Published April 01. 2012 4:00AM
Groton - Tom Vignato, a former hotel manager, knows he is taking a risk with Fields of Fire, the paintball facility he's building on Noank-Ledyard Road. But he believes in himself. He's willing to take the chance.
Vignato said he was astounded, though, when he learned that the state Department of Economic and Community Development was willing to take a chance on him.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced earlier this week that Fields of Fire was among five small businesses to receive grants through the state's Small Business Express Program, which was established as part of the jobs bill passed during the October special legislative session. Vignato's paintball facility was awarded $100,000, while small businesses in Bridgeport, Cheshire, Marlborough and Middletown also earned awards.
Vignato, who decided to start the business when he was laid off after nine years at Mohegan Sun, will use the grant to buy equipment and materials to create his paintball battlefields. The business is expected to have three full-time employees and 20 or more seasonal positions.
"Most of the money will go toward building the guts of the park," Vignato said. "I want to build a park that rivals the best in the country. Now I can spend what it takes to get stuff that looks more sophisticated. Scrap fences and things like that would have worked fine for the time being, but don't give that ... yeah, that wow factor."
Vignato said he really hadn't planned on applying for the grant, but a friend who also owns a business was going to an Express Program workshop and suggested he come along.
"I said, 'Sure, I'll take the ride. But they're not going to give money to a paintball business.'"
"It was a very good presentation," he recalled. "They said it was a streamlined process, and people were there to help with the application. The woman I worked with was great, so I put my application in."
Vignato said that a couple of weeks went by and he became convinced that nothing would come of it.
"Then I got an email asking for more documents," he said. "It was streamlined. Things just started happening after that."
He got another email about two weeks ago telling him his application had been passed "up the line."
A week later, he was informed that all of the documentation was signed and approved.
"They were just waiting for the funds to be released," he said. "When I saw the money in my account, I screamed. My wife thought something happened."
As excited as he was, Vignato said, he also was appreciative.
"When I think of business grants, I think of professional businesses, This isn't even what I would think of," he said. But I'm grateful. This isn't a profession, or a career for somebody. But it's a job. This is helping a little guy help other little guys. It's cool that the people this will help aren't excluded from the system."