kelly and Spellacy for sponsoring, and Speaker Ritter for visiting with our chamber members at this critical time.

On the chamber calendar front, this week features a variety of important meetings and activities. The first major meeting of February takes place on Monday with a virtual gathering of the chamber’s Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, this week also features important meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, Real Estate Council, Golf Committee, Down County Division, and a virtual gathering of our Strategic Planning Committee which has been very helpful as we have steered the chamber through this challenging time.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Enzo Faienza, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and other town and community leaders, next Monday morning at the Grand Opening celebration for Starbucks in Cromwell Commons. We wish David Ledoux and the entire Cromwell Starbucks team nothing but the best, and we look forward to working with them in 2021 and beyond.

Switching gears, I want to take a quick moment to once again preview this year’s Taste of Middlesex County, brought to you by Comcast Business. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the chamber team has reinvented Taste of Middlesex County to comply with all safety guidelines and keep all of its participants safe. We understand that this has been a tough stretch for the restaurant community, so we are running two tasty restaurant weeks this year, Feb. 15-21, and June 21-27. Our restaurant partners are busy developing menus and other creative options for the upcoming Taste, and I will be sure to share more information in upcoming chamber columns. Please keep an eye on the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber website for information as we move forward.

Before closing, I want to send out a public thank you to Mayor Ben Florsheim for continuing to host weekly virtual meetings, every Wednesday, that feature many stakeholders and community leaders from throughout the City of Middletown. They continue to be very useful and productive. I also want to thank Councilman Ed McKeon, who in partnership with Mark Masselli and the Community Health Center, continues to lead a city-wide video conference every Tuesday night which allows Middletown residents and businesses to hear directly from the city’s institutions on how they are dealing with this ongoing crisis. This type of coordination is going on throughout Middlesex County, and I continue to appreciate the around-the-clock efforts of all of our municipal leaders.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of John Sullivan, a lifelong Portland resident, a successful local businessman, and great supporter of our chamber. John Sullivan was many things to many people. He was an innovative entrepreneur, a philanthropist, a fixture on local golf courses, and first and foremost, a family man. As the longtime owner and operator of A&A Office Systems in Middletown, John supported our chamber, and a variety of other community organizations including the United Way, the Community Foundation of Middlesex County, Middlesex YMCA, Middlesex Health, and many more. He also did so much for his beloved hometown of Portland along the way, including starting and maintaining the Brownstone Bottle Shop and the White Dog Café, and leading other efforts that invested in the town’s Main Street. John Sullivan was committed to this community, and he will be sorely missed by all of us who knew and worked with him. Our thoughts are with his wife, Eileen, his children and step-children, grandchildren, and vast network of family and friends at this difficult time. John’s efforts to improve our community are recognized, and they will always be appreciated.

Lawmakers to unveil 2021 agenda at legislative breakfast

January 25, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

The first month of the new year is winding down, and the chamber is off to a real fast start.
On the chamber calendar front, this week features important meetings of our Westbrook Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative, East Haddam and Haddam Division, and a virtual gathering of key members that make up our Ad Hoc Finance Committee which has been extremely helpful as we have steered the chamber through the COVID crisis. This week also features meetings of the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives (CACCE) on Tuesday, and the Workforce Alliance Board of Directors on Thursday. We look forward to all of these virtual meetings which will, as always, feature productive conversations between chamber members from a wide variety of industry sectors.

