April 20, 2017 09:05PM
By Mary Ellen Godin
MERIDEN — City staff and business leaders are seeking nearly $5 million in grant funds over five years to implement a sweeping innovation strategy to help fuel economic and social development downtown and on Research Parkway.
The CT Next Innovation Place grant application is the product of a $25,000 planning grant the group used to put together a five-year plan to encourage innovation in education, food production, health care, manufacturing and the arts.
“We envision Meriden as a place of innovation and creativity, entrepreneurial and commercial activity and high-quality urban living — an innovation place,” said Drew Harris, a business professor at Central Connecticut State University.
Sean Moore, president of the Midstate Chamber of Commerce, and other key players put together a 12-member leadership team of city officials and business and community members in a variety of sectors. About 65 agencies and individuals have since signed on, Moore said.
Stakeholders say the city’s geographic location in the center of the state, and emerging transit center makes it a natural hub connecting Hartford to New Haven and Waterbury to Middletown.
Harris is joined by Moore and Thomas Welsh, president of the Meriden Economic Development Corp. (MEDCO), and the city’s Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski in spearheading the effort.
Meriden is among 12 cities and towns statewide that won planning grants to compete for implementation grants to execute plans.
The funding for the CT Next grants was approved by the state legislature. With the amount of development underway in Meriden’s downtown, the city was encouraged to apply, Welsh said.
About $30 million has been earmarked for the Innovation Places program over the next five years. Implementation grant winners will be announced in June.
The city’s request for $832,000 in its first year is leveraged by matching funds from program partners. For instance, Trifecta Ecosystems has made a $150,000 investment in space at 290 Pratt St. to develop aquaponic systems. The $150,000 is included among an estimated $390,441 in matching funds needed to implement the strategy.
As a non-profit, MEDCO is well positioned to raise private sector funding, Welsh said.
Burdelski and Welsh said Friday the process of developing the strategy for the grant application has city stakeholders sharing the same visions and strategies.
“Even without the grant, we will move forward,” Burdelski said.
Part of the city’s 10-prong plan includes:
*Hiring a concierge, who would guide entrepreneurs and property owners to each other and through the network of funding, zoning, and regulation required to bring new business to downtown and Research Parkway.
*Lease space at 55 W. Main St., the former Middlesex Community College Meriden Center, for the Innovation Center to serve as a home for the concierge, a place for educational and networking activities, meeting space, and possibly co-working space. A proposed lease agreement with the landlord is contingent on the city receiving the grant.
* The City That Feeds Itself component of the plan provides a platform for building local food supply chains led by Trifecta Eco Systems leader Eric Francis. Trifecta at 290 Pratt St. has received state and federal grants to develop educational and economic programs that stimulate businesses and a food-related curriculum.
“This project is expected to drive the likelihood of innovation in Meriden by encouraging cross pollination of siloed community groups, including Radio Frequency Systems, MidState Medical Center, Raggozino Foods, local food entrepreneurs, and collegiate programs,” according to the grant application.
* The plan also calls for collegiate programs designed to bring business-minded college students from across the state to Meriden in partnership with the Connecticut Consortia of Entrepreneurial Educators. Plan leaders seek to connect with Central Connecticut State University, Middlesex Community College and other colleges and universities to develop a central campus to serve students in the city and surrounding areas. The former hospital on Cook Avenue is viewed as a potential site.
* Making Meriden Competitive aims to match existing and prospective entrepreneurs with available properties and provide seed money to businesses and property owners to implement ideas. The program is modeled on the Motor City Match program in Detroit.
Team leaders on the Implementation Places plan include Burdelski, Assistant Superintendent of Meriden Public Schools Dr. Miguel Cardona, Lynn A Faria, community relations at MidState Medical Center, Pam Fields, ARC of Meriden-Wallingford Inc., Eric Francis, Trifecta Ecosystems Inc., Ross Gulino, real estate agent, developer and landlord, George McGoldrick, architect, Moore, Marc Nemeth, owner Jonal Laboratories, Michael Rohde, of the Community Health Center and Welsh, of the Meriden Economic Development Corp.