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State's State Worries Business

October 24, 2006
Column By RICK GREEN, Courant Staff Writer

Gov. Rell, when she's not holding her grandson on her lap, serves up a reassuring dish of steaming macaroni and cheese and tells us everything is nice.

It isn't.

Thousands of city children aren't learning to read. College graduates are beating a path out. Employers are getting killed with healthcare costs. I-95 remains a traffic nightmare.

You think your kids are going to find jobs and a house they can afford here?

Don't believe me. Go talk to one of the state's business leaders if you want to hear more of this radical talk.

The guys in suits aren't complaining so much about taxes. They're talking about transportation, education, healthcare and housing as they watch our state become less competitive.

Some are even willing to speak publicly about the boardroom and golf course chatter.

"I don't find any of this to be a surprise to me," said Roger Joyce, executive vice president of Bilco, an 80-year-old manufacturer of bulkhead doors in West Haven. A Republican and the chairman of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, Joyce has watched as other states outflank Connecticut.

"That is what brought me out of the closet in support of John DeStefano," said Joyce, who recently spent over two years trying to hire a qualified mechanical engineer.

"We have to be involved. Many business leaders in the state recognize the importance of education, right down to early childhood education. We didn't see this in the past. It's time to start addressing these problems instead of creating commissions and boards."

Oh, but we're good at that. There's a new sprawl agency. A special cabinet is looking into early childhood education. We do an outstanding job pretending that the facts aren't frightening.

At the debate the other night with Democrat DeStefano, Gov. Rell reminded us - when she wasn't talking mac and cheese - how proud we should be that 58 percent of our high school graduates choose to go college in Connecticut.

Sounds great, right? But these figures also show we have one of the worst averages for any state. Meanwhile, researchers say kids who go to college at home tend to stay around. In Connecticut, we export them.

From healthcare to preschool to housing, business groups are talking about the real problems.

"There is a growing concern among the business community that we are not planning for the future at all. We are not in a position to be competitive in the world economy," said Thomas A. Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. "There is a need for major overhaul."

One business leader told me that in the absence of leadership from Hartford "the intellectual energy has switched to the business community. We are willing to look at things we rejected 20 years ago."

In Fairfield County, a regional business group is challenging the way our schools teach reading - because our colleges aren't doing enough.

"You are seeing the business community react to the issues created by no growth," said Christopher Bruhl, CEO of the Business Council of Fairfield County.

"You are hearing people say what we have now is threatened if we fail to act now," Bruhl said. "Not only is our growth virtually nonexistent, but our wealth is threatened as well."

Scary stuff. Why, it's enough to make a Republican vote for a Democrat.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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