The major event of the week is scheduled for Friday morning, Jan. 29, as the chamber will host its annual Legislative Breakfast beginning at 8:00 a.m. This event, which will be held virtually for the first time, is sponsored by Comcast. The format is mainly question and answer, and at the event, the chamber’s 2021 Public Policy Agenda will be formally presented to the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation. We hope that this virtual event will be a great opportunity for our members to connect 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, and Comcast for sponsoring. All sixteen members of the General Assembly that represent Middlesex County have been invited to attend. They include: State Senators Matt Lesser, Christine Cohen, Mary Daugherty-Abrams, Paul Formica, Norm Needleman, and Paul Cicarella, and State Reps. Devin Carney, Christie Carpino, Brandon Chafee, Irene Haines, Christine Goupil, Christine Palm, Michael Quinn, Vincent Candelora, Quentin “Q” Phipps, and John-Michael Parker. This event is free to attend for members of the chamber. I also ask that members and other interested parties save the date of Tuesday, Feb. 16 for the first installment of our 2021 Legislative Leadership Series featuring new Speaker of the House, Matt Ritter. More information, including details on registration, can be found at www.middlesexchamber.com.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Central Business Bureau Chairwoman Pam Steele, and other community leaders on Friday morning for the Grand Opening celebration for Cake, Batter and Roll on College Street. Cake, Batter and Roll offers a delicious menu for breakfast and lunch including sandwiches, salads, sides, breads, waffles and even dog treats. We wish owner, and chief waffle slayer Lindsey Chartrand all the best, and we look forward to supporting her efforts moving forward.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to preview this year’s Taste of Middlesex County which is once again brought to you by Comcast Business. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the chamber team has reinvented Taste of Middlesex County to comply with all safety guidelines and keep all of its participants safe. We understand that this has been a tough stretch for the restaurant community, so we are running two tasty restaurant weeks this year, Feb. 15-21, and June 21-27. Our restaurant partners are busy developing menus and other creative options for the upcoming Taste, and I will be sure to share more information in upcoming chamber columns. Please keep an eye on the Taste of Middlesex County tab on the chamber website for information as we move forward.
Unfortunately, I must once again close this week’s chamber column on a sad note after the recent passing of Thomas E. “Tom” Coughlin, a longtime Middletown businessman and chamber supporter. Tom Coughlin was a good and decent man. I will always be grateful for the support that he and his family provided to me as we worked together to grow our chamber and support the local business community. Tom enjoyed a long and successful career in the real estate and property management business in Middletown. Throughout this almost 60-year run, he supported a variety of his fellow businesspeople, many community organizations, Mercy and Xavier High Schools, and countless employees and friends. He also served our country as a member of the US Air National Guard. In addition to his work in Middletown, Tom loved his hometown of Portland, and he also supported that community in a variety of important ways. Tom Coughlin will be missed by all those who knew him. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Stella, his children, grandchildren, and vast network of extended family and friends. Tom’s son Ted is now a member of our chamber through his business, Coughlin Service Corporation, which we also appreciate very much. I am grateful for Tom Coughlin’s longtime friendship and support, and will certainly remember him fondly.

Our chamber also shares in the grief and sorrow that this community is feeling after the recent passing of Tawana Bourne. Tawana was a young entrepreneur who owned and operated Trinity Realty LLC. She was just beginning to make her mark in the real estate business and she cared deeply about revitalizing the blighted areas of Middletown and other communities. Tawana also served on the City of Middletown’s Charter Revision Commission, and supported a number of community organizations and faith-based initiatives. Our thoughts and prayers are with Tawana’s family and friends at this very difficult time. She will be missed by many.

Former Uconn coach Dee Rowe will be missed

January 18, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

This week, we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Middlesex County and throughout our great country. Every year at this time, we note that 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. This past year showed us the importance of Dr. King’s legacy, and the lessons that we need to continue to learn from his words and his efforts. The chamber continues to enjoy a longtime and enduring partnership with the Middlesex County Chapter of the NAACP which we appreciate very much. I would like to once again 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, in 2021, and beyond.

Before previewing what is another busy chamber week, I want to take a moment to recap the Citizens Bank 5K Winter Fun Run which was held virtually in December. Despite the unique circumstances, runners, sponsors and other supporters still made the event happen, and it had a community impact once again. The Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program and The Amazing Grace Food Pantry were both grateful recipients of race proceeds. On behalf of both initiatives, I want to thank Citizens Bank for its continued support of this important community race, along with Road Race Committee Chairman Jay Woron, and Road Race Director John Bysiewicz, for their great work. We look forward to being back downtown in the summer of 2021.

