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How Connecticut Is Fighting for Small Business

"This is really about helping companies, particularly those that are on the verge of really starting to grow again and have the ability to do that," Smith added. "We thought it was important to step in."

Before she was appointed commissioner in 2011, Smith held executive positions at financial services firms such as Aetna and ING (ING).

"When I came into state government, the first thing that I realized was that it was so hard to do business with the state that even companies that needed help were not willing to work with us," Smith said. "By going with the governor on a jobs tour -- we met with about 500 companies in and around all of the different parts of the state and they all said, 'We're desperate for capital. We need help in this difficult economic time.' This was two years ago and the economy was still very much fledgling coming out of the Great Recession.

"We came up with this idea for the Small Business Express and we called it express specifically to send the message to the small-business community that this was not going to be a long process," Smith added. "This is going to be something they could get through in a very short period of time."

Smith is also encouraged by how a program such as the Small Business Express could help with the overall urban regeneration of towns and cities that were hardest hit by the recession.

"One of the real areas that we've focused on are some of the harder-hit and larger cities. People know about Greenwich and they know about Norwalk, but they might not think of Bridgeport as being in particularly good shape. Of the loans we've done so far, 12 of them are in downtown Bridgeport," she said. "Twenty-two of the companies we've given money to in the Small Businesses Express Program were located in Waterbury, which is another example."

Smith is also leading two other programs to bolster economic development among small businesses and start-ups -- Connecticut's Innovation Ecosystem and Next Generation Connecticut.

Innovation Ecosystem is a $5 million public-private partnership aimed at spurring development of promising new products and technologies as well as innovative companies in the state. The program, which launched in October 2012, features four innovation hubs in cities across the state that provide financial, technical, professional and mentoring resources as well as connecting young companies to potential investors.

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