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TheStreet Open House

How Connecticut Is Fighting for Small Business

Stocks in this article: AETGEHIGUSTXRX

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Connecticut is home to big corporations such as General Electric (GE), United Technologies (UTX), Hartford Financial (HIG), Aetna (AET) and Xerox (XER), among others, but small businesses account for about 93% of the state's employers.

As the state, like others, struggles to come out of the recession, it's critical for it to encourage companies to not only hire and stick around as they grow, but to provide a friendly environment for small businesses to launch.

Gov. Dannel Malloy signed a jobs bill in 2011 to help stimulate the state's economy. Connecticut's unemployment remains above the national average. As of March, the state's unemployment rate was 8%, down from its peak of 9.4% in the third quarter of 2010, but still higher than the current national average of 7.6%, according to the Labor Department.

One initiative that came from the law was the implementation of the Small Business Express program. The goal of the program is to provide funding to established businesses with fewer than 100 employees that are looking to expand but can't obtain traditional financing.

Approximately 16 months after the program's launch, the results are encouraging. So far, 657 small companies have received $87 million in either low-interest loans or grants. The program has helped create roughly 2,200 jobs and retain nearly 6,000, according to Connecticut's Department of Economic and Community Development.

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"This program has made the difference for businesses across all sectors in the state. From traditional small companies who need capital to expand to high-tech ventures, the program has been a remarkable success -- one on which we should continue to build," Catherine Smith, commissioner of DECD, said in a statement last month.

Last month, another $60 million in funding was made available by state legislators for the Small Business Express program, bringing the total funding available since its launch to $160 million.

Malloy has proposed an additional $100 million allocation over the next two years to continue the program.

"What we're trying to do is grow jobs in the state, and I think the governor and I both share the view that Connecticut had been behind in terms of stimulating the economy as it came out of the recession, and so we really wanted to do everything we could," Smith said in an interview with TheStreet.

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