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Sen. Duff, Rep. Cafero, Business Owners Praise State STEP-Up Program

Business owners joined state delegates Friday.

The following is a release from the offices of Senator Bob Duff and Representative Larry Cafero:

Local businessmen joined state Senator Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and Representative Lawrence F. Cafero, Jr. (R-Norwalk) at City Hall today to tout the success of STEP-Up, Connecticut’s new employment and job training program passed as part of last October’s comprehensive Jobs Bill.

As of last week, 297 employers across Connecticut have hired 699 employees through STEP-Up, the Subsidized Training and Employment Program. In Norwalk, three companies have hired five employees with hourly wages ranging from $11 to $30 an hour. In the area served by The WorkPlace workforce investment board (Bridgeport and surrounding towns), 87 employees have been hired at 46 companies.

“In the middle of a global recession and a stubborn recovery the legislature took the bull by the horns and passed bipartisan business assistance initiatives that, a year later, are a proven success both here in Norwalk and across the state,” Sen. Duff said. “The state and the business community are partnering with programs like STEP-Up and Small Business Express. It’s a long-term commitment Connecticut has shown to its manufacturers and small businesses to help grow and expand our economy.”

“The Step-Up initiative has made a big difference both in the Greater Norwalk area and statewide to both employers and new hires. Companies have been able to expand their payrolls and put people back to work even as the state’s economy has stagnated,’’ Rep. Cafero said. He noted that last month saw a historic jump in the unemployment rate and that programs such as STEP-Up have provided incentives and relief for employers to expand their businesses.

“It’s a phenomenal program,” said John Palino, owner of the SoNo Marketplace (www.sonomarketplace.com) in South Norwalk who used STEP-Up to hire a general manager. “We’re a company that is building a market with 49 vendors, and I’ve introduced this program to my vendors as well – and one of them just got a grant. STEP-Up is really, really looking outside the box, looking at newer, smarter ways to get people back to work and to help companies take on more staff when they might otherwise have had to cut back. It’s a very successful program. It’s great.”

“At the end of the day, here’s what STEP-Up means to us,” said Ed Rodriguez, president of Penmar Industries (www.penmar-industries.com), a packaging, tape and label manufacturer located at 1 Bates Court in South Norwalk. “There’s very little help that small businesses are getting, so this is a welcome relief, especially with an aging workforce. This is almost a gift. It gives us an opportunity to find someone to fit in with our business and our culture.”

“Economic recovery begins one step at a time, and STEP-Up is one of the best tools we have to help ensure that our state is gaining jobs and expanding businesses,” noted Mark Polzella, the Employment and Training Program Director for the Labor Department. “Governor Malloy and the General Assembly continue to place a priority on supporting innovative strategies to strengthen the economy and with 700 new employees already hired as a result of this program, STEP-Up is helping Connecticut move in the right direction.”

“At the CTWorks Career Centers we have seen the immediate positive impact STEP-Up has had in helping companies to expand and putting unemployed people back to work,” said Victor Fuda, Labor Department Director at the Bridgeport CTWorks Job Center. “In fact, the program is providing far greater results if we look at the ripple effect – every new job represents an additional paycheck that will likely be spent to support other businesses, and this often translates to even more jobs.”

STEP-Up was signed into law by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as part of the Jobs Bill legislation passed by the General Assembly in October 2011. Administered by the state Department of Labor and the Connecticut’s five Workforce Investment Boards, STEP-Up provides $20 million in wage reimbursements and training grants to small businesses and manufacturers with fewer than 100 employees. A total of 322 unemployed jobseekers have been hired under the wage-subsidy program, and another 377 under the small manufacturer’s training grant.

For example, the subsidized wage program provides a wage subsidy to businesses for new hires up to $20 per hour, reimbursable up to a maximum of $12,000 (excluding benefits), over a 180 day period. The wage subsidy pays for 100% of the new employee’s salary in the first month, 75% in the second and third months, 50% in the fourth and fifth months, and 25% in the final, sixth month.

The small manufacturer training grant program provides incentives of up to $12,500 for one new hire for six months. Training must be held on-site, and grant can also be used to subsidize wages. The grant provides up to $2,500 in the first month, $2,400 the second month, $2,200 the third month, $2,000 the fourth month, $1,800 the fifth month, and $1,600 the sixth month.

The new employee must be an unemployed jobseeker, and those hired under the wage subsidy program must meet certain income requirements and reside in specific municipalities, based on population or unemployment rates.

A new enhancement to STEP-Up now allows qualifying retail businesses, non-profits and faith-based organizations to also participate. Additionally, STEP-Up will now receive another $10 million that can be applied to wage reimbursements when an employer hires a post-9/11 military veteran.

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