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As Texas Gov. Perry Raids Connecticut, Smugness Won’t Work


June 10, 2013

Governors visit businesses in other states all the time, usually in low-key meetings that aren’t publicized. But that’s not how they roll in Texas, and Gov. Rick Perry is letting everyone know he’s on his way to New York and Connecticut next week to raid companies — complete with a $1 million TV ad campaign.

Perry is shopping for firearms firms, of course, as Connecticut and New York fight each other for the right to claim the nation’s strictest gun control laws. But he’s also targeting financial services and pharmaceuticals, industries we thought were in our wheelhouse.

Call it the “Yankee Come On Down” tour. It’s a raid Connecticut needs to take seriously.

So listen up: No sitting back in our smug way, saying Texas is a backward place devoid of culture, full of poverty and pestilence. Arrogance is slipping as a strategy of choice with each passing report on jobs and economic activity — including last week’s bombshell that Connecticut’s economy shrank in 2011 and 2012.

Perry arrives in Connecticut Sunday and will be here Monday as well, said spokesman Josh Havens, though he couldn’t say whether the Hartford area is on the agenda. To those guys, Connecticut may still be just a dot on the map, not a place with four, count ‘em, four distinct metro areas.

Perry had no public events scheduled as of Monday evening, but that might change — even if it’s just a press conference. Meetings with companies, some still being worked out, are private, though several firms in the firearms industry have made no secret that they’re looking at Texas.

In short, this is no half-baked junket by the man who was briefly darling of the Republicans in the 2012 presidential campaign, before fizzling in a botched debate. The trip is part of a, ah, well-oiled campaign financed by a private economic development group, in which Texas touts strengths that by now are well known: It’s a huge place with rapid growth of late, with no personal income tax, where regulations are as welcome as a PETA protester at a barbecue.

“Home of creative renegades,” as a young, cosmopolitan Texan says in one of the two ads now airing. The ad buy is for all of Connecticut and New York State, including some spots in the Hartford market, Havens said. It will focus on cable TV, largely news stations in an effort to capture business decision-makers.

It’s clear from Perry’s press release that he’s selling a lifestyle, not just a business climate, with talk of “opportunities and freedom available to families and businesses thanks to Texas’ healthy economy.”

Perry, like his sometime political enemy and stylistic mentor, George W. Bush, is smarter than his yeeeeee-haw manner would make us believe. The campaign is short on gun totin’ cowboys and long on showing bioscience research and advanced manufacturing.

And it includes some data that’s intriguing on the “Texas, Wide Open for Business” web site, the campaign’s centerpiece. The Lone Star state, home to 52 Fortune 500 company headquarters, added 558,000 jobs between 2008 and January of this year. Electric rates, unemployment, workers’ compensation, union activity and average hourly wages are all lower than the nation and certainly lower than Connecticut – one of four states the Texas web site targets directly.

Texas hosted 208 million tourists in 2011 and is the perennial No. 1 exporting state, the web site tells us. Under the heading “Fair Legal System,” the web site sings the praises of a state that has reformed its court system. “Employers can’t focus on success and growth if they’re constantly tied up in court fighting frivolous lawsuits.”

Overall, an impressive picture on some levels. This isn’t the day to debate Texas vs. The World, but a quick look at the claims shows two main points: Texas is doing something right, beyond just harboring low costs with little regulation.

And just about every claim the state is making comes with a dark underbelly.

Consider that legal system, for example. In today’s Courant, my colleague Matthew Sturdevant has a story about a group of auto body repair shops winning a $20 million state court judgment against The Hartford, which was found to have improperly steered work to certain shops for many years. If the judgment holds up, the aggrieved shops — family-owned, independent businesses – will have found recourse for what they claim was an injustice.

Which policy is business-friendly?

Texas also is consistently in the top 10 states for poverty, with about one of every 10 poor Americans living there. Of course, we can’t compare the same poverty line in high-cost Connecticut with low-cost Texas, but the rate has risen sharply in the last few years down there, amid their great economic success, while it has held steady in supposedly dysfunctional Connecticut.

Both Texas and Connecticut have lower than average cancer rates, according to the Centers for Disease Control. But Texas has high rates of heart disease and stroke, while Connecticut’s rates are well below the national average.

Many of the Texas claims come from size alone, such as exports (which, by the way, can’t be measured by state, despite silly attempts by the U.S. Commerce Department). Connecticut, with 17 Fortune 500 head offices, is well ahead per capita in that measure.

Factors that are tied to costs, such as labor and union activity, could mean it’s a great state for business, or that it’s a terrible state for a worker to try to live a middle class life. Oddly, the Texas web site claims its average manufacturing wages are higher than those in Connecticut, which defies logic as well as the U.S. Labor Department data that I’ve seen.

Job growth is another of Perry’s Texas triumphs. It’s worth noting that more than half of the jobs Texas created in the last five years came about in 2012 alone. A great year, but one thing we know about job creation is that hot states can get un-hot, and when they do, the picture can turn ugly.

And, said David Cadden, management professor at Quinnipiac University’s business school, “What he fails to mention is that most of these new jobs were minimum-wage jobs…I have a concern that if Perry is successful in his attempt to draw high-tech industries in Connecticut to Texas, employees may be reluctant to move to Texas.”

At the moment, based on migration figures, Texas is having no trouble attracting people. Earlier this year Perry had similar forays to California and Chicago, but he’s far from the only governor on the road, as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s spokesman noted.

“We’ve brought companies from Kentucky, we’ve brought companies from Pennsylvania, from Maine,” said Malloy spokesman Andrew Doba. “The only thing different about this is that he’s announcing it by press release.”

As Doba points out, it’s not news that states are competing against each other. What’s harder to grasp is that the factors are unique for any given company thinking of moving or staying put. If you want to live in a moderate climate, close to New York, Boston, mountains and ocean, with many the nation’s top colleges and universities within a few hours’ drive and historic communities clustered together endlessly, stay in New England.

But stay sharp. Don’t fall back on the old “we’re better than they are” attitude. Rick Perry doesn’t care. Neither does the economy.

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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