Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy will be more easily available

As the federally designated economic development agency for southeastern Connecticut, seCTer is required to produce the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) report.

The most recent CEDS was released this past summer and a digital version is available for broader and more convenient distribution and use by municipalities, businesses, and the public at large. This digital version is provided by the StateBook platform, and provides interactive capabilities.    

As described by the US Economic Development Administration, a CEDS report should be developed “with broad-based community participation and result in a document that is readily accessible to regional stakeholders. Potential partners for developing a CEDS could include government agencies, private sector interests, education providers, non-profits, community and labor groups, workforce boards, utilities, etc. Stakeholders should be able to use it as a guide to understanding the regional economy and to take action to improve it.”

A CEDS report consists of four main elements:  summary background; SWOT analysis;  strategic direction/action plan, evaluation framework.

The StateBook platform allows users to compare locations to identify the most strategic opportunities for investment, confirm project viability, and mitigate risk across disparate data sources, multiple geography levels, and over time.

This platform will allow our staff to more fully utilize CEDS data by filtering information to more efficiently compare locations and create custom reports using maps, microsites, and comparison platforms.

seCTer is about to launch its Resilience Assessment, a tool to help businesses identify potential challenges and begin formulating plans to address challenges before they arise.

The assessment identifies a broad range of potential issues, from cyclical economic downturns to  national and international political affairs, disruptions in specific industries nationally and internationally,   climate change, and challenges on a regional basis such as the loss of a major employer or a military base closure.

A survey to be completed by business owners is included in the assessment and will serve dual purposes: helping seCTer identify trends in regional business concerns; helping businesses consider potential issues they may not have previously considered.

Survey questions range from basic demographic information about the company’s owners and employees to commuting methods (public transit, walking, biking, driving), whether the facility is owned or rented and its elevation, site vulnerability to weather events, workforce challenges, insurance coverage and financial resources to weather a disruption, and the existence of a disaster preparedness plan.

Business owners who participate in seCTer grant and loan programs are urged to complete the survey as part of the qualifying process.

The assessment is scheduled to be released later this fall.

Nearly 500 attendees participated in the two-day Northeast Regional Matchmaker 2023 Business Training and Resource Fair in August to make connections with government procurement managers and government prime contractors in hopes of landing contracts from the federal to local level.

Hosted by CT APEX Accelerator (formerly PTAC) at the Mystic Marriott, it was the first such event in Connecticut and nearly doubled the attendance of the previous Matchmaker held in Rhode Island prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. CT APEX is an affiliate of seCTer.

“We were thrilled with the response on both sides of the table – local, state and federal government procurement specialists and businesses of all sizes seeking to expand into new opportunities,” said Marisol Herrera, State Director of CT APEX Accelerator.

Business owners were able to meet individually with these buyers from several government agencies in 10-minute “pitch sessions” during which they were able to market their goods or services. The event also included information sessions about requirements for a broad range of government contract work and a cybersecurity training and information session for small to medium-sized businesses and those in the federal manufacturing supply chain.

Throughout the event, attendees also had the opportunity to meet with regional APEX Accelerators from across New England and New York as well as representatives from the CT Department of Economic and Community Development, Women’s Business Development Center, regional SBAs, universities, and other organizations.

“The Matchmaker was especially helpful for businesses owned by veterans, minorities, women, Native Americans, the members of the LGBTQ community, as well as those operating in distressed communities and Historically Underutilized Business Zones since there is a strong preference to award contracts to businesses in these categories,” Herrera said.

In addition to CT APEX, sponsors included seCTer, CT Department of Administrative Services, SBA, Northeast Regional Council of the Department of Defense, and the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial & Women’s Business Center.

Business resiliency efforts have increased significantly with the implementation earlier this year of the seCTerRise growth funding program.

In just a matter of months, 19 area businesses have been able to strengthen their operations through the expansion or renovation of facilities, additional staffing, increased services or product lines, and other forms of growth. The seCTerRise program provides each qualifying applicant up to $20,000 in grant funding.

seCTer screens applicants, disperses funds, and monitors use of the grant money, which is provided by the state Department of Economic and Community Development through its business resiliency and sustainability efforts aimed at eastern Connecticut.