Switching gears to the chamber calendar where two important workshops are scheduled for this week. On Tuesday at 11:00 a.m., we look forward to partnering with the CT. Small Business Development Center on a workshop titled, "What's Next: Rethinking Your Business in a Post COVID World." On Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., the chamber will host a panel discussion with human resource professionals titled, “Rising to the Challenges of COVID-19.” This is a follow up to last Wednesday’s very successful virtual roundtable with local public health professionals. In addition to these important workshops, this week features meetings of our Arrigoni Bridge construction workgroup, Killingworth Division, Human Resources Steering Committee, Strategic Planning Committee, REP Steering Committee, and Board of Directors.

On the business development front, I look forward to joining chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, Cromwell Division Chairman Rodney Bitgood, and various town leaders for the Grand Opening celebration of Lapels Dry Cleaning on Tuesday morning. Lapel’s, which is under new management, is committed to environmentally friendly dry cleaning while also supporting their fellow members of the local business community. We look forward to joining owners Geronimo and Brandon Valdez at the event, and wish them all the best moving forward.

Finally, I must unfortunately close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of two legendary, and Hall of Fame coaches in the State of Connecticut, Joseph "Jake" Salafia and Donald “Dee’ Rowe.

Jake Salafia was a Middletown native who went on to have a major impact in athletics, especially in coaching. He coached basketball at Cromwell High School for 25 years where he won seven state championships and 445 games. As the school’s cross-country coach, Jake won seven more state championships. Amazingly, he also served as Athletic Director for 20 years, and had stints coaching other sports over the years. Jake was honored by numerous organizations, and has been inducted into many Halls of Fame including National High School Coaches Hall of Fame, and the Connecticut High School Coaches Hall of Fame. He was especially proud of the fact that the Cromwell High School gymnasium bears his name. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife, Shirley, and his entire family and vast network of friends and former players. Jake Salafia will be missed by many.

We also mourn the loss of Donald E. (Dee) Rowe, former UConn Head Men’s Basketball Coach and a friend to so many in Connecticut and throughout New England. Before coming to UConn as head coach in 1969, Dee coached and served as Athletic Director at Worcester Academy, an institution to which he had a longstanding and special relationship. Once at UConn, Dee had a remarkable career in coaching, fundraising, and advising university leaders. I got to know Dee over the years but really had a chance to work closely with him during my eight and a half years as Chairman of the UConn Board of Trustees. I appreciated his advice and counsel, but truly valued his loyalty and friendship. He was a true ambassador for the university for 50 years, and was universally respected by his peers throughout the country. One of Dee’s crowning professional achievements came in 2017 when he received the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame's John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award. A well-deserved honor for a man who did so much. Beyond coaching, athletics, and leadership on so many fronts, Dee Rowe was a family man. He and his late wife Ginny raised seven children who now have families of their own. Our thoughts and prayers are with them all, and everyone that Dee touched along the way. Dee Rowe was of one of the best, a true role model as a coach, and most importantly, as a man. He will be sorely missed, but his legacy is secure.

Rising to Challenges of COVID-19' talk this week

January 11, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

2021 is off and running, and the chamber continues to be on the move.

Another busy week kicks off on Monday with an important webinar on the latest federal stimulus package which includes a second round of funding for the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), and other relief options for small businesses. Monday’s webinar will feature Whittlesey’s Drew Andrews and Brian Kerrigan, and Essex Savings Bank President Greg Shook, who will collectively cover the particulars of these relief options, and will provide information on best practices for preparing an application. I thank Drew, Brian and Greg for taking the time to share this important information with their fellow members of the Middlesex County business community. On Tuesday, 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 at 8 a.m. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed, and the session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. We thank our friends from the law firm, Jackson Lewis, who do such a great job leading these critically important sessions. We look forward to another good one on Tuesday. On Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., the chamber will host a panel discussion with leaders from some of our local health departments titled, “Rising to the Challenges of COVID-19.” Our local health directors and other public health professionals have worked tirelessly since the beginning of this crisis, and we thank them for taking the time to provide real time information on everything from vaccine rollout, to testing, and more. Our expert panel includes Middletown Acting Public Health Director Kevin Elak, Cromwell Public Health Coordinator Sal Nesci, and Chatham Health District Director Russell Melmed.

