Legislators Honored For Roles In Economic Development

Vine & Branch PhotographyTwo Branford legislators were honored Wednesday by Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), for their accomplishments in economic development.

State Rep. Lonnie Reed (D-Branford) and former State Rep. Pat Witlitz (D-Branford and Guilford) were honored during a Women’s Day luncheon at the Connecticut Open tennis tournament in New Haven.

Smith co-hosts the annual luncheon and award ceremonies with New Haven mayor Toni Harp, and they each pay tribute to women in small businesses, government or nonprofits.

Smith told the Eagle she often presents these awards to women who run small businesses, but this year she decided to honor Reed and Widlitz.

“They are women who have done outstanding work in the legislature fighting for women’s issues, as well as economic development and environmental issues,” Smith said.

Reed could not attend the ceremony Wednesday because of a previous commitment. She later told the Eagle she was honored to have their efforts acknowledged. “Commissioner Smith, Rep. Widlitz, and I fought long and hard to help accomplish some extraordinary economic development goals, creating jobs for our state and our districts,” she said. “I am proud to have played a role and I thoroughly enjoyed every minute.”

Widlitz said she was very pleased to receive the award. “I tremendously enjoyed working with the commissioner. She’s done wonderful projects for this state that are very beneficial. It was an honor to work with her and with Lonnie.”

Widlitz was chair of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee.

Reed and Widlitz worked side-by-side on economic development and environmental projects and legislation for six years before Widlitz retired.  Many of those projects involved Smith and the DECD.

“They’ve been really outstanding legislators,” Smith said.

Smith noted Reed’s work as chair of the Energy and Technology Committee, and co-chair of the bipartisan Life Sciences Caucus. “She’s been a great partner to DECD in terms of helping to build this bioscience ecosystem that’s developing in Branford as well as New Haven.”

File photoFor example, Reed and Widlitz worked with Commissioner Smith in 2014 to help bring Mount Sinai’s genomics lab to Branford.

In April, Reed announced that Mount Sinai’s bioscience research firm Sema4 was expanding its operation in Branford and adding a division in Stamford, creating 400 new jobs.

At the luncheon Smith told a story about how Widlitz brought the Jackson Laboratory bill to the House floor to support their entry into Connecticut. The research institute is headquartered in Maine, but they chose to put their genomic center in Farmington.

“She just did an outstanding job, Smith said of Widlitz. “She does her homework and she really understands things… I was very impressed with her work.”

Reed announced in April that she would not seek re-election after serving 10 years as the representative for the 102nd District, which includes five of Branford’s seven voting districts.

Widlitz retired in 2014 after serving 20 years representing the 98th District, which includes part of Branford and Guilford.

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