Connecticut Offers a Hand to Companies

Stamford, CT. [October 17, 2008]: Rob Simmons walked around a table Thursday morning with a can of alphabet soup in his hand as he opened his remarks on being the state’s business advocate.

“Part and parcel of what I do is to be a point of contact for businesses having problems with the DOT, the DRS, the DECD, the DEP – the alphabet soup,” the former Republican congressman said at the CEO Roundtable’s monthly breakfast at the Country Club of New Canaan.

Simmons, a Central Intelligence Agency officer in Vietnam in the early 1970s, said he tries to help the state’s businesses by, among other things, posting resources online and working with them individually.

“Key to what I do is site visits,” he said. “The whole point of site visits is to see the problems from the businessman’s perspective.”

Simmons said he averages 1.6 visits a day five days a week and hands out about 8,000 business cards a year, mostly to owners of small businesses, 97 percent of which have fewer than 49 employees.

He said he takes action to help business owners on 98 percent of his visits, whether it be making referrals to state or federal agencies or proposing legislation to the General Assembly.

“Our legislature is the worst in the nation” in listening to requests from businesses for help, said Simmons, who represented eastern Connecticut’s 2nd District from 2001-07.

He said most of his requests are for financial assistance, followed by information on training and how to deal with the state bureaucracy in getting

help. Simmons said some entrepreneurs have complained about getting conflicting information from state departments on taxes and other issues.

“Whatever you get from a state agency, get it in writing,” he said. “We encounter this all the time. It’s a problem, and I will help you with that.”

Simmons said his office is limited in what it can do because it consists of him and a secretary because of Gov. Jodi Rell’s efforts to minimize state spending through a hiring freeze and other cost-cutting initiatives.

“The real thing we need to avoid here in the state of Connecticut is a tax increase on the ‘rich,’ because who’s the ‘rich?’ Joe the plumber,” he said, referring to Wednesday night’s debate between presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain.

Ohio plumber Joe Wurzelbacher was cited by the McCain as an example of someone who wants to buy a plumbing business but who he said would be hurt by Obama’s tax plans.

Simmons said the state considers a business owner with an income of $257,000 to be “rich.”

“When they say they’re going to tax the ‘rich,’ watch out,” he said.

Concerning the nation’s slow economy, he said America’s free enterprise system, which has been on an upward trend over time, is the most amazing economic engine in the world’s history.

“If the average American loses confidence in our free enterprise system, then yes, we’re in for a rough time,” he said. “Speaking for myself, I’m sticking with it. I’m riding this bear.”

Josh Katinger, chief executive officer and president of New Milford-based Web development and Internet-marketing firm Accession Media LLC, said it is comforting to know that Simmons is available to get business owners like himself through the red tape of state bureaucracy.

“It’s good just to know that he’s out there,” he said.

David Lewis, co-founder of the CEO Roundtable and president of Stamford-based human resources consulting firm Operations Inc., said he appreciates the state having a business advocate but wishes it would do more to help companies.

“There’s not a lot going on with the state,” he said.

– Staff Writer Michael C. Juliano can be reached at or 964-2417.