In tough times, every new job is celebrated

Hartford -- Up against an anemic economy, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was back on the road Thursday, visiting a new commercial tenant at a repurposed Colt Armory to promote his frenetic efforts to encourage job growth in Connecticut.

"I've been the governor for less than two years," Malloy said. "In that period of time, we have reached out and worked with about 400 companies in Connecticut, to preserve jobs, to grow jobs and to attract jobs to the state."

In the previous eight years before he took office, the Department of Economic and Community Development worked with fewer than 200 companies, Malloy said.

Malloy at Colt

David Wendell, Gov. Dannel Malloy and the iconic Colt dome.

"Eight years, 200 companies. Two years, 400 hundred companies," Malloy said, emphasizing the contrast, a story certain to be told and retold as the 2014 re-election campaign draws closer. "This is not an immediate pay off, it's a long-term pay off."

Malloy said his administration will try to maintain that pace of economic assistance as it cuts spending to address projected budget shortfalls in the current fiscal year and the next one.

"We have a course, and we will stay the course," Malloy said. "And that course is to look to people and companies that are in the private sector and aid them in doing what they do best, and that is create jobs."

Unemployment in Connecticut rose one-tenth of a point in October to 9 percent, according to the latest state survey. The state has recovered about 26 percent of the 117,500 non-farm jobs lost during the recession of 2008 to 2010, but state labor analysts say growth has slowed in recent months.

The winter 2013 edition of the Connecticut Economy published by the University of Connecticut says the state might be doing well just to avoid job losses over the coming months.

"A year from now, the state could be marking job gains of 3,000 or more per quarter, but that assumes we manage to steer clear of some rocky shoals in the intervening period," the report says. "Until then, avoiding additional job losses would not be an insignificant achievement."

In DECD's most recent annual report, the department says it spent $113.7 million to leverage $353.6 million in private investment and create or retain 20,000 jobs in the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011.

The fiscal year covered the first six months of Malloy's administration and the last six months of his predecessor, Gov. M. Jodi Rell.

Spending to promote job growth has since ballooned as the governor won legislative approval for a various jobs program a year ago, as well as $291 million in state bonding to construct a genomic research facility for Jackson Laboratory at the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington.

On Thursday, Malloy visited Foley Carrier Services to talk about a more modest deal that carries a higher profile as part of the larger effort to preserve a major piece of Connecticut's industrial history, the complex where Samuel Colt developed the gun that won the west.

Foley is the beneficiary of a $500,000 grant to defray the $2 million cost of finishing interior space Foley occupies as the first for-profit commercial tenant of Colt Gateway, the mixed-use redevelopment of the historic Colt Armory in Hartford.

"This is an important milestone that we're making in this complex. This is the big commercial for-profit tenant that we wanted to attract to the site," Malloy said.

Foley, which provides 30,000 transportation clients with drug and alcohol testing and other regulatory compliance services, is moving from Glastonbury into the former south armory building, a wing built before World War I. The company intends to expand its workforce from 110 to 180 employees within three years, with at 40 new hires expected in the next 15 months.

"We're thrilled to be here and lucky to have a governor like Gov. Malloy, who believes in economic development and encouraging companies like ours to move to urban areas," said David Wendell, the chairman of Foley's parent company, BirdSong.

Colt Gateway is a 600,000 square-foot complex of 10 buildings, including a main armory topped by a distinctive blue dome, that was designated a National Historic Landmark in 2007. Hartford is seeking a national park designation.

Catherine H. Smith, the economic development commissioner, says deals with nearly 2,000 companies are in the pipeline at DECD, where completed applications to participate in state aid programs are acted on within 45 days.

"There's still a lot of need in the small business community," she said.

Smith said she remains optimistic about job growth and noted that even the otherwise downbeat UConn report concluded that Connecticut's manufacturer sector is more robust than most people think, with productivity increasing as manufacturing here continues to go high tech.

At a recent meeting of aerospace manufacturers, Smith said she found confidence that their business will continue to grow.

"They were unbelievably optimistic," she said. "Their biggest problem right now is finding talent."