Published August 01. 2014 4:00AM
A company founded by Republican lieutenant governor candidate Heather Somers benefited from a $1 million equity investment from the state in 2000 meant to spur job creation - a goal that was never met, according to the quasi-state agency now overseeing the program.
The investment meant the Connecticut Development Authority became a part owner of Hydrofera, a Windham-based manufacturer of a sponge-like antibacterial cover, until Hollister Inc. of Illinois purchased the company in 2012. CDA, which has since been merged into the quasi-state agency Connecticut Innovations, eventually received just $475,000 back through a settlement with Hydrofera.
Somers, a member of the Groton Town Council, has not been as vocal as other Republicans in criticizing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's use of public funds to attract companies to the state and keep firms from leaving. She faces convention-endorsed Rep. Penny Bacchiochi, R-Stafford, and former U.S. Comptroller General David Walker for the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor in the Aug. 12 primary.
Somers' campaign consultant Richard Foley said the investment in Hydrofera is different from the grants and loans Malloy has offered.
Foley said Malloy has engaged in "crony deals," and he was specifically critical of the $115 million the governor offered to Bridgewater Associates, a hedge fund that manages $130 billion in global investments.
He said investments like the one CDA made in Hydrofera create jobs with both the manufacturer and with suppliers and companies that support the firm.
"A hedge fund can be a guy at a desk," Foley said. "You don't need much more than that."
The CDA investment in Hydrofera required the company to create 143 jobs. But a 2013 report from CDA showed the firm had only 27 employees as of June 30, 2012. CT Innovations spokeswoman Lauren Carmody said Wednesday that Department of Labor figures showed the company had 31 employees in 2007 and 38 in 2009. She didn't have more recent figures.
Foley said the company's payroll fluctuates, but he acknowledged it remains below 50.
While Foley insisted that Hydrofera fulfilled the terms of the investment agreement, Carmody said the company agreed to pay a penalty of $80,000 at one point because it had not reached the 143-employee mark.
On Wednesday she couldn't provide the date of the penalty.
Even though Hollister purchased Hydrofera two years ago, Somers has stayed on as a consultant and she travels internationally to meet with distributors.
Somers said during an interview this week with the Journal Inquirer that she reduced her role in the company in February to focus on her campaign.
"I'm still involved in the business but I'm not there on a daily basis," she said, adding she still talks with company officials "often."