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Panel Focuses On Attracting, Keeping Companies

Participants In CBIA Conference Find No Easy Answers For State


September 08, 2011

With some of the highest pay in the nation, the highest electricity costs in the continental U.S. and a reputation for regulation-heavy, tax-loving state government, Connecticut can be a hard sell to companies, even those that are already here.

Knowing all that, panelists at the Connecticut Business and Industry Association conference on the state's economy Thursday asked: "How do we keep Connecticut in the game?"

There were no easy answers.

Christopher Steele, president of a site-selection consulting firm in the Boston area, said mergers and acquisitions, consolidation, changes in business processes, expansions and lease terms ending are all moments when companies shop for space.

Although taxes are more business-friendly in Connecticut than in New York, Massachusetts and even Manchester, N.H., and transportation systems are better in Connecticut's cities than those in Albany, Springfield, Worcester and Manchester, clients have often already ruled out Connecticut (or the Northeast) before Steele even gets a chance to make the case.

"Not surprisingly, there's a strong perception of Connecticut as an unfriendly place for business," Steele said.

Economist Don Klepper-Smith said Connecticut's costs of doing business are fifth-highest in the nation.

Joseph Brennan, senior vice president for public policy at CBIA, said, "I know we get some criticism about being too negative about Connecticut," but he argued that CBIA would lose credibility with its membership and the public if it didn't talk about the taxation and regulatory burden in the state.

But Brennan, CBIA's top lobbyist, added that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is making him feel more optimistic. "When you look at the appointments he's made, he's brought in people who are really balanced and serious about what they do."

Brennan said the commissioners are thoughtful regulators, and he praised Jeannette DeJesus, special adviser to the governor on health care reform, as "just a brilliant woman."

"We're really seeing a change in mind-set," he said. "I do believe perceptions can be turned around in a relatively short period of time. I do think the governor gets it. He came from Stamford. He had some successes there. He understands the importance of nurturing business."

Steele pointed to statistics from the CBIA survey of businesses in Connecticut that showed 17 percent of them were recruited in the last year by other states' economic development officers, and that 52 percent of manufacturers have been courted in the last five years.

He said those numbers sounded low to him.

"How many have been contacted by somebody in the state, [asking], 'How are you doing and what can we do for you?' That number should be 100 percent."

And Steele said that when economic development types do get to pitch businesses, they should remind them how valuable the well-paid workers are. "Talent here is very adaptable and can learn to do different things."

Separately at the Thursday conference, David Ring, the New England chief of First Niagara Bank, which earlier this year took over NewAlliance Bank in a merger, said the bank's entry into the Connecticut market has gone well. First Niagara has done $600 million in new loans in Connecticut so far in 2011.

"All mergers involve streamlining," Ring said. "We are going to get the jobs back to pre-merger levels by the end of 2012."

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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