Poachers from other states have long come hunting for Connecticut businesses. Competition among cities and states for jobs, capital and talent is nothing new, but Texas Gov. Rick Perry introduced some swagger into his pursuit of our businesses with the purchase of $1 million in advertising targeting Connecticut and New York.
Perry's noisy arrival today for a two-day stay in the region highlights the stiffening economic fight among states, which intensifies in deep recessions when nations and local regions suffer from declining revenues, high unemployment and increased demand for government services. Astute political leaders keep their eyes on the future to maintain economic competitiveness.
In the face of this hard sell from outsiders, Connecticut must stay focused on assets that are critical for private employers and on the need to address our major shortcomings. For too long, we assumed that our manufacturing and financial services jobs would remain here forever. Fortunately, the "Land of Steady Habits" recently awakened from its long competitive slumber. Led by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and several key bipartisan initiatives, Connecticut is thinking and acting again as an aggressive competitor.
Employers deciding where to keep and increase their workforce frequently look at two key factors. The first is access to a creative, educated and productive talent pool. Talented people are attracted to a region by the number of other talented people and by its quality of life. Although our workforce is aging, we have a phalanx of premier schools that annually graduate more than 25,000 prospective employees and entrepreneurs.
Our invaluable education asset was significantly strengthened when the governor and the legislature backed additional capital investment in the University of Connecticut's science, technology, engineering and mathematics capabilities and passed the kindergarten through 12th grade reforms designed to fully prepare high school graduates for higher education, employment, and military and public service.
Employers looking to keep their talented and creative employees also want a good infrastructure and quality of life — one of Connecticut's strengths. We have renowned hospitals and medical and dental schools, proximity to New England's shorelines and mountains, a major airport with aggressive expansion goals, a burgeoning treasure chest of arts, cultural and historic institutions that epitomize Americans' genius, a commitment by the governor and our congressional delegation to expand our transportation system, and a key location within the dynamic Northeast corridor.
The second key factor is an enthusiastic attitude. Many other states have talent and attractive assets, so the enthusiasm and leadership of a state's executive and legislative leaders is critical. Indeed, companies and people go where they are wanted.
A governor must be the state's chief marketing officer, promoting our assets and explaining the actions underway to address any deficiencies. Gov. Malloy energetically embraces this role and has effectively carried Connecticut's message to the Davos Conference, China, Israel, other states and, most important, to Connecticut's largest private employers and budding entrepreneurs. The 2011 bipartisan jobs package provided the governor with more tools and incentives to encourage existing employers to expand, and to recruit other businesses to take advantage of our talented workforce and other assets. In addition, state commissioners are working to increase the availability of affordable housing, reduce energy costs and strengthen rail links to Boston and New York.
Beyond keeping our workforce strong and taking our message to prospective employers, Connecticut most overcome the perception that the legislature is determined to control the private sector. We have always had a vocal minority in both parties who understand the importance of ensuring an environment in which talent and capital thrive. The continuing high unemployment rate has begun to change the attitude of others. It's vital that the private sector support those legislators who demonstrate their willingness to control and prioritize spending, to attack our unfunded liabilities, and to ensure a regulatory and legal environment that nurtures job and economic growth.
Exploiting our assets and addressing our deficiencies requires a Connecticut team captained by an energetic governor supported by an enlightened legislature and an engaged private sector. We're clearly building one. The result will be more success in capturing jobs, capital and talent to sustain and expand a private sector core that remains the envy of Texas and every other state.
Oz Griebel is president and CEO of MetroHartford Alliance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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