In addition to these important workshops, this week’s chamber calendar features meetings of our Automotive Council, Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Health Care Council Steering Committee, Legislative Committee and Affordable Housing Committee. 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.

Looking ahead, I ask that readers save the date for our 2021 Legislative Breakfast which is scheduled for Friday, Jan. 29. This event, which will be held virtually for the first time, is sponsored by Comcast. The format is mainly question and answer, and at the event, the chamber’s 2021 Public Policy Agenda will be formally presented to the Middlesex County Legislative Delegation. This document was developed by our Legislative Committee, and recently approved by our Executive Committee. As always, the chamber’s Legislative Committee will be active and engaged throughout the important legislative session which began in Hartford last Wednesday.

Before closing, I want to take a moment to remind the community about an important chamber initiative, Middlesex Information eXchange, or MIX. MIX is a series of industry specific groups that are designed to facilitate important recovery-based conversations. Businesses are matched up with others from their industry sector, and together they explore important topics such as best practices for dealing with COVID-19 issues, the best options for financial relief, human resources and workforce optimization, and more. MIX works to support restaurants, manufacturers, retail establishments, nonprofit organizations, small owner-managed services, and tourist attractions. I truly appreciate our members that have supported this program since its inception in mid-2020. Please visit our website for more information.

I am afraid I must once again close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of John "Jack" Rule, a longtime friend and supporter. Jack Rule was one of those truly good guys in our community who was committed to getting things done. He was the longtime owner and President of Bill Collins Jewelers which was a terrific business in Middletown and in Cromwell. Jack’s support of me and of the chamber is something I will always be grateful for. My relationship with Jack goes back to the 1970’s when he was a parent and strong supporter of Xavier and Mercy High Schools. In the early 80’s, Jack was one of those dedicated individuals that rebuilt the chamber and set the foundation for what is now a dynamic business and community organization. He was a great supporter of many of our initiatives, most notably our Golf Tournament, of which he served as Chairman and as the lead coordinator for player gifts and sponsorships. In recognition of these efforts, Jack was presented with our annual Robert Briggs Good Guy Award in 1990. Jack also served a variety of other community organizations, and served our country with honor in the United States Air Force. Our thoughts and prayers are with Jack’s wife Nancy, to whom he was married for fifty-eight years, his sons, John and Bill, his grandchildren, and his entire network of family and friends at this difficult time. Jack Rule was a giant, and he will be missed by many.

On another sad note, our sympathies are also sent out to the family of Jake Salafia who passed away recently. Jake was a longtime Athletic Director and Hall of Fame Basketball Coach at Cromwell High School, and was well known throughout this community. I will have more on Jake’s passing in next week’s column.

Bysiewicz, federal, state leaders to talk business relief

January 4, 2021

By: Larry McHugh

2021 is off and running, and the chamber team is on the move.

The first week of the year is a busy one with a number of important virtual meetings and events. The first major meeting of 2021 takes place on Monday with a virtual gathering of the chamber’s Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne, and along with important updates on chamber activities, will feature updates from the public health and banking sectors in Middlesex County. In addition to the Executive Committee meeting, this week also features important meetings of our Portland and East Hampton Division, Environment and Infrastructure Committee, Central Business Bureau, Down County Division, and a virtual gathering of our Strategic Planning Committee which has been very helpful as we have steered the chamber through this challenging time. Finally, on Thursday, we look forward to conducting an important Virtual Discussion with Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz on supporting small businesses in 2021. Federal, state, and local leaders will be on hand to update employers and employees about relief programs for businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Confirmed Panelists include Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz, District Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration's Connecticut District Office Catherine Marx, and Connecticut Department of Economic & Community Development (DECD) Commissioner David Lehman. I thank Lt. Gov. Bysiewicz for reaching out to our team to schedule this event, and look forward to a productive discussion. As you can see, the chamber calendar is off to a real fast start in the new year.

