For more than a year-and-a-half, Richard Karnes was out of work, sleeping on a friend’s floor and paying $50 a week in rent. He made a few dollars here and there going to places like Labor Ready, but money was rare.
But about two months ago he was hired at Jaypro Sports Equipment, a Waterford business on Route 85, to work in their manufacturing department. Jaypro was able to hire him through the state’s new STEP UP program, which pays for almost all of his salary for the first six months he has the job.
“It was just disbelief,” said Karnes, who will be one of six people hired by Jaypro because of the STEP UP program. “I finally have a job. I have a new phone in my pocket - food - I’m even going to get my own apartment this week.”
Karnes' story is one of 218 successes across the state with the STEP UP program, according to Department of Labor Commissioner Glenn Marshall. A press conference was held Wednesday at the Waterford business to highlight the STEP UP program and how Jaypro has taken advantage of it.
“My hats off to you, I’m sure you are going to make fine employees for this company,” Marshall said. “And more importantly, you are back to work and paying taxes. That is what it is all about.”
The STEP UP program is one that provides money for the first six months of salaries to employers who hire unemployed employees. The state will pay up to $2,500 of a new employee’s salary in the first month after being hired, $2,400 in the second, $2,200 in the third, $2,000 in the fourth, $1,800 in the fifth and $1,600 in the sixth month, and then the funding is cut off.
For Jaypro, it was the perfect fit, company Executive Vice President Bill Wild said. Jaypro, which produces large-scale sports products from basketball hoops to goal posts, said the company is often reluctant to hire new employees because it takes them a while to train them.
“We have a very diverse inventory, and there is a lot to learn,” Wild said. “So in the first few months, they are just learning. This makes us more reluctant to hire somebody new. But if we get some assistance those first six months, it helps.”
Wild found out about the STEP UP program and decided to enlist. With that, he will hire six more employees in manufacturing at about $11 or $12 per hour, something he probably wouldn’t have down without the STEP UP program.
“The economy of schools and towns that really form are main market are really struggling to recover,” Wild said. “And we have been reluctant to hire people because of that. Programs like STEP UP… have given us the confidence to pursue growth strategies we might not have tried otherwise.”
Wild has hired four of the employees already, and will hire two more, all in manufacturing. Wild has had to lay people off in the winter months, a slow time for his company, but he is hoping to keep them on.
“I love this job,” said Stanley Martinez, one of the employees hired because of the STEP UP program. “The crew is great, they are always there when you need help, you don’t even need to ask help. Everybody is great.”
At the press conference, State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said she hopes to expand the $5 million program to include companies that have less than 100 employees instead of just companies with less than 50 employees. Stillman also said she is pushing for the program to give incentives for the hiring of post-9/11 veterans.
Marshall said the program has lead to 218 jobs being created across the state, and said he hoped the press conference would bring more attention to the program. For Wild, who said programs like this actually allow manufactures to export to China instead of import from China, this plan was another step in the right direction.
“These are taxpayer funded programs that work,” Wild said. “And that is really a simple message I can put out as an employer in Southeastern Connecticut.”