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City Must Spread Wings

Focus On Airport - Not Logo - Crucial To Helping Hartford, Region Rise

By Fred Carstensen

August 07, 2011

Colorful buses will not make Hartford competitive. A new, catchy slogan will not change the business landscape. Dyeing the Connecticut River oxblood red might earn notice on NPR's "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me," but do nothing to bring new jobs and opportunities to Hartford. Successful rebranding and marketing Hartford and its region ultimately demands substance.

Changing the economic climate for Hartford is a daunting challenge. President Obama and Congress have just agreed to largely abdicate their responsibility for the struggling national economy. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, in contrast, is aggressively working to bring new jobs to the state - he has scored three hits on his "First Five" initiative - and change the state's business climate. His commitment to Bioscience Connecticut promises both short-term construction jobs and long-term regional economic expansion. Those initiatives are building a stronger context for Hartford's initiatives.

But Hartford itself is the smallest city relative to its metropolitan region in the nation, and Connecticut's sad history of balkanized municipal government and deep resistance to regional collaboration remain serious challenges to sustained success.

Ultimately, the region as a whole will rise or decline together. Its ability to rise, to create new jobs from the expansion of existing firms or the arrival of new firms, will flow in significant measure from exploiting the crown jewel of the region's and state's infrastructure - Bradley Airport. The airport is where the Hartford region can be integrated into a larger economic geography. It can be the focus for developing programs to attract new investment to the region.

From a marketing perspective, the very first thing to do is to rename Bradley Airport. Oddly, we like to name major economic assets for obscure, even irrelevant individuals - as we did with Adriaen's Landing, instead of the going for the obvious choice of Twain's Landing. Even more obvious, Bradley should be renamed New England International Airport.

The airport is a major job creator. An economic impact analysis showed that 1 million additional passengers generate 10,000 new jobs in the region. The arrival of Southwest some years ago showed what a powerful draw such competitive service has, as people began coming to the airport from a much wider area, including the western suburbs of Boston and Westchester County.

The new airport authority has the potential to generate major economic benefits though an aggressive marketing campaign and attraction of scheduled European flights. Indeed, because Connecticut businesses are deeply engaged globally, having a truly international airport is essential for regional competitiveness.

The second major infrastructure objective is establishing truly high-speed commuter rail connection with Fairfield County and New York City. The Holy Grail for time in transit is 60 minutes. Achieving that level of service would integrate Hartford and its region into the state's healthier coastal economy and the New York City region. Serious efforts are already underway on this front; they deserve the energetic support of the entire political delegation from the metro region.

Addressing the infrastructure challenges will then create a context in which Hartford could compete for international investments through creation of what are called EB-5 Regional Centers, under a federal program that awards provisional visas to foreign nationals who invest at least $1 million and create at least 10 jobs. Other states and regions have aggressively exploited EB-5 Centers; Connecticut hosts only three obscure EB-5 centers.

Given strengths in precision manufacturing, medical devices, biosciences and financial services, the Hartford region ought to be a magnet for investments attracted through EB-5 Centers.

Major companies have earned nearly $2.4 billion tax credits - but are currently unable to use them because of restrictions. If the state would allow companies to invest this vast pool of funds in capital projects or spin-offs, the state and the region could witness a stunning rebirth of Connecticut competitiveness, job creation and economic growth.

Connecticut has the assets to drive its own economic recovery, despite the national sluggishness. And, with marketing and substance, Hartford could be at the center of that growth.

Fred Carstensen is a professor of economics at the University of Connecticut and director of UConn's Connecticut Center of Economic Analysis.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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