In addition to these important meetings that are specific to our chamber, this week features a number of other meetings that are important to the business community throughout our state. 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. As I have noted before, these partnerships are more important now than ever before. A busy Tuesday continues with the first 2021 meeting of the Community Foundation of Middlesex County Board of Directors. President and CEO Cynthia Clegg and her team do great work in our community, and I look forward to supporting their efforts moving forward. Finally, on Friday, 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 in the new year as we continue our efforts to strengthen what is an inclusive, resilient, and vibrant State of Connecticut.

Before closing, I ask that members and other interested parties look ahead to next week’s chamber calendar and save the dates for two important virtual workshops. On Tuesday, Jan. 12, the chamber will continue the very successful KeyBank Workshop Series which has gone virtual due to COVID-19. Next week’s session, Sexual Harassment Prevention Training, will be held via Zoom at 8 a.m. The definition of sexual harassment, liability, and the prevention of sexual harassment in the workplace will be discussed, and the session meets state of Connecticut requirements for employers. On Wednesday, Jan. 13 at 9:00 a.m., we will host a panel discussion with leaders from some of our local health departments titled, “Rising to the Challenges of COVID-19.” Our local health directors and other public health professionals have worked tirelessly since the beginning of this crisis, and we thank them for taking the time to provide real time information on everything from vaccine rollout, to testing, and more. I will have much more on these two workshops in next week’s chamber column.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Richard Wrubel at the age of 85. Richard was a wonderful man who led an inspired life full of leadership, service and kindness. We are all so fortunate that Richard called Middletown his home for his entire life. He loved this city and thoroughly enjoyed its history, its culture, its civic organizations, and most importantly, its people. Richard can be described in a variety of ways. An intellect, a musician, a proud veteran of the US Army, a businessman, and a true and beloved family man. I got to know him first in the 1970’s when he was a parent and a supporter of Mercy of Xavier High Schools, and then through this professional career in the retail business and in the residential real estate business. He was a great supporter of our chamber, and of me personally, going all the way back to when I started in this position in 1983. He would delight our staff with his periodic pop ins into our office, and I will always be grateful for his counsel and his friendship over the years. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife of 56 years, Marcia, his entire family, and his vast network of friends and colleagues. Richard Wrubel was as good as it gets, and he will be missed by many.

Promises for year ahead

December 28, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

Happy New Year, Middlesex County.

Now that a challenging 2020 is coming to an end, and 2021 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. This year, that sentiment feels especially appealing.

We have learned a lot about the Middlesex community during this COVID-19 pandemic. We are blessed to have dedicated professionals from a variety of critical fields that have led our region’s effort through this difficult stretch. From our public health and medical professionals, to our first responders, to the men and women of the Connecticut National Guard, to our elected leaders who have been working day and night, we say thank you.

I also want to take a moment to once again thank my outstanding staff at the chamber for their great work this year. 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. This includes helping businesses navigate relief funds and best practices, partnering with all levels of government, assisting with the distribution of critical PPE, and much more. I have been truly inspired by the depth of our chamber, and by the great work of not only our staff, but of countless committed individuals from all corners of our region. We are so fortunate to be a dynamic business organization with over 2,000 members that represents every industry sector and businesses of all sizes, from large corporations to micro businesses and entrepreneurs. In addition to being an effective and dynamic business organization, the chamber strives to be a strong community organization, with a number and programs that support workforce development, youth development, substance abuse prevention, our veterans, and much more. We have done our best to make a difference this year, and I hope those efforts are being felt throughout the county.

It is safe to say that the chamber 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 town or their industry sector. We will continue to host important meetings, virtual for the time being, that feature important and helpful content for 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. We also plan to have a special focus on manufacturing and tourism in 2021. The chamber recently joined a project called Next Gen which is a statewide effort to identify key industry sectors in each region in the state, and form partnerships to support those sectors. We chose manufacturing because it is a huge economic driver and source of good jobs in our region. We look forward to working with partners such as Workforce Alliance and Middlesex Community College to identify industry partners and convene work groups around our efforts. Our initial outreach to industry leaders is being very well received, and I think we have some real momentum going into the new year. In addition to this Next Gen work focused on manufacturing, we will expand on our efforts to promote Middlesex County and as a key tourism hub in the northeast. Tourism is a critical industry sector in Middlesex County and throughout Connecticut. It has been severely impacted by the pandemic, so it is on us to engage other key stakeholders to collectively to support this vital sector in 2021 and beyond. Finally, we will work especially hard in the new year to support our area hotels and restaurants who have also had a very tough 2020. Middlesex County is very fortunate to have a dynamic restaurant and lodging industry. We plan to engage our elected leaders at all levels of government, and together, come up with innovative ways to support these important businesses as they transition to recovery.

