Region makes final Innovation Places pitch

Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, left, leads a contingent of officials Friday, May 12, 2017, down Thames Street on a tour of Groton and New London with members of the CTNext board. (Lee Howard/The Day)
Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, left, leads a contingent of officials Friday, May 12, 2017, down Thames Street on a tour of Groton and New London with members of the CTNext board. (Lee Howard/The Day)

Leaders of an effort to jump-start the region's economy with the help of several hundred thousand dollars in state funding made their final pitches Friday to members of the CTNext board, who will be deciding on the so-called Innovation Places grants.

Starting at the CURE Innovation Commons business incubator in Groton, where formal pitches were made by local leaders of the Thames River Innovation Places effort, CTNext board members George Mathanool of Groton and Todd Lavieri of Fairfield County were joined by the agency's executive director, Glendowlyn Thames, as they were taken on a walk down Thames Street in Groton. They then proceeded onto the Thames River water taxi to New London, concluding their tour at Spark Makerspace.

At Spark, Thames emphasized that CTNext is scrutinizing the local team and its ability to execute its ideas, as well as the strategy behind the plans to determine if it is transformative. In addition, the agency is looking hard at the leveraging of private capital.

"Skin in the game ... is really, really critical," Thames said.

Thames said afterward that she was impressed with the local showing, which included the mayors of Groton town and city as well as New London. In addition, many of the region's economic-development officials were in attendance, including Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut; Groton City Planner Barbara Goodrich; Paige R. Bronk, economic and community development manager in Groton; Tammy Daugherty, director of planning and development in New London, and Nancy Cowser, executive director of the Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region.

Key ideas identified locally during the Innovation Places process include the development of an entrepreneurship culture through an organization called Ignite that would initiate code jams, hackathons, education programs and startup weekends, among other events.

Other plans ranged from an undersea naval supply consortium to a community concierge service to welcome people to the region to a cultivator kitchen that would spark food-service entrepreneurship.

"We're rallying around specific high-impact projects," Cowser said.

"There's already a lot of momentum here," added Mary Anne Rooke of Lyme, executive director of the Crossroads Venture Group.

Thames River Innovation Places, formed initially by Hannah Gant of Spark Makerspace and Susan Froshauer of Connecticut United for Research Excellence, already has made it through two rounds of elimination in hopes of sharing an estimated $6 million in state money this year to spur an economic revival in an area that has been one of the hardest hit nationwide in terms of jobs recovery.

Local officials have been focusing largely on the impact of thousands of new jobs at Electric Boat as a key driver of the economy going forward. The region's affordability, multi-faceted transportation infrastructure and central location connecting New York to Boston also are significant selling points.

"We feel like we have the perfect recipe to reignite the economic history of this place," Gant said.

Grant winners will be announced next month. The region is competing against Danbury, Hartford-East Hartford, Central Connecticut, New Haven, Norwalk and Stamford.

l.howard@theday.com

Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, welcomes members of the CTNext board before a formal presentation of the Thames River Innovation Places proposal Friday, May 12, 2017, at CURE Innovation Commons in Groton. (Lee Howard/The Day)
Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, welcomes members of the CTNext board before a formal presentation of the Thames River Innovation Places proposal Friday, May 12, 2017, at CURE Innovation Commons in Groton. (Lee Howard/The Day)

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