As of this week, the state has assisted 657 companies in the Small Business Express program, which started in early 2012. That includes $52 million in loans and $34 million in matching grants, DECD spokesman Jim Watson said.
Many small businesses in the program should not receive aid at all because they don't bring new commerce into the state: Local stores, restaurants, bake shops and the like. Wyman and others in the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy disagree, saying — incorrectly — that a job is a job.
Callison's loans — a $75,000 renewable line of credit and a low-interest loan of $75,000 — require her to create just two jobs, a low barrier that she will soon meet. And her business, which collects about 90 percent of its revenue from outside of Connecticut, is exactly the sort that the program should assist.
Connecticut, in fact, has been a tough market for Callison, as retailers have mostly spurned her product — an exception being the boutique at the Helen and Harry Gray Cancer Center at Hartford Hospital. "You have to find people who are forward thinking and willing to take a risk on a new type of business," said Callison, who has six non-employee sales representatives around the country and an active web site, http://www.lscdistribution.com.
It would be hard to find a business owner who's a more passionate believer in her product, and I've met some extremely devoted entrepreneurs. "It's my third child," she said.
Her second child is the 15-year-old daughter of her sister, who did not survive her cancer. Callison also lost her father to cancer and her mother as well, just this past February.
The business is, for Callison, the latest twist in a career that has included horse training and interior decorating, always with an entrepreneurial bent.
"The financial gains don't mean a whole lot to me. If we do make it, it's all going to a charity," she said.
Wyman gasped when Callison told her about her charity idea, the "Wig-Out Hair Ball." No, it's not a dance to raise money for wigs for cancer survivors — it's a fundraiser for families, just to give them some money to get by, Callison said. "Crazy headdress, let your inhibitions down and you have a great time," she said. "These walks are great and all, but as a cancer survivor I would rather go to a party."
With Wyman, Callison did, in fact, plan to go to a few cancer fundraiser walks around the state. But as a single mother with two children and a growing business at a critical stage, Callison has her hands full.
It was a fun visit for Wyman, herself an x-ray technician by training, in no small part because she was able to spend much of the time holding 3 1/2-month-old Jovani, whose mother, Jennifer Nieves, works at LSC. Jovani, a regular at the firm, is a reminder for Nieves, employee Nancy Santini and Callison that all good businesses have a reason for being that's bigger than profits.