WINDHAM/WILLIMANTIC — U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, was given a grand tour of the Thread City Tuesday by local and business leaders for National Small Business Week.
Courtney toured a number of Willimantic businesses and organizations, including the United Services’ behavioral health center site that’s under construction, WILI radio, the Path Academy, the Salvation Army Community Center and MicroPrecision LLC in South Windham.
National Small Business Week is a national recognition event to honor entrepreneurs.
Courtney said the whole tour, which started with an early-morning breakfast hosted by the Windham Region Chamber of Commerce, proved the city is going in the right direction with a number of great improvements.
“It feels like we are getting closer to a virtuous cycle in terms of development and improvement,” Courtney said.
Diane Nadeau, the Windham Region Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive officer, said the purpose of the tour was for Courtney “to see all of the people, the businesses and organizations who currently are investing a great deal of money, time and resources into our region to make it a better place.”
Nadeau accompanied Courtney on his tour throughout the day, with the first stop being the United Services behavioral health center.
The $14 million center is currently under construction with the help of nearly $10 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s rural development grant.
The center will be located in Windham near the Mansfield town line on North Frontage Road (Route 632).
“It’s fun seeing this, it’s a transformation for the area.” Courtney said. “This is a poster child for how the USDA can help eastern Connecticut, because we are the most rural, sparsely populated area and it’s hard to finance projects like this because of that characteristic.”
John Goodman, director of communications for United Services, said the facility will consolidate treatment for autism, domestic violence services, vocational support and more.
“We’ve always been able to have the support of the congressional delegation and we are very pleased to have such a responsive delegation from Washington,” he said.
Courtney, who visited the WILI radio station at 720 Main St., explained the importance of supporting small businesses while on the air.
“This week, all across the country, we are putting a spotlight on small businesses, which are a vast majority of businesses in the country and most economists would tell you they are the real engine that drives job growth,” he said. “And I really believe in Windham, a lot of good things are happening (here).”
And Courtney was reassured of that when he stopped by the Path Academy charter school, which is an alternative education high school on Main Street in Willimantic, giving students the chance to get their diplomas despite certain challenges they are facing.
There, he talked to students who shared their school work with him and wished them all the best in the future endeavors.
Path Principal Gino LoRicco told Courtney the academy now strives to become a stronger part of the community.
Enid Rey, chief executive officer of Our Piece of the Pie, the nonprofit that operates Path, said the school is trying to “go beyond the traditional school parameters.”
Courtney then visited his last two venues, the Salvation Army Community Center and MicroPrecision LLC, which concluded his tour.
Lt. Denise Salmon, corps officer at the Salvation Army Community Center on Pleasant Street in Willimantic, told Courtney the center has overcome a number of positive changes, such as refurbishing the interior in light of new programs.
Salmon said the center is planning to open an after-school program for children along with other summer programs this year.
Courtney got to see how train air horns are tested prior to being installed during his last tour of the day, at MicroPrecision LLC, a fast-growing manufacturing company that makes machined components and systems for submarines, trains and more.
“I’m hearing a very positive story about the community being on the upside, whether it’s relatively modest stories like refurbishing the interior of the Salvation Army or something more elaborate like upgrading a broadcast tower at WILI,” Courtney said.
“Also, there’s a lot of real movement in terms of commercial property on Main Street and interest from investors. There’s a tangible change happening.”
https://www.thechronicle.com/stories/20180502COURTNEYTOUR.phpMay 2nd, 2018