This latest round of seCTerRise funding will benefit the following six small businesses:

First Impressions Learning Academy of Ledyard offers early childhood education from infant to 5, with a capacity of 55. In addition to providing learning experiences from problem-solving to critical thinking and social/emotional wellness, their goal is to be the community hub and safe place for the empowerment of children and families. The grant will be used to train and onboard new employees.

Ice & Fire Chen of Norwich is a cornerstone in the Norwich community, recognized for its outstanding Chinese cuisine, excellent service, and friendly staff. Ice & Fire Asian Cuisine is known for its modern interpretation of classic dishes and its insistence on only using high-quality fresh ingredients. The grant will be used to update kitchen and storage equipment.

Lashes by Lee of New London is a minority and women-owned full-service salon and academy. In addition to offering full salon services, they are approved by the State to teach and license in the beauty industry in both English and Spanish. Grant funds will be used to renovate the basement of the salon into an education studio with space to accept more students and offer a broader curriculum.

Luque Realty of New London opened in 2020 after Carlos Luque gained experience during eight years of work in other agencies providing real estate brokerage services to home buyers, sellers, and renters. Grant funding will be used to purchase realtor licensing courses to help hire agents for the agency and purchase CRM software to further grow the agency.

Sweet Grass Creamery of Preston is a micro-dairy and creamery producing milk, yogurt, and cheese on site from their herd of 30 Jersey cows. They are unique in that they own and manage the entire process from managing the herd, growing their feed (hay and corn) and processing the dairy products right on the farm. Grant funds will be used to purchase a bale wrapper, which will aid in the feeding of the herd.

The Ditty Bag of Mysticis a zero-waste market and café with a mission to help customers reduce their plastic use and carbon footprint by providing bulk foods, plastic-free products, and locally grown and sourced products. Their mission is catching on and they need to expand. Their seCTerRise grant will be used to purchase additional shelving and display features, hire part-time staff, increase marketing and consumer education, and purchase additional inventory.

Offshore wind turbine blades, nacelles, and towers have been arriving at State Pier in the Port of New London over the past few months in preparation for partial assembly at the facility. The components will be shipped later this year to the South Fork Wind Farm site 35 miles east of Montauk Point, Long Island, where the 12 completed turbines will produce enough energy to power 70,000 homes.

We learned earlier this month / in July that the region’s Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS) gained approval from the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, state Department of Economic and Community Development, and United States Economic Development Adminstration.

A CEDS is a strategy-driven plan for regional economic development that, ideally, is focused on place-based, regionally driven economic development and planning which takes into consideration a region’s attributes, strengths, opportunities, threats, and weaknesses.

This strategic planning tool must be updated every five years in order for agencies such as ours to qualify for federal Economic Development Agency (EDA) funding through the Public Works and Economic Adjustment Assistance programs.

RT Brown, who has served as seCTer’s Reginal Competitiveness Officer since 2021 and is now Director of Economic Development Strategies and Business Services, worked closely with seCTer’s Economic Development Committee and integrated multiple author contributions and public comments. 

“The CEDS is at the core of everything we do and guides our decisions and long-range planning for the economic health and resiliency of the region,” Brown said.

Each CEDS must include the concept of economic resilience, which can be defined as “the ability of regions to anticipate, withstand, and bounce back from any type of shock, disruption, or stress that it may experience,” according to the EDA.

In addition to developing a long-range economic development strategy, the process of producing a CEDS allows a broad base of stakeholders to collaborate on that strategy and vision. Individuals, organizations, local governments, institutions of learning, and private industry are provided opportunities to engage in a meaningful conversation and debate about what capacity-building efforts would best serve economic development in the region.

“Having our CEDS approved is important not just from a funding perspective, but from the perspective of creating a shared, regional view of where our economy is now and where it can go in both the short-term and long-term,” said seCTer Executive Director Paul Whitescarver. “Additionally, it provides us with recommended tactics for attracting new businesses and expanding existing businesses to keep them strong and resilient.”

Since January, seCTer has approved $1,969,000 in loans to seven businesses from Stonington to Moosup and Old Saybrook that provide a wide variety of goods and services including seafood, metal fabrication, craft beer, HVAC equipment, hobby supplies, home heating oil delivery, survival training, and personal training/fitness.   

These include five Boost Loans funded by the Connecticut Small Business Boost Fund, which provides working capital primarily to women-owned and minority-owned businesses and those located in low-income areas. Two of the loans are internal seCTer loans. We have closed five of the seven loans, totaling $1,394,000.

