Joan Hartley

State Senator

Joan Hartley

Chief Deputy President Pro Tempore

An Independent Voice

May 20, 2021

Senate Passes Regional Economic Development Bill, Approval Led by Senator Hartley

Senate Bill 1020 Establishes a Matching Grant Pilot Program Supporting Economic Development Programs in Distressed Municipalities;
Bill Received Support of Naugatuck Valley Leaders

State Senator Joan Hartley (D-Waterbury, Middlebury and Naugatuck), Senate Chair of the Commerce Committee and co-chair of the Manufacturing Caucus, championed the approval of a bill in the state Senate that will establish a pilot program offering matching grants to regional economic development corporations (REDC) enacting programs to support economic development in distressed municipalities in Connecticut. The pilot program can direct up to a total of $10 million in grants to participating REDCs. The bill passed in a bipartisan vote in the Senate and received support from local leaders in the Naugatuck Valley. The bill now moves to the state House of Representatives.

“When towns and cities work together on economic development, we are more likely to see demonstrably better outcomes. This forward-thinking legislation encourages our municipalities, especially those that are distressed, to seek out collaborative opportunities to spur job creation and economic growth,” said Sen. Hartley. “I want to thank the members of the Commerce Committee for their partnership on this bill that will develop a pilot program that is accessible. This program is a chance to leverage opportunities that will be felt throughout Connecticut and build our economy.”

Senate Bill 1020, “An Act Establishing a Regional Economic Development Pilot Program,” directs the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to create a pilot program to provide matching grants to REDCs in distressed municipalities. The REDCs must represent at least four municipalities and one of which needs to be a distressed municipality. However, the commissioner of DECD would be empowered to allow an REDC that represents less than four municipalities, as long as one of the cities or towns involved is a distressed municipality, to participate in the pilot program.

The pilot program would stop accepting new program applications in June 2026.

DECD’s list of distressed municipalities, identified as the state’s most fiscally and economically distressed cities and towns, has included Waterbury for the 2018, 2019, 2020 and Naugatuck for 2018 and 2019 yearly lists. The list is used by state agencies to direct funds addressing community needs such as economic development, housing, and brownfield remediation.

Applicants would need to provide at minimum information including a description of the economic development program the matching grant would support and the amount, plus source of funding, that DECD is sought to match. The bill requires that the description of the proposed economic development program, the applicant’s record of executing such programs in its region, resources the applicant has, and possible impact of the program on the local workforce to be part of the factors taken into consideration when evaluating applications.

Participants in the pilot program would have to report annually to DECD starting no later than two years after receiving funding. The progress of the REDC’s program that received funding would be included in the annual report.

Senate Bill 1020 received support from both municipal leaders representing the Naugatuck Valley and the Waterbury Regional Chamber because of the economic benefits the bill stands to spur across the region.

Waterbury Mayor Neil O’Leary and Naugatuck Mayor N. Warren “Pete” Hess III said in joint testimony that Senate Bill 1020, “will help build off the work we have done to date by providing matching funds to help spur economic development in the Naugatuck Valley while incentivizing other municipalities to work more regionally…”

Lynn Ward, President and CEO of the Waterbury Regional Chamber testified that the chamber of commerce is, “advocating for this newly developed concept because a regional approach to economic development, combined with public/private investment can lead to more successful outcomes than a splintered approach with each municipality working independently.”

Further, she said the pilot program proposed in the bill could, “take economic development in the Naugatuck Valley to the next level.”

Each of them mentioned the Naugatuck Valley Regional Development Corporation (NVRDC) in their testimony. The NVRDC, a partnership between Waterbury and Naugatuck started in 2020, is responsible for advancing large-scale economic development efforts that contain benefits for multiple municipalities and to seek a regional approach to economic development. NVRDC’s CEO Thomas Hyde testified that the costs of cleaning up a brownfield before redevelopment can begin or the renovations of a historic building can deter developers from pursuing a project in the region. Hyde said that the funding made possible by Senate Bill 1020, “could be used to help developers overcome these costs and incentivize them to undertake a project.”