Network on Lady Katharine at Business After Work Next Week

By Larry McHugh

April 4, 2016

We have officially reached the month of April in Middlesex County and throughout our great country. This week marks the end of the college basketball season, the start of baseball season, and the playing of The Masters. The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce continues to be on the move in our region, and we have a busy month of events and activities planned in April.

Before previewing the chamber calendar for the month, I would like to do a quick recap of last week. On Monday afternoon, the chamber’s Tourism Steering Committee hosted its second “Let’s Make a Deal” event at the chamber office. This special meeting was designed to help our tourism partners create attractive package deals throughout our region. There was certainly a buzz in our conference room as our tourism focused members networked and put together these exciting and creative packages.

The Tourism Steering Committee works to help our members in the tourism industry flourish by creating a referral program and full partnership offerings, and to assist them with marketing and promotion. We will continue to run these very successful Let’s Make a Deal” events, and I want to thank our Tourism Steering Committee and chamber VP Johanna Bond for her great work on this important issue.

The Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce held its 32nd Annual Business After Work Auction & Taste of Downtown on March 29, 2016 at the Italian Society in Middletown. Keys were raffled off that could unlock a mystery treasure chest prize. This year's winning prize was an overnight stay at the Inn at Middletown complete with breakfast and a gift certificate to Illiano's; a prize valued at $350. Photo Credit: De Kine Photo LLC. Pictured left to right is treasure chest winner Sharon Graves, looking on is Marie Leavitt, Event Chairman Al Santostefano and Auctioneer Bill Barrows.  

The 32nd Annual Business After Work Auction & Taste of Downtown was held last Tuesday evening at the Italian Society Hall in Middletown. A crowd of close to 300 chamber members filled the hall and enjoyed delicious samplings from Tuscany Grill, NoRA Cupcake Company, Lan Chi’s Vietnamese Restaurant, Mattabesett Canoe Club at Harbor Park, Mezzo Grille, Mi Argentina Cuisine, Moonlight Sushi Bar & Grill, First & Last Tavern, La Boca Mexican Restaurant & Cantina, Herd Restaurant, and Celtic Cavern.

Both the live and silent auction were very successful, and our members enjoyed beverages provided by Mezzo Grille, Eli Cannon’s Tap Room, and Connecticut Beverage Mart. I want to take a moment to thank our Auction Committee, led by Chairman Al Santostefano, the many other volunteers who supported the event, Don DeCesare from WMRD/WLIS who served as announcer, Bill Barrows who did another fantastic job as our auctioneer, Harvest Woods Audio & Entertainment who handled music and audio, Connecticut Rental Center who donated the stages, tables, balloons and table covers, Mercy High School who donated the bidding paddles and treasure chest, Re/Max Edge who assisted with donations and gifts, Amato’s Toy and Hobby who donated the mustaches for this mustache-themed event, and Ken Ahnell and The Connection Power Team for their help with setup and breakdown.

Another Business After Work Auction & Taste of Downtown is in the books, and we are already looking forward to next year.

On Wednesday afternoon, chamber VP Jeff Pugliese represented our organization at an important press conference held at Middletown City Hall. The press conference, featuring Mayor Dan Drew, Common Council members Tom Serra, Gerry Daley, Seb Giuliano, Linda Salafia, Gene Nocera, and Rob Blanchard, Middletown Finance Director Carl Erlacher, and the city’s Bond Counsel and Financial Advisors, was called to announce that the city’s bond rating with Standard & Poor’s has been upgraded to AAA, the highest rating the agency gives.

This remarkable achievement is a credit to the sound financial management employed by city leaders for many years.

On behalf of the chamber, I congratulate Mayor Drew, members of the council, the city’s finance team, and everyone involved in making sure that Middletown’s finances are in good shape so that the city can continue to be a great place to live, work and play.

The chamber is proud to partner with the city on economic development, workforce development, the promotion of our downtown through events and activities, and on many other initiatives. There is an old saying that teamwork makes the dream work, and that continues to be true in the City of Middletown.

Two important chamber divisions will hold their April meetings this week. The Portland and East Hampton Division will meet on Wednesday at Portland Public Library. Pat Bandzes, Community Relations and Economic Development for Eversource, will give a presentation on Understanding Energy Costs and regional infrastructure projects that will impact the state’s energy landscape over the next several years. Art Marcelynas of CT Public Utilities Regulatory Authority will also be on hand to present on best practices for the choosing of an electric supplier in the State of Connecticut.