APEX Accelerator, formerly CT PTAC, is hosting the state’s first U.S. Department of Defense Northeast Regional Matchmaker Business Training and Resource Fair Aug. 9-10 at the Mystic Marriott.

This event will allow businesses in New England and New York interested in providing products or services to federal, state, and local government agencies the opportunity to meet purchasing managers in one-on-one sessions. Representatives from government agencies and prime contractors who award billions of dollars in work each year will be available to answer questions.

Information about requirements for government contract work also will be provided, as well as training in cybersecurity.

More information is available at Matchmaker 2023

“This event is open to all businesses and will help develop relationships with government buyers and large prime contractors,” said event organizer Marisol Herrera, State Director of CT APEX Accelerator. “APEX Accelerators serve as a resource for small businesses by supporting their ability and readiness to participate in the government procurement marketplace.”

The Connecticut office of the U.S. Small Business Administration is also supporting this event, and Connecticut District Director Catherine Marx is urging small businesses to attend and learn about the opportunities available. “The SBA is committed to opening the doors of procurement so more small businesses can grow and thrive by doing business with the federal government, the world’s largest customer who buys all types of products and services – in both large and small quantities,” Marx said. “This matchmaker and resource fair is an exciting opportunity for New England small businesses to expand through government contracting and networking with federal and state agencies.”

seCTer has recently received a new allocation of $2 million from the US Economic Development Administration for its Equity Revolving Loan Fund.

Loans up to $500,000 are available and are intended to help those who face challenges securing traditional financing. Businesses owned by veterans, women, minorities, and those who identify as part of the LGBTQ community are given priority consideration during the Equity Loan Fund application review process.

Loan funds issued through this program can be used for a wide variety of needs. Board members and seCTer partners are urged to refer business owners to this program by sharing contact information for seCTer’s Joseph Violette, Business Retention and Expansion Specialist, who can be reached at 860-437-4659 ext. 7 or

A wide variety of small businesses from across Eastern CT will be able to expand and remain resilient in the face of unforeseen challenges with the help of $145,512 recently awarded through the seCTerRise program.

This most recent distribution to nine businesses comes after an initial round of grants earlier in the year to four businesses totaling $77,290 for a total of $222,802 distributed in 2023.

Comfort Catering, a popular, woman-owned, Norwich-based business, is using its grant to purchase an additional freezer and refrigerator, two warmers, and holding transport boxes to be able to take on more business rather than turning business away. Adding this equipment also will reduce expenses for rental items.

Toesty Sheets, a local internet phenomenon from East Haddam that produces top sheets that feature  fitted corners at the foot of the bed to keep the sheets in place, will use the seCTerRise grant to broaden its reach into the market. Additional styles will be produced to fit RV beds, college dorm beds, and split kings, as well as more colors.

Whisk Together Catering has been using commercial kitchens across the region to accommodate events wherever needed. With seCTerRise funding – and help from Norwich Community Development in finding a suitable location — chef Roman will be able to rent and equip a commercial kitchen of her own.

Epicure Brewing, an independent craft brewery and taproom in the heart of the historic Norwich Harbor district, will use its grant for digital advertising and new equipment that will allow a transition into canned packaging.

Flavours of Life, a premier retail gift store in downtown New London featuring quality products from certified fair-trade organizations, will replace outdated point-of-sale equipment with new technology, providing better customer experience and improved accounting and inventory data.

Fringe Modern & Vintage, a thrift shop for men and women in Clinton, will use its seCTerRise grant to purchase new display equipment and changing room equipment as well as signage and mannequins for the storefront.

GEM Electrolysis and Esthetics in Old Mystic will purchase new equipment intended to provide a better experience for customers and technicians, which should lead to increased retention of both and more potential for growth.

Jessica Tuesdays, an award-winning, destination restaurant key to downtown Putnam’s revitalization, turned to seCTer to fund a new commercial exhaust and fire suppression hood for its kitchen to meet new federal and state regulations. seCTerRise funding will offset the significant cost of this equipment, which posed a major financial threat to this Putnam icon.      

Trade Labels of Stonington, which produces nutrition labels for bulk containers used in supermarkets and independent grocers across the country, will now be able to expand into a wider area of the market with new software allowing customer labels markets of small natural food stores and co-ops to drive additional growth.

To learn more about this program, visit seCTerRise or contact seCTer at 860-437-4659. seCTerRise is funded by the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development.