Region gets $900,000 Innovation Place boost

Groton and New London's attempt to resurrect a local economy that has been slow to rebound after the Great Recession received up to a $900,000 boost from the state as the region learned this week that it has been designated an Innovation Place.

The board of the entrepreneur-boosting organization CTNext, meeting Tuesday, voted to approve the Thames River Innovation Place designation along with only three others: Hartford-East Hartford, New Haven and Stamford, all of which will receive up to $2 million from the program. The designation makes the region eligible for implementation grants that total up to $6.9 million statewide, with the money expected to be augmented by private investments.

"The Thames River partnership in New London and Groton comprises a dynamic leadership team with big-idea thinking capable of getting things done," Glendowlyn Thames, executive director of CTNext, said in a statement. "From one side of the river to the other, from maker and co-working spaces to educational assets to its military connections, the Thames River consortium now has the opportunity to use its Innovation Place designation to advance many of the growth initiatives already in place."

The Thames River consortium was led by Hannah Gant of Spark Makerspace in New London and Susan Froshauer of CURE Innovation Commons in Groton. Other organizations that lent their support included Connecticut College, City of New London, New London Public Schools, Interdistrict School for Arts and Communication, Town of Groton, City of Groton, Southeastern Connecticut Enterprise Region, Ledge Light Health District, Eastern Connecticut Area Health Education Center, Writers Block Ink, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, Electric Boat and Pfizer Inc.

Thames River Innovation Place will hold a public celebration from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at CURE Innovation Commons.

In a release, the organization said it envisions the region as a "hub for innovation, entrepreneurialism and business growth." The idea behind the state Innovation Places program is to help the region's communities "become centers for entrepreneurism and innovation, magnets for talent and launching points for growth-stage companies," the organization added.

"We are so proud that New London and Groton have achieved this designation together," Gant and Froshauer said in a joint statement. "This support from the state will ignite unprecedented collaborations stimulating entrepreneurship, investment, and a range of other activities that will transform southeastern Connecticut into a global powerhouse and phenomenal place to live."

Thames River identified six major projects it would tackle as part of its Innovation Places initiative, including the creation of a Connecticut Naval Undersea Supply Chain Consortium to "capitalize on the growing national undersea business base."

Other projects involved connecting Hodges Square in New London and the Thames Street/Bridge Street area in Groton by looking into creating a pedestrian and bike pathway over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge; creating a Cultivator Kitchen to enhance food-service entrepreneurship; developing an initiative called Ignite to help foster innovation through education and networking; providing a Community Concierge service to welcome people to the region, and, finally, assessing all these initiatives through academic studies.

"The Innovation Places program brought out the best in each community," said Thames of CTNext in a statement. "We applaud each applicant for their efforts and ... look forward to continuing to work with all in the future as CTNext cultivates an environment that attracts a critical mass of talent and ideas to compete in the global innovation economy."

Shut out of being in the mix for Innovation Places implementation grants, at least for this cycle, were finalists New Britain/Farmington/Berlin, Danbury and Norwalk. They, along with the four winners, will be eligible to apply for more money next year.

l.howard@theday.com

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