Legislators urge businesses to keep pressure on at CT Business Day
By Steve Smith - Staff Writer
Statewide - posted Thu., Mar. 7, 2013
According to Gov. Dannel Malloy, Connecticut needs to challenge Samuel Clemens, who referred to Connecticut as the state of the “land of steady habits.”
“He said that when Hartford was one of the 10 richest cities in the world,” Malloy said. “He said that when we were beating everyone. There is a certain truth that we have remained steady in those habits. Unfortunately, we have remained steady for far too long. We assumed, I think, as a state that since times were good, they would always continue to be good.”
Hundreds of small business owners and representatives of chambers of commerce from across the state convened at CT Business Day at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford on March 6. The event, hosted by the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, allows business people to speak directly with legislators about their concerns.
Malloy was the keynote speaker at the morning-long event, and said that for the 22 years prior to his taking office, the state has failed to create net new jobs. “In a time where 48 states shared in a growth of 23 million jobs, Connecticut and Michigan were the only two states not to participate,” he said. “We didn't change our ways and we didn't respond to the competitions we were in.”
Malloy said the plan, already in motion, is to make Connecticut a national leader in insurance, precision manufacturing, digital design and bio-science, and cited his education reform that was initiated last year as a contributing factor to that goal. He also spoke about the early success of the bio-science initiative at the UConn Medical Center in Farmington, and its part in “stage two,” which includes the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) graduation rates, enlarging the engineering school at UConn by 70 percent, and graduation in all four of those subjects by 47 percent.
“What I'm trying to do in Connecticut is address the shortcomings,” Malloy said. “We are a precision manufacturing capital. Yet, we don't have the engineers to replace the engineers that are retiring in the state as we speak. We don't have the machinists to replace the machinists that are retiring in the state as we speak. If we don't address these things in our community colleges, our state universities and the University of Connecticut, these jobs cannot stay in Connecticut, because we don't meet the needs. This is very much about re-positioning ourselves to win our jobs – to keep them here. If we don't make these kinds of investments, we are going to lose.”
Malloy also said programs under his tenure, including the Small Business Express program, have also been working to create jobs and retain businesses. Peter DeMallie, co-chair of the East of the River Chambers of Commerce Association, said he has found the Small Business Express Program to be successful, and asked the governor about how the state plans to increase the “economic engine” at Bradley International Airport.
Malloy pointed to the recently-formed Connecticut Airport Authority and the efforts to create the Bradley Development Zone initiative, to bring more commerce to the surrounding area. “We are now pretty far along in our conversion to the Authority,” Malloy said. “We are promoting that area, with benefits that we'll extend to companies that build facilities in that vicinity. I think we are going to see additional cargo traffic... and I think we're going to see slow growth in passenger routes, but growth nonetheless.”
In the session with legislators, state Senate Minority Leader Sen. John McKinney (R-28) and state House Republican Leader Larry Cafero (R-142) took issue with the governor's plan, calling it inconsistent. Cafero said the bipartisan cooperation between the governor's office and the legislature has accomplished much recently, but has also been having healthy debates.
“We've got big problems,” Cafero said. “But if we work together, we can do good things.”
McKinney said the governor's budget did not live up to the promises of savings from state employees, spending cuts, and no tax increases, and that contributes to a lack of consistency and stability that small businesses need. “That's the very instability that businesses are suffering from,” McKinney said. “We have an economic development strategy that picks winners and losers. Until our economic development strategy is a level playing field for all businesses, instead of picking winners and losers, I can't buy into anything with that.”
Cafero said that businesses need to continue to demand that consistency from the lawmakers. “So often it gets lost,” he said. “If you take all the small businesses and all the large businesses out there, and all of the people that you employ, and you demand a respect for business – that business is not a dirty word anymore, and that you are putting people to work and you will put more people to work... You need to demand that of every one of us, and hold us accountable.”