Governor Ned Lamont today announced that the Connecticut State Bond Commission is anticipated to approve an allocation of $1.3 million in state funding to support the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut in its creation of the Thames River Innovation Center, which will be located at 92 Eugene O’Neill Drive in New London and will provide businesses and workers in the region with an innovation center and co-working space.
The center will be used for entrepreneurial training, technical apprenticeships, and business development, as well as advising entrepreneurs, including immigrants, of existing state and local permit requirements for forming a new company. It will be operated by the chamber in partnership with its 1,400 member businesses.
The State Bond Commission will vote on the item at its next meeting on Thursday, March 31, 2022. Governor Lamont serves as chairman of the commission.
“The needs of businesses and our economy are constantly evolving, and having a business incubator like the one being proposed in New London will provide workers throughout the region with a resource to build their skillsets and become matched with prospective employers,” Governor Lamont said. “By partnering with the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut and its many members, we can help ensure that the region continues to grow with the needs of the business community.”
The chamber is modeling the center after similar efforts across the country, including the Center for Innovation at UMass Dartmouth, the Berkshire Innovation Center, Foundry 66 in Norwich, the District in New Haven, CURE Innovation Commons in Groton, and the Westerly Education Center.
When fully operational, the chamber’s goals for the center are to support the creation of approximately 100 new jobs annually and launch more than 100 new businesses during the next decade, at least 20% of which will be minority and immigrant owned.
“I want to thank Governor Lamont and the chamber’s board of directors for their support of this important development,” Tony Sheridan, president, and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said. “The center will focus on entrepreneurial training, technical apprenticeships, and business development, as well as advising entrepreneurs, including immigrants, of existing region and local permit requirements for forming a new company. The governor made a commitment to work on revitalizing our inner cities and this project along with the states and private investment in the redevelopment of the state pier begins to address this commitment.”
“The Innovation Center in New London is critically important for economic development, especially support for new small businesses and job training,” Dr. Stephen Coan, board chair of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, said. “Governor Lamont’s support for this project underscores his commitment to building a strong and vibrant economy for the future of New London, Eastern Connecticut, and the state.”
The proposed location for the center is within an enterprise zone and a federal opportunity zone at the gateway to the city’s downtown area. It will be easily accessible by public transportation, has ample parking, and is close to several of the region’s largest employers, as well as historically underserved neighborhoods.
The chamber’s board of directors, which will serve as the fiscal agent and manager for the center, has approved moving the chamber’s headquarters to New London to accommodate this project. Additionally, the chamber will be an anchor tenant and will commit annual resources for the operation and management of the center, all of which will provide much needed synergy for the revitalization of New London and the region.
“Bringing the Chamber of Commerce back to its historic home in the heart of New London’s downtown business district has been an integral part of the vision for the city’s rebirth as the economic center of Southeastern Connecticut,” Mayor Michael Passero said. “I deeply appreciate that Governor Lamont shares the city’s dream and is committed to making it a reality.”
Entrepreneurial training at the center will include a ten-week curriculum-based program designed to help emerging entrepreneurs formulate their business or service ideas and to develop a basic understanding of how to start a business. A four-month accelerator program will provide opportunities for mentorship, guidance, resources, and assistance during a business’s first two years of operations
The chamber, along with key partners such as the Eastern Connecticut Workforce Investment Board, will provide support services for retiring members of the military community by helping match their skillsets with prospective employer needs. Additionally, the center will provide a welcoming support system for incoming service member spouses, making connections with local businesses, mentoring, and job training. The chamber will also serve as a liaison between educational institutions and local businesses to help educational institutions understand the skillsets required for emerging blue tech careers in the region.