The strength of Connecticut's future economy depends on the boldness and the vision of the choices we make today. Not only is now the right time to make these choices — it is essential that we act.
On Jan. 31, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and legislative leaders announced an extraordinary proposal called Next Generation Connecticut — a virtually unprecedented plan to create jobs, stimulate growth and produce the workforce of the future — all to breathe new economic life into Connecticut.
It would expand and harness the strength of the University of Connecticut, the state's flagship public research institution, by investing $1.5 billion over 10 years in pioneering research and development and vital educational programs in science, technology, engineering and math, known as STEM. With these targeted, strategic investments in facilities, faculty and students, UConn will be an increasingly vital STEM institution, fueling Connecticut's economy with new technologies, highly skilled graduates, new companies, patents, licenses and high-wage jobs.
But why now, with our economy struggling and deficits looming?
Because we as a state continue to collect the paltry dividends of missed opportunities. The Great Recession is not solely responsible for our struggling economy or the state's budget deficits. Rather, the recession compounded the economic problems Connecticut has faced for more than two decades. We fell behind the competition, even as progress was made in some areas.
Next Generation Connecticut will go a long way toward reversing these unfortunate economic trends and will grow Connecticut's STEM workforce so we will compete effectively in the global marketplace.
According to the National Academy of Engineering, two-thirds of the growth in our gross domestic product has its roots in STEM. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that STEM jobs grew three times faster than non-STEM jobs in the last decade and STEM jobs are projected to grow by 17 percent by 2018. Also, approximately 20 percent of the STEM workforce is over the age of 55 and may retire over the next 10 years.
Next Generation Connecticut will create construction jobs and sustainable long-term employment. It will also maximize the state's investments in Bioscience Connecticut, Jackson Labs, UConn 2000 and the future Tech Park in Storrs.
Investments in research — by states and the federal government — have been tracked. As a result, just how much investments in scientific research will generate can be calculated with some precision, in terms of jobs and new revenue.
By 2024, Next Generation Connecticut will contribute to $270 million per year for research (outside grants coming to Connecticut to fund research), a 141 percent increase over today, and $527 million per year in business activity in Connecticut, also a 141 percent increase over today, resulting from research at UConn. It will lead to more than 4,000 permanent jobs and approximately 30,000 total construction jobs through 2024.
If Connecticut had done this two decades ago, we would be far better off today. And if we fail to enact this proposal now, we will undoubtedly find ourselves sighing in 2023 or 2033, wishing we had undertaken this effort in 2013.
Although this proposal is specific to UConn, all of the state's higher education institutions play an invaluable role in driving Connecticut's economy, especially in educating of our future workforce. The proposal is part of a set of actions that Connecticut must pursue to ensure that we strengthen this network of institutions; they are our most strategic assets on which to base sustained economic and employment growth.
Gov. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and many others, including Senate President Donald Williams and House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, clearly see this, and believe that decisive action is needed. They reject the self-defeating idea that bold plans are too overwhelming; that building the future we want for ourselves is too difficult; or that we must simply live with decline, hoping something will change.
Just the opposite: Bold steps will help drive us toward success and economic vitality. That is what Next Generation Connecticut is all about. We will not succeed by working around the margins and taking limited steps — middling progress is not good enough. Connecticut's aim for the future is — and must always be — to prosper.
Susan Herbst is the president of the University of Connecticut. R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel is the president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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