Speaking of our elected officials, the chamber will continue to develop vital relationships with these important public servants. We look forward to working with Connecticut’s Congressional Delegation to steer vital federal resources for infrastructure and recovery to our state. We will work closely with our legislative delegation at the state level during the very important upcoming session of Connecticut General Assembly. Finally, we will continue to partner with our municipal partners who work so hard every day for their constituents.

In closing, I say without reservation, that I am very optimistic about 2021. You can bet that the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce will be on the move in the new year. Thank you for your great support, and Happy New Year!

Looking back on a challenging year

December 21, 2020

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 to look ahead with a positive attitude to the year ahead. This year, that sentiment feels especially appealing.

During this holiday week, I would like to take this opportunity to on behalf of the chamber, offer a heartful thank you to the public health directors and other professionals from throughout Middlesex County that have done such an amazing job in this very challenging year. These folks, whether they represent one of our municipalities, or one of our local health districts, have been accessible to the business community, they have provided important updates at chamber division meetings and other functions, and they have really stepped up at a time when our community needed them the most. This gratitude of course extends to all police officers, fire fighters, medical professionals and others who have been on the front lines of this crisis since the beginning. I also want to send a quick shout out to the Public Works and DOT crews for their cleanup efforts after last week’s storm, and for always being ready to dig us out and get us operational again.

Speaking of the front lines of this crisis, I want 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.

Finally, I want to send holiday greetings and gratitude to Vin Capece and his team at Middlesex Health for the great work they have done on the public health front this year. We are so fortunate to have all of these professionals who are working so hard in our region, and we are eternally grateful for their efforts.

We are also thankful to the many elected leaders that have served us so well during this challenging year. Serving in public office is never easy, but serving during a pandemic is especially challenging. These public servants at the local, state and federal levels have worked so hard in recent weeks and months. Regardless of your political persuasion, I hope that you can join me in thanking these officials for their around the clock efforts, and for their public service. A special thank you goes out to Gov. Ned Lamont and his team. Gov. Lamont did a great job at last Wednesday’s Virtual Chamber Member Luncheon, sponsored by Eversource. A large 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 the new Commissioner of Department of Revenue Services, former Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton. I thank Gov. Lamont for sharing his outlook for 2021 in our state, and Eversource for sponsoring the final major chamber event of what has been a very challenging year.

On the chamber side, we are truly lucky to have a dedicated Board of Directors which is led by our outstanding Chairman, Tom Byrne. Tom, 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. He has followed in the footsteps of his immediate predecessor, Don DeVivo, by serving our chamber so well, while also navigating a challenging stretch for his business. In addition to our board leadership, the chamber staff has stepped up this year in so many ways in support of the business community. Our Vice Presidents, Jeff Pugliese and Johanna Bond, have been innovative and steadfast in their approach. Our Controller, Steve Ciskowski, took over for Nancy Prue in March, and has done a great job in this important chamber position. Nancy served the chamber so well for over 25 years, and while we miss her, we are grateful for her service to our organization. Everyone on the chamber team has really stepped up in this challenging 2020. I know their efforts are recognized and appreciated in our community.

When it comes down to it, all of this is not possible without 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.

In closing, I once again 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.

2021 is on the horizon, and the sun continues to shine in Middlesex County.

Happy Holidays!

