Finally, there are encouraging signs that Connecticut may be taking the first steps toward recovery from the Great Recession.
Nearly 600 people from business, government, nonprofits and philanthropy attended an economic summit recently convened by Gov. Dannel Malloy ó all eager to work together to find solutions to our stateís economic malaise.
In September, the stateís unemployment rate dropped slightly below 9 percent for the first time in two years. Not a lot to cheer about, but certainly trending in the right direction.
And, more recently, the Legislature passed a wide-ranging jobs bill.
The start of a long road to recovery? Letís hope so.
Yet, with these potentially positive trends, the Greater Hartford region continues to struggle against significant challenges.
We have the largest education achievement gap in the United States.
In national progress tests given to 4th and 8th graders, results showed that low-income students in Connecticut performed at dramatically lower levels than non-low-income students ó sometimes up to three grade levels behind. This negatively affects generations of families and our regionís economy.
We have the second largest income gap in the United States.
Many low-achieving students drop out of school, forfeiting the knowledge they need to join a skilled workforce. A recent survey of 151 Connecticut manufacturing companies found 134 unable to fill vacancies due to a lack of trained workers. Besides putting the state at a competitive disadvantage, that shortage translates into a loss of income for state residents. Those who finish high school and go on to postsecondary education earn twice as much as dropouts and are far less likely to be unemployed.
The striking ó and worsening ó gaps in education achievement and workforce readiness contribute to high unemployment, fuel the poverty rate, and impede our regionís short-term recovery and long-term prosperity. Without a strong education, employment opportunities are significantly limited. Without a qualified workforce, companies hesitate to locate here. Without a sufficient number of quality employers, more residents move away.
Clearly, the economic future of each town in the Greater Hartford region is inescapably linked to the others. One day students from all of these cities and towns will make up our regionís workforce.
While our problems are big, our community is bigger. And, we recognize that it will take all sectors ó business, government, philanthropy and nonprofits ó working together to create and implement solutions.
Over the past year, we at the Hartford Foundation asked the community ó what needs to be done? Nearly 700 nonprofit, community, business and government leaders, donors, and other funders, shared their views.
Based on those conversations, and our own research, the Hartford Foundation has adopted a five-year strategic plan, Accelerate Success. The goal of Accelerate Success is to help prepare residents of the Greater Hartford region to compete and prosper in our global economy through an integrated system of high-quality education and workforce development.
This is an ambitious goal, and we donít have all the answers. We recognize that we cannot achieve these goals alone. Thatís why we recently met with some of the regionís leaders to review the plan and seek their counsel. We will continue talking with our current partners, and potential new ones, to learn more about how we can work together to achieve the systemic change we all desire. Then, together we will embark upon the difficult and lengthy work that lies ahead.
For the Hartford Foundation, the strategic plan is only the start. To make the progress necessary to enable Greater Hartford and all its residents to achieve full potential, government, the business community, nonprofits and philanthropy must work as one. Only by taking collective community action will the Greater Hartford region become a place where all residents have the opportunity to prosper. Together we can Accelerate Success! g
Linda J. Kelly is president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the community foundation for the 29-town Greater Hartford region. The executive summary of Accelerate Success is available at www.hfpg.org/strategicplan.