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A Crucial Game At Travelers, Golf Aside

Dan Haar

June 27, 2009

CROMWELL Real estate scouts around the country are still talking about those wild guys from Hartford who buzzed the course with a helicopter at the Buick Championship in 2005.

The chopper ride, organized by the MetroHartford Alliance on the first day of the golf tournament that year, caused a flap the course being a no-fly zone and all. But it paid off. One of those scouts represented StubHub, which ended up opening a major center in East Granby.

It was all part of the business schmoozing that takes place every year at the tournament, now the Travelers Championship. To some folks along Corporate Row, the networking is the game that really matters.

The helicopters are parked and corporate sponsorship is down by about 30 percent from last year. The days when the Row stretched halfway down the 18th fairway, with famously opulent spreads, are gone for now replaced by a wider variety of ways companies can entertain guests and hawk their brands, like McDonald's climbing wall and McCafe.

But the buzz is still there for the firms in the schmoozing game, and it's all the more important for the region's economic life. For one week out of the year, a golf course 15 minutes south of the capital city brings the sort of low-pressure, spontaneous business interaction that Hartford desperately needs, and other cities take for granted.

"What does it lead to? It's hard to know, but we know it's good," said John Lynch, managing partner of the Hartford law firm Robinson & Cole, which has a large suite along the Row.

The idea, at R&C and other corporate suites, is not to talk deals but to create a mix that greases the skids for them, and for the hundreds of people from businesses and nonprofits on the scene. Looking down the Row at the Travelers suite, Lynch said, "They're very much committed even in a bad economy, and so are we."

A few feet away at the MetroHartford Alliance suite, a few relocation scouts were on hand Friday, though not as many as in '05. This is a far better venue than a downtown boardroom for Alliance Vice President Sandra B. Johnson and others who represent the region.

"I'm a business yenta," Johnson declared. "The one thing I've learned over time is, you don't know who you know."

On Friday, location adviser Chris Steele of CWS Consulting Group in Boston heard about Connecticut's push to lure life sciences firms, among other industries. He talked with someone about work-force development, by chance, and I told him Robinson & Cole had their real estate clients as guests on this day. "This is where the foundations are being made for when things really do start to heat up again," he said.

Michael Fresher, VP of finance for the Bushnell, on Thursday ran into a colleague from a firm he worked at years ago. The guy loves shows at the Bushnell. Their chat might lead to an event, maybe a sponsorship. As we talk, Fresher is waved over to join someone at the Travelers suite, and the cycle begins anew.

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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