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Growing A Healthy Region
January 9, 2005
Eddie Perez

Hartford is headed in the right direction. The capital city continues to be the economic engine for the region and the state. Hartford businesses provide more than 106,000 jobs for Connecticut residents, the most of any Connecticut town or city. According to a recent report prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Hartford metropolitan area's annual economic activity (wages, sales and so on) of $73.7 billion is larger than 90 percent of urban region economies in the United States. Our regional economy is second only to San Francisco's regional economy in per-capita economic activity.

The Hartford region is a major player in the national economy, particularly in financial services. The growth and economic well-being of Connecticut is closely linked to the health and vitality of Hartford. Recognizing that Hartford's highly skilled employees and high-value businesses are more likely to be lured to other parts of the country or globe than to suburban office parks in neighboring towns, our region and state must willingly share in the obligation to improve the climate for economic growth and greater opportunity in our capital city.

Under the first year of a reformed charter, the city council and I have made significant strides in making city government more responsive and accountable. We have pushed for the elimination of the surtax on commercial property. From Park Street to Main Street to Albany Avenue, city government has provided critical aid and leadership in hundreds of millions of dollars of new development in every city neighborhood. We also demonstrated, through the $32 million Hilton Hotel redevelopment effort, that attracting significant new private investment does not have to come at the expense of quality jobs for Connecticut residents.

Hartford is safer than it was a year ago. Violent crime is down by double digits in every category. The homicide rate is at its lowest point since 1992. Under Police Chief Patrick J. Harnett's leadership, our police department is taking a new approach to crime fighting, emphasizing information-based policing and accountability for results. Hartford is making real headway on providing a safe community in which to work, conduct business, live, worship and play.

I am also taking seriously our obligation to produce an educated workforce. Seventy-two percent of Hartford jobs are held by workers with at least some college education. I am bringing together colleges, universities, private and parochial secondary schools with our public school system to raise expectations and increase the number of Hartford students obtaining bachelor's degrees.

There are a number of practical steps the state and region can take to ensure the continued economic growth of Hartford and our region:

Land acquisition by state government and regional nonprofits within Hartford city limits must stop. Removing properties from the tax rolls reduces the city's tax base, forecloses opportunities for private development and requires the city to tax existing commercial properties at a higher rate.

The region must pursue planning and economic development policies that prioritize commercial development in urban areas with existing physical infrastructure and the business density to have a true multiplier effect. Sprawling commercial development through suburban and rural towns saps scarce economic development resources and dilutes the advantages gained from economies of scale.

Every town should make affordable housing - both homeownership and rental - key to its housing strategy. Segregating thousands of low-income families into Hartford increases such social ills here as crime and illiteracy. These ills cost the region hundreds of millions of dollars in public services and lost productivity.

The future of the Hartford region does not lie in simply paving more miles of road. Upgrading commuter rail, enhancing Bradley International Airport's capacity and building alternatives to driving, such as trains and buses, between key business centers are all attainable goals for our region in the next five to 10 years.

According to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, the Hartford metropolitan area economy is larger than the economies of 16 U.S. states. We will only grow that economy with a vital urban core and healthy suburbs working together to improve our region's quality of life.

Eddie Perez is mayor of Hartford. He will speak on this topic Tuesday morning at the MetroHartford Alliance's Rising Star breakfast at The Bushnell's Autorino Hall in Hartford. For more information, please call 525-4451, ext. 234.

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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