2011 was a challenging year if you were running a small business. WNPR’s Harriet Jones has been speaking with small business owners in Connecticut about the year just past, and looking ahead into 2012.
2011 was supposed to be the year the economic recovery really picked up steam. For small business owners, it depends where you were standing.
“It’s been the toughest year, definitely been the toughest year.”
Kelly Smith owns KGS Insurance Services in Middletown. She provides employee benefits services to small and mid-sized business all over the state.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in my industry as well as others, and I think everybody’s just trying to hang in there and get by, and we’re all hoping it’s going to improve as time goes on.”
On the other hand, some Connecticut industries have done very well this year.
“2011’s been very good for us – about 30 percent growth over 2010.”
Chris DiPentima runs Pegasus Manufacturing, a small aerospace contractor – also in Middletown.
“We hired about 15 new employees, so we’re in a growth mode right now – the aerospace and defense industry in general in Connecticut for contract manufacturers is in a growth mode. Finding employees, qualified employees, is an issue that we have and probably will continue to have into 2012.”
The construction industry by contrast continued to face significant challenges this year. Norton Wheeler runs the Mystic River Building Company, a homebuilding business in Southeastern Connecticut.
“The projects are fewer and far between, and the customers obviously recognize the fact that it’s a buyers market, and so therefore we have to be sharp on our toes and very competitive.”
On the other hand, he says 2011 has allowed him to see light at the end of the tunnel.
“In the last year or so we’ve been gaining a larger market share and increasing our dollars and our revenues, so we’re looking forward to 2012 being one of our better years. We’re really putting a push on green building and energy efficiency.”
Green tech in general has had advantages over other, older industries, but it wasn’t immune from the continued sluggishness in the economy this year. Clearwater Systems provides green water treatment solutions for commercial buildings. CEO Anupam Bhargava says the lack of new construction has led them in different directions.
“2011 has been a very dynamic year. We provide technology that’s often built into buildings in their new construction phase. But increasingly customers of existing facilities are interested in the opportunity to retrofit the business, so we’ve really shifted our focus.”
And what if you chose 2011 to start a new business? Renee Berube did just that, launching Renee’s Working Girl Catering company in Killingly. She says the state of the economy wasn’t her primary focus.
“It’s been a long road. I just started two weeks ago, but it was about a year and a half ago I started the whole concept. I’ve worked at all these different jobs my whole life and I’ve seen how not to do things – it’s kind of a joke with me – and I just want a chance to do things my way and do things the right way – at least what I believe is the right way.”
Eugene Montano was another new business owner this year, opening Grandma Rosie’s Diner in Waterbury. For the moment he’s kept his third shift job until the business finds its feet.
“Sometimes you get pessimistic. Sometimes you have to be optimistic, and once you get the strong feeling of optimistic you have to go with it, and you can’t stop. Even though there may be times when things may get rough when you’re in business and while you’re starting, you’ve got to keep the positive attitude.”
And what keeps Montano going through those rough times?
“Just serving the people and having them say thanks, it was good – that’s the best thing for me.”
As 2011 closes small business owners around the state are looking forward to a New Year of bringing their customers what they want.
For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.