BRISTOL–Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday the state will invest more than $25 million in cable sports giant ESPN’s plans to develop a second digital center on its main campus here.

ESPN, which has pledged to create a minimum of 200 jobs over the next five years, would be the third recipient of incentives through the administration’s new “First Five” program.

“ESPN is an iconic Connecticut company, one that began with a handful of employees and has now grown into one of the giants in media and a worldwide leader in sports reporting and programming,” Malloy said. “With this investment in ESPN, Connecticut’s reputation as a leading state in which to do media business is further strengthened.”

Proposed by the governor and developed with the legislature, First Five gives the administration discretion to award “substantial financing assistance” annually to up to five new companies or existing businesses looking to expand. Eligible recipients must pledge to create at least 200 new jobs by July 1, 2013. They can take up to five years to meet that goal provided they invest at least $25 million of their own funds in the expansion.

The program allows for a wide array of assistance, which can include tax credits, low-interest loans, technical consulting, or employee education and skill upgrades.

ESPN announced it would spend $100 million to construct a 193,000-square-foot facility that would be located adjacent to an existing digital center and would mark the 19th building on their Bristol campus. The company already employs about 3,800 people here.

Company officials said the new center will greatly expand the ESPN’s production capacity in new digital media formats and emerging technology. It will house four studios, six production control rooms and 26 edit rooms on four levels, dedicated to a variety of U.S. and international studio programming. The new center also will become the new home for ESPN’s flagship program, “SportsCenter.”

“It will certainly keep Connecticut at the forefront of technological development in the world,” Ed Durso, ESPN’s executive vice president for administration, said during Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony.

Malloy noted that ESPN recently built production facilities in Los Angeles and Austin, Texas, and this new project in Connecticut not only ensures ESPN will retain a strong presence here, but likely will attract more jobs tied to supporting businesses. “We think it assures other companies will be joining us here in Connecticut.”

The state aid package for ESPN includes:

  • A 10-year, $17.5 million loan to cover construction costs and to help fund initial creation of the 200 jobs.
  • A grant of up to $1.2 million for job training. ESPN would receive $300,000 if it creates 200 jobs, and then an additional $150,000 for every 100 new employees added after that. Company officials said the new project ultimately could create up to 800 new positions.
  • And up to $6 million in sales tax exemptions to assist with the purchase of capital equipment and construction materials.

Earlier this month Malloy announced the first two recipients of First Five assistance.

  • Cigna Corp. received a “performance-based” economic-development package worth between $47 million and $71 million after the health insurer pledged to grow 200 new jobs and retain more than 3,800 existing ones in Connecticut.
  • And TicketNetwork, an online brokerage whose commodity is the secondary market for sports and entertainment events, received $8 million as it announced plans to open a new headquarters in South Windsor to create or retain 500 jobs.

“Under the ‘First Five’ program, I want to ensure that the state will support innovative companies, no matter how big or how small, if they continue to create jobs and make capital investments that will directly benefit the economy,” Malloy added.

Keith has spent most of his 31 years as a reporter specializing in state government finances, analyzing such topics as income tax equity, waste in government and the complex funding systems behind Connecticut’s transportation and social services networks. He has been the state finances reporter at CT Mirror since it launched in 2010. Prior to joining CT Mirror Keith was State Capitol bureau chief for The Journal Inquirer of Manchester, a reporter for the Day of New London, and a former contributing writer to The New York Times. Keith is a graduate of and a former journalism instructor at the University of Connecticut.

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