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Act now to effect tech legislation

Our number one job at the Tech Council during the legislative season is to keep a few simple ideas in front of Connecticut’s political decision makers. We stress the importance of being the home of world recognized innovation. We encourage the establishment of creatively planned and well executed systems to nurture and grow robust technology based small companies.

These are not complex concepts. What is complicated is finding the successful and sustainable strategies that can back up the slogans we throw around. Unlike the last two industrial transformations from 1850 to 1920 and then from 1960 to 2000, Connecticut now has a lot more competition, History was always on our side, but now it is clear the future will require serious planning and hard work to have it smile on our state.

We need your help. The leading edge of growth and wealth creation is moving from large scale industrial organization to a new model, based on an ever changing matrix of innovation-based smaller, almost conceptual enterprises. Our community has the burden of explaining the needs of this new constituency – us – to the power brokers.

So far this spring we have not gotten our message through to the extent we need to. For a variety of reasons we can understand, the image of the old model remains. When an insurance company moves 1,000 workers six miles from one town to another we think it has an impact. When ten companies of three people leave for Michigan, California or Maryland for easier money, senior executives or support, it’s hard to see this as a disturbing trend.

We are asking those of you who are technology entrepreneurs, innovation investors in risky ideas, scientists and thinkers interested in commercializing your ideas to reach out to the chairs of Appropriations and Finance and just remind them in a personal way that Connecticut needs to support your ability to create and innovate here. Tell them you don’t want to leave the state, but that we need to build an environment for innovation that is as good as anywhere.

Co-Chair of Appropriations: Senator Toni Harp, Co-Chair of Appropriations: Representative Denise Merrill, Co-Chair of Finance: Senator Eileen Daily, Co-Chair of Finance: Representative Cameron Staples, A while ago the Governor asked me which state I thought we should look to as a role model for economic development. The answer, only half jokingly, was Denmark. We believe that Connecticut has the potential – due to our size, wealth and demographics – to function and thrive in the ways similar to these mentioned locations or even a greater Boston down the road. To get a sense of this, look at a fascinating report that has come out from a new group in Washington dedicated to helping states compete in the global race for innovation based economic growth. You will learn a great deal from looking at parts of this study, especially chapter three. We have to get serious about many things. When a Connecticut Innovations asks for the $25 million back that the state borrowed four years ago, we should give them $100 million. As of today CI has zero new money in the draft budget. When the state’s cluster programs ask for $2 million, match Oklahoma and given them $10m. (Full disclosure: the CTC gets about $200,000 a year from these funds.) And, when UConn needs money to bring the nation’s top faculty here from other schools, support it with the same excitement with which we built the schools athletic infrastructure. Thank goodness the Stem Cell efforts led by CURE and the bio-tech industry have been successful, a bright spot worth examining as a model for capturing the state’s imagination. If you look at another effort we are have been pushing, the goal of providing tax credits for early stage investors in start-up companies – something over 30 other states and many countries are doing – you see a way to increase the amount of early stage capital invested in the state by ten or twenty times for relatively little State investment. But the bill, SB 1366 has not gotten much support yet. Take a look at some of the exciting plans that other states are starting. And not just New York or Maryland, but just this month Arkansas and Mississippi announced comprehensive plans to build on their fledgling technology economies. Why is the need to build an innovation economy so hard to explain? Everyone is concerned about creating jobs, yet the requisite actions do not seem to follow. Perhaps becoming a technology and idea based economy is just much harder than becoming a manufacturing center was in the nineteenth century. Is it possible our history of industrial innovation and productivity leadership was just luck? Were we not the engaged architects of this system that has produced the richest state in the nation? True, the economic eco-systems that built up around Winchester and Colt and then again around UTC and GE are not so easily replicated by piecing together clusters of tens and hundreds of smaller and inherently less stable companies and business models. Still, the foresight, huge investments and risk taking that moved coal up rivers, built bridges and dams thought impossible and connected a Litchfield and Willimantic to Liverpool, Moscow and Beijing 150 years ago, can be our role model again. So here we are, five weeks left in the session and we are still trying to find the resources needed to convince a global audience that we are serious about competing for the brass ring against other highly evolved rapidly post-industrializing places. Tell our leaders what your world view looks like. They need to know.

Matthew Nemerson President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

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