Good jobs are the engine which fuels a successful economy. Workers who can provide for their families, pay their bills and save some for the future also become the customers who allow businesses to thrive. Since the worldwide recession took a great toll on employment in our state, and the national recovery remains slow, creating jobs is essential. Growth in the job market will be the true indicator that a real recovery is underway.

There is only so much one state can do to buck an international trend, but happily a few of our job creation programs in Connecticut have met with some real success. What is more, they have been undertaken on a bipartisan basis -- a commonsense approach that seems lost on many in Washington, D.C.

Since the recession began, banks have proven reluctant to lend to small companies. Yet as a group, small businesses create more jobs than any other. The state's Small Business Express Program (EXP) provides low-interest loans and grants to help small companies expand and hire new workers. As of late January, the initiative had created or retained 7,011 jobs statewide. In Norwalk alone, eight companies have benefitted, creating at least 38 new jobs and retaining 64 more.

Those figures do not include positions that will soon be created by the eighth company, JayStar Group, Inc., which provides software and back office services to labor unions across the country. It was my privilege to visit JayStar with Rep. Larry Cafero earlier this month. With the assistance of EXP, the company aims to expand their workforce by about 50 percent, roughly another eight positions.

Another successful effort is the state's Subsidized Training and Employment Program (STEP-Up), similarly targeted at small businesses. The initiative supports new workers' salaries for six months as they receive on-the-job training in new skills. In Southwest Connecticut, this has helped create a further 148 new jobs in the past year. Statewide, more than 1,100 jobs have been created at more than 200 companies.

STEP-Up succeeds by pairing workers with companies in need of specific skills. Looking forward, I believe this is the key to making Connecticut more competitive and innovative in the global marketplace. The principle applies not only in areas like precision manufacturing, where our state excels, but also in emerging technologies like bioscience.

Governor Malloy recently announced the Next Generation Connecticut initiative to greatly expand the number of science, technology, engineering and math degrees produced at the University of Connecticut. Doing so will ensure our state's workforce is well positioned to succeed in the decades to come.

Much more remains to be done before we can say Connecticut's workforce has truly recovered from the global recession. Yet important progress is being made. The initiatives I have described above, and others like the Job Expansion Tax Credit, which provides companies with a monthly tax credit for each new employee they hire, are helping to make a difference. I am confident that with these efforts, we will be able to take full advantage of the coming national recovery.

Senator Bob Duff represents Norwalk and part of Darien in the State Senate. He serves as chairman of the Energy & Technology Committee and vice chairman of the Children's Committee.

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