ESPN promises new jobs under new Conn. program

By Stephen Singer

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 4:15 p.m. MDT

The campus of ESPN is seen here in Bristol, Conn., Tuesday, Aug. 2, 2011. ESPN Will get a $17.5 million state loan to build its new Digital Center, plus up to $1.2 million for a job-training grant program.

Jessica Hill, Associated Press

BRISTOL, Conn. — ESPN and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Tuesday the construction of a digital technology building and the addition of at least 200 jobs over five years in exchange for millions of dollars in state tax breaks.

Malloy and officials at the Bristol-based ESPN said the sports network will be the third company participating in Connecticut's "First Five" program that combines state tax credits to encourage five businesses to create jobs.

ESPN will get a 10-year, $17.5 million state loan to build its digital center and up to $1.2 million for a job-training grant program. The Connecticut Development Authority also may help with as much as $6 million in tax exemptions on certain equipment and construction materials.

The jobs announcement is ESPN's second since March when it said it will add 125 jobs, primarily by moving jobs from its publishing division in New York. It employs 3,800 workers at Bristol.

Ed Durso, executive vice president at ESPN, said the commitment to now add 200 positions is "over and above any jobs we've ever spoken about or mentioned."

ESPN said as many as 800 jobs could be created as state tax breaks are available. The $1.2 million earmarked for job training ranges from $300,000 for 200 new jobs to $150,000 for each additional 100 jobs.

The state's so-called "First Five" initiative is intended to consolidate various tax credits to draw the first five businesses that invest $25 million in Connecticut and create 200 jobs over five years. Cigna and online ticket exchange TicketNetwork Inc. were the first two businesses to promise more jobs in exchange for state tax credits.

The three companies already operate in Connecticut. Malloy told reporters after the announcement at ESPN that negotiating to bring companies from outside Connecticut is more complicated because office and manufacturing space must be acquired.

"Those deals are going to take a little bit longer to bring about," he said.

Durso said the tax credits made a difference in expanding at its Bristol site. ESPN, a unit of The Walt Disney Co., also has operations in California, North Carolina and Texas.

"I think it's significant," he said. "These kinds of projects, you're looking for every nickel and we have to justify to our corporate parent what we're spending and why. And if we can add to that mix the support that we get from the state every bit counts."

Durso said ESPN had plans to grow in Connecticut.

"Exactly how and where and why was always an open question," he said.

The jobs to be added are in programming, sales, marketing, research and administrative support, Durso said.

A Republican lawmaker criticized providing state incentives to companies already doing business in Connecticut. Elected officials should do more to cut taxes and improve transportation to attract and keep business, said Rep. Selim G. Noujaim, a member of the Commerce Committee.

"They're already in Connecticut and how much are we spending to keep them here?" he asked. "We need to look at the cost of doing business in Connecticut rather than spending millions of dollars to entice businesses to Connecticut."

However, Edward Deak, a Fairfield University economist, said state assistance to Cigna and ESPN cements the presence of two large companies in Connecticut.

"It would it be nice if someone brought 200 brand new jobs in laser technology," he said. "That would be great. But keeping jobs here isn't terrible, either."

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