After years of criticism that the state lacks a cohesive economic plan, Gov. M. Jodi Rell on Wednesday released what she called "the state's first-ever Economic Strategic Plan."
It calls for a statewide port authority comprising the harbors in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London, along with the state's airports, including Bradley International Airport.
It also calls for development of a commuter rail line between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, with a spur to Bradley. A commuter line along I-91 has long been debated but would cost hundreds of millions of dollars and would face uncertain ridership.
In all, the 550-page document, with dozens of specific recommendations, is intended to tie together state-backed projects in training, development, transportation, housing and corporate recruitment into what Rell said is a plan that balances competing interests.
"These steps must be taken with the principle of Responsible Growth foremost in mind — preserving the charm and character of our state for our children and for generations to come," Rell said in a written release.
Critics of the state's economic development policies, prominently University of Connecticut economics Professor Fred V. Carstensen, have long said Connecticut doesn't do enough to nurture targeted industries and to educate and retain present and future workers.
Two Democrats who are vying to oppose Rell in next year's governor's race weighed in with sharp criticism of the report. Sen Gary D. LeBeau, D- East Hartford, said each strategy should have a timeline and a way to measure progress.
"There's no prioritization of any of these strategies that were recommended," added LeBeau, co-chairman of the legislature's commerce committee.
Stamford Mayor Dan Malloy, exploring a run for governor, criticized the governor for not acting sooner. "I don't think it's a blueprint; it's a long book report. The 'strategic vision for Connecticut' makes its first appearance on page 528," he said.
This plan remains a work in progress, Rell said. The document was based in part on hearings throughout the state at the end of 2007 and the start of 2008 — as the downturn was starting. Since March 2008, Connecticut has lost more than 70,000 jobs, or about 4 percent of its total.
Calling for another round of public comments before wrapping up the plan, Rell said: "Tens of thousands of our residents work in insurance, financial services and banking — and the job losses in these businesses have been excruciating. The final shape of the financial industry is still unknown, but any economic plan for the future must anticipate and reflect these dramatic changes."
The state has had other economic blueprints.
Under former Gov. John G. Rowland, for example, the state spent heavily on urban revitalization and developed industry "clusters."
Other key goals of the new plan, most of them long discussed and debated, include:
•A $100 million student loan partnership that would forgive debts to people in crucial occupations who agree to stay for a certain length of time.
•A $25 million program to lure foreign technology companies.
•An angel investor tax credit, offering financial incentives for investments in start-up firms.
•Programs to prod cities and towns to work together.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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