Our Chester, Deep River and Essex Division meets on Friday at Essex Savings Bank. Middlesex Hospital President and CEO Vin Capece and Vice President for Strategic Planning and Ambulatory Operations Gary Havican will give a presentation on the hospital’s recent initiatives including its exciting partnership with the Mayo Clinic. The chamber divisions continue to be a critical piece of our organization.

The 2016 First Niagara Workshop Series continues April 12 with a business workshop titled, “Workplace Conflict Resolution.” Attorney Joshua A. Hawks-Ladds of Pullman & Comley, LLC will discuss best practices in dealing with workplace conflicts, including having an appropriate problem resolution policy, recognizing and dealing with problem employees, and how to best train employees to avoid conflicts. Cost is $35 for chamber members and $45 for nonmembers. Registration information can be found at

I want to take a moment to once again thank First Niagara New England Regional President Jeff Hubbard, and the entire First Niagara team for their great support of this important workshop series.

The chamber’s Legislative Leadership Series continues April 11, when we will welcome Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff to a meeting at the Courtyard by Marriott sponsored by Eversource, and will conclude on April 25, when we welcome House Minority Leader Themis Klarides and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano to a special meeting sponsored by Connecticut Water Company. These Legislative Leadership Series events are held every year during the legislative session and are meant to complement our Legislative Breakfast which features members of the Middlesex County delegation.

Our 2016 Legislative Breakfast, sponsored by Comcast, was held on Feb. 19 and it was a very successful event, and the first leg of our leadership series with Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey held on March 11, was sponsored by Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, P.C.

Our April Member Business After Work Networking Event is April 14. The event will be held on the Lady Katharine Cruise Boat which will be docked at Harbor Park, 80 Harbor Drive in Middletown. Chamber members can board the boat, The Mystic, at 5 p.m. and network while docked until 6:30 p.m. when the boat takes a trip down river and returns at the close of the Business After Work event at 7 p.m. It has been a few years since our last networking event on the Lady Katharine Cruise Boat, so please join us for what is sure to be a great time. This event, as all of our Business After Work events do, will feature a terrific spread of food, drink and of course, the best networking around.

The 2016 High School Career Fair Expo is April 28 at the Freeman Athletic Center on the campus of Wesleyan University. This major annual event, presented by the chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council, The Middlesex Consortium of Schools, and Wesleyan University’s Center for Community Partnerships, will be attended by students from Middletown, Cromwell, Durham, Middlefield, Portland, East Hampton, Chester, Deep River, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth and Vinal Technical High School.

The Career Fair Expo is an exploration event, a way to introduce our high school students to the many different career fields out there. The 29th Annual Business & Education Partnership and Hal Kaplan Middletown Mentor Program Recognition Breakfast is scheduled for Friday, April 29th. The chamber’s Business & Education Partnership Advisory Council serves as a link between member businesses and educational leaders from Middlesex County Schools.

The keynote speaker for the event will be Michael Roth, President of Wesleyan University. We look forward to both of these important events and I will be sure to share more information as we move through the month of April.

I must close this week’s column on a sad note after Middlesex County lost a great leader and a dedicated public servant last weekend. Deep River First Selectman Dick Smith passed away suddenly at the age of 65 on March 25. Dick Smith, or Smitty as his friends called him, was First Selectman of Deep River for 26 years. He was an outstanding municipal leader but more importantly, he was an even better man.

Dick graduated from the Municipal Police Training Academy in 1973 and became a Constable in Deep River before serving as First Selectman. He was a police officer for a remarkable total of 43 years. We are very fortunate in Middlesex County to have outstanding and dedicated public servants in a variety of important positions. Many of them, from both political parties and from all different backgrounds, have noted that Dick Smith was a mentor, a trusted colleague, and a friend.

Dick Smith was a wonderful man who was dedicated to his town, his family, and our region. He will be missed by all of us. We will always appreciate his longtime service to Deep River and to Middlesex County.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Deep River, and especially, Dick’s daughter Christine, his son Richard, his grandchildren, his brothers Robert and P.J., his sisters Lois and Patricia, and his entire network of family and friends at this difficult time. Middlesex County has lost a great man, but we will always remember Dick fondly and will always honor his memory and his service. We are all better off for knowing and working with Dick Smith.

For more information on chamber events and activities, please visit