NORTHWEST CORNER — The recovery of businesses impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic was the main topic of discussion at the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce’s annual meeting held on Thursday, April 29.
The meeting’s keynote speaker was Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who was introduced at the meeting by Torrington Mayor Elinor Carbone (R)
“During the pandemic, there have been successes, and sadly there have been disappointments,” Mayor Carbone said. “It has never been more apparent that our chamber of commerce, and our workforce investment boards, are critical to the sustainability of our business communities. I am tremendously grateful for Gov. Lamont’s strength, resilience, calm, and reassuring leadership over this past year. His day-to-day crisis control was instrumental in carrying us through this pandemic.”
Mayor Carbone announced that the city is in the beginning stages of developing a Makerspace lab in the city in conjunction with the Northwest Regional Workforce, Northwest Connecticut Community College, and EdAdvance.
“Our goal is to create an environment that will provide hands-on training for local workforce vacancies and access to technology and equipment that will attract tinkerers and innovators that perhaps may even kickstart a new generation of entrepreneurs and experimenters,” Carbone said.
Carbone did not give any further details on the Makerspace during her speech.
Gov. Lamont’s speaks on state’s business outlook
During his keynote speech, Gov. Lamont said that businesses throughout the state “are coming out of this Covid crisis a lot stronger.”
“Our two-week [Covid test] averages have remained low and are staying low,” Gov. Lamont said. “We’re trying to get back to a new normal. By the end of May, we will be in really good shape in terms of indoor and outdoor activities. We are thinking about keeping the indoor mask mandate a little bit longer.”
Gov. Lamont said that the state’s population has increased over the past few years.
“These are young people, and they are not everyone who is my age,” Gov. Lamont said (Gov. Lamont is 67 years old). “These are young entrepreneurs with families. I hope you are feeling some of that in Northwest Connecticut and Litchfield County, and you are seeing the opportunities are there.”
However, Gov. Lamont said that the state still has a high unemployment rate.
“A lot of that is attributed to women who had to drop out of the workforce,” Gov. Lamont said. “[It’s also] connected to the service sector, which got hit the hardest.”
In relation to this, Gov. Lamont said that “priority number one for us is early child care.”
He said that the state is developing programs for free child care and reduced-price child care.
In addition to child care programs, Gov. Lamont said that the state will be creating 50 free certificate programs at state community colleges.
“We will be providing free daycare for these programs,” he said. “No excuses. If you have been unemployed, here’s a chance to retool your skills and make a difference there.”
However, he did not say specifically what the subjects of the programs would be.
Despite pandemic, “state is in good financial shape”
Gov. Lamont said that the state has had a fiscal surplus for the past two years.
“For the next two years, we don’t need any tax increases,” he said. “At the same time, we can take care of the social services and the people most in need with the Covid relief money we have gotten from the federal government.”
Gov. Lamont added that the state would be “tripling down” funds for tourism to boost business.
“We want to bring people back and take a second look at the state,” he said. “We want our hotels and restaurants and service sector to go forward. I think we can do it safely.”
Questions from chamber members
After his speech, Gov. Lamont took questions from members of the chamber.
One question was whether or not employers should be responsible if an employee contracts Covid while working on the job.
“I don’t think it should be the fault of the employer,” Gov. Lamont said. “Employees now have opportunities to get vaccinated. As long as employers make [vaccinations] available and give all the incentives [employees] need to get vaccinated.”
Allison Blackwood, president of Alternative Employment Inc., asked Gov. Lamont if there were plans by the state to address transportation issues around the Northwest Corner.
“It is difficult for the labor force to show up for jobs without car/insurance,” Blackwood wrote to Gov. Lamont in the meeting’s chatbox
In response, Gov. Lamont said that “little things we have done is having free bus service on weekends just to help out folks who can’t get around. I am not certain how helpful that is in the Northwest Corner.”
“We also have significant plans in place to fix up all the choke points on the major roads and highways so it makes it easier for people to drive around,” he said. “There are also big plans where it comes to rail service.”
Also during the meeting, Brooker Memorial Program Manager Lisa Ferris, and Northwest Community Bank Senior Vice-President Steven Zarrella, were both inducted into the chamber’s hall of fame.
For more information about the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce go to https://nwctchamberofcommerce.org/