Virtual Event with Govenor Lamont this Wednesday

December 14, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

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

Speaking of the holiday season, Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown wrapped up this past Saturday after a very successful run. Thanks to the efforts of a great committee, dedicated chamber staff members, and a whole lot of holiday spirit, the Magic of Middletown inspired our community all while keeping its participants safe and healthy. I would like to offer a sincere thank you on behalf of the chamber to the City of Middletown, Pratt & Whitney, and all other sponsors and supporters of the Magic of Middletown. Mayor Ben Florsheim, the Common Council, and many different city departments supported our efforts in a variety of ways. From the Police and Fire Departments, to Recreation and Community Services, to Public Works, and more, the city team stepped up once again, and we are grateful. The Holiday on Main Street Committee, under the leadership of Al Santostefano, put in many volunteer hours over the past several weeks. Finally, chamber Vice President Johanna Bond, as well as Haley Stafford, Daniele Aletta, and Sierra Lopez from the chamber team, did a great job as usual with this large and important series of events. I thank them all for their support, and I am so proud of Middletown yet again.

On the chamber front, this week features important virtual meetings of our Westbrook Division, Killingworth Division, and Board of Directors. I also look forward to participating in the Metro Chamber Executive Work Group, Mayor Ben Florsheim’s weekly meeting of city leaders which focuses on COVID-19 response, and a meeting of the Workforce Alliance Executive Committee.

On the business development front, an exciting Grand Opening and Ribbon Cutting celebration is scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Middletown. Five Star Performance Horses LLC, a new local equestrian facility, has recently opened at 929 Middle Street. Five Star offers training and boarding to horses of all breeds, and riding lessons are available for adults and children of all ages. I look forward to joining Mayor Ben Florsheim, Chamber Chairman Tom Byrne, and our Westfield Division Chairman, Brian Kronenberger, as we officially welcome owner Erin Cecchini and her team to the local business community. Erin’s mom, Judy Cecchini, is a longtime member and friend to the chamber. We look forward to wishing them all the best, and look forward to supporting them along the way.

Sticking with business development for a moment, the chamber’s Side Street to Main Street Minority Business & Leadership Development Program “Business Know-How 201” just completed its initial program year, virtually via zoom, in early December. “Business Know-How 201” is an extension of the “Business Know-How” preparatory course, designed and specifically targeted to assist, motivate, and prepare minority small business owners in our community. The course completion ceremony will be held virtually this Tuesday evening at 6:15 p.m. I look forward to honoring our program graduates, and thank Aetna once again for their support of this important business and community development program. I also want to thank the longtime facilitator of the Side Street to Main Street Business & Leadership Development Program, Jim Jackson, and longtime chamber staff liaison, Jennifer De Kine. Jim and Jennifer have spent countless hours on this important program over the years, and we are grateful for their efforts.

The main event of the week is of course our annual December event with Connecticut’s sitting governor which is scheduled for this Wednesday, Dec. 16 at 12:00 p.m. through the virtual zoom platform. We look forward to a timely visit from Gov. Ned Lamont as we approach the holidays and the start of a new year. The state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the upcoming session of the General Assembly, will undoubtedly be the main themes of the governor’s remarks. I thank the governor for taking the time to visit with our membership, and thank Eversource for its sponsorship of the event and its longtime support of our chamber.

Before closing, I want to remind readers that due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the Citizens Bank Summer Fun Run has turned virtual and is now the Citizens Bank Virtual Winter Fun Run. The virtual race will run from December 14 - December 20. Interested runners can register online and run at a time and place of their choosing during race week. The event benefits Amazing Grace Food Pantry as they work to feed those in need. Registration and other race information can be found on www.jbsports.com. I thank Race Director John Bysiewicz, and Road Race Committee President Jay Woron and all committee members for their continued dedication to this important community race in Middletown.

I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Chester “Chet” Mounts at the age of 77. Chester was a member and supporter of our chamber during his professional career in the food industry which included long stints at Waldbaum’s Foodmart and A&P, and then as owner and operator of The Durham Market for over 20 years. More important than all of this however, is Chet’s lifelong devotion to his beloved family. Our thoughts and prayers are with is wife of 56 years, Jackie, his children, grandchildren, and vast network of extended family and friends at this difficult time. Chester Mounts will be missed by many.

Weekend features gnome scavenger hunt, vendor fair in Middletown

December 7, 2020

By: Larry McHugh

The holiday season is in full swing here in Middlesex County, and the chamber team continues to be on the move. Before getting into some of the important events and activities for the week, I want to take a moment to encourage readers to support their local small businesses for all of their shopping needs this holiday season. Our local small businesses have gotten very good at developing, implementing and adhering to strict COVID related protocols over the course of the past several months. The small business community in Middlesex County needs you now more than ever, so please support them if you can.

Another busy chamber week kicks off on Monday with a virtual meeting of the chamber’s Executive Committee. As I have noted many times over the years, our Executive Committee features a variety of business and community leaders from a number of industry sectors. Monday’s meeting will be led by our Chairman, Tom Byrne. There are a number of other important chamber meetings this week including our Durham and Middlefield Division, Cromwell Division, Women’s Leadership Collaborative Network, and Health Care Council Steering Committee. In addition to all of this, we will also connect this week with the CVH Advisory Committee, and the Workforce Alliance Racial Equity and Inclusion Committee.

On the special event front, Tuesday opens with an important session of our KeyBank Workshop Series focusing on cybersecurity. Michael Giuffrida, President of Kyber Security, and Wes Spencer, CISO of Perch Security, will lead the discussion which will cover threat detection, email hijacking, defending your networks, and other best practices when dealing with cyber threats. Cybersecurity is a critical issue, especially with so many people working remotely these days, so please take advantage of this important seminar. Also on Tuesday, I look forward to attending the December meeting 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 as we move forward together.

Wednesday features an important webinar focusing on opioids titled, “Facing the Holidays.” The discussion will include information on family support, tips to mentally prepare, and what to do or not to do during the holidays to help those with opioid addiction have a drug free holiday. We have a terrific panel for the event including Daniel Bryant of the Community Health Center, Ana Gopoian of TriCircle, Inc., Dr. Leonard Lev of the Root Center for Advanced Recovery, and Reverend Robyn Anderson of the Ministerial Health Ministry and the How Can We Help Program. This event is a product of our Recovery Employment Program and the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council, with strong support from the Connecticut Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (DMHAS). We look forward to an important discussion in advance of the holiday season, and appreciate the support of our incredible substance abuse prevention community.

Speaking of the holiday season, Holiday on Main Street presents the Magic of Middletown is off to a real fast start thanks to a great committee, dedicated chamber staff members, and a whole lot of holiday spirit. This coming Saturday, Dec. 12, is Spectacular Savings Saturday, and a wide of variety of downtown retailers will participate by offering excellent holiday deals. The Pop-Up Holiday Vendor Fair will be held on Saturday after being rescheduled from last Saturday due to inclement weather. Come stop by one of the many vendors set-up along Main Street, and then stop into one of the many stores downtown. Other activities scheduled for Saturday include “Tis the Season to Find a Gnome” Scavenger Hunt, socially distant pictures with Santa, popcorn and pretzels outside the chamber, and much more. As always, www.holidayonmain.com has all the details. Before moving off the Magic of Middletown, I want to take a moment to thank the creative team at Kidcity Children’s Museum for putting together the amazing sleigh display that hosts the pictures with Santa. Jen Alexander, Scott Kessel, Matt Niland and Liv Elmore did a truly fabulous job, and I encourage everyone to come downtown and check out the sleigh which will be stationed outside Kidcity until it makes it way to Main Street for the festivities on the 12th. I will provide a full Magic of Middletown wrap up in next Monday’s column.

Before closing, I ask that everyone please save the date for a special Virtual Luncheon with Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday, Dec. 16. This important chamber event, sponsored by Eversource, will feature a timely visit by the governor, as we enter the holidays and look ahead to 2021. I will have more as we get closer, but please save the date.

Amidst all of this holiday spirit, I am afraid I must close this week’s column on a sad note after the recent passing of Julia Balfour at the far too young age of 42. Julia was the CEO and Founder of Julia Balfour, LLC, a creative design company based in East Haddam and member of our chamber. Julia was an entrepreneur, an inspiration to many, and a beloved leader of her team. Our sincere thoughts and prayers are with Julia’s family and vast network of friends at this difficult time. May they take comfort in the fact that she led a life well lived, and that she will be missed by many.

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 wh