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Final Legislative Push Depends on All of Us

With just two weeks to go in the legislative session, it is necessary to ask again that you write your state legislator to express your concern about bill SB 669, which may reduce the amount of R&D tax credit you, your clients or your vendors may receive. Check out a good article on the subject  and please write or send us your letters and we will forward them.

We much prefer to be for things and not just against them, but this bill, now opposed by Governor Rell, will send the wrong message at precisely the wrong time. Link to SB 669 – analysis report.

Sunday night my daughter and I watched the finals of a contest on the Food Channel where a half dozen photogenic, charismatic and skilled chefs competed to see who will be given his or her own TV show. I love to cook and consider myself a bit of a ham, so you would think my reaction would be “I could do that.” But instead the overwhelming reaction you had to take away after watching the elimination rounds for several hours was, “yikes, this is hard.” I wouldn’t make it past the knife skills demonstrated in front of unsmiling “iron chefs” or creating a goat cheese appetizer with someone else’s ingredients in three minutes on national TV.

This reminded me (as everything does) that building a competitive innovation environment for the state is a similarly hard task. There are so many skills we have to perfect, so little time and so much competition. By now you should know the list of 15 or so ingredients that feed an innovation culture, such as great entrepreneurial ideas, skilled workers, start-up capital, a great transportation system and fun places to live. So the good news is that people are starting to see the connections and understand the interdependence of these factors. CTC’s Public Policy Position Paper

Check out the newsletter from sister organization CURE and its report from the just completed and successful BIO 2006 conference in Chicago. It provides analysis that shows New Haven as a significant player within the New York metro bio-tech world. Also check the latest issue of Business Week — “The World’s Most Innovative Companies”. They write that innovation comes from many different places and many times has nothing to do with technology.

From my early days at Science Park in New Haven where many of the biotech firms were first incubated to my years at that city’s Chamber of Commerce, I know first hand how important the total package is to that area’s successes. The biotech workforce that keeps these exciting companies in New Haven is as concerned about attractive housing and fun places to hang out as the company leaders are about funding for laboratories, community college programs for lab technicians and sources of working capital. New Haven and bio-tech is a great example of what our whole state can look like. What’s needed is a set of strategies that sees the state as an interrelated set of high potential clusters, each with its own set of supports.

As you know, we have been following the progress of several key bills in the legislature. One, SB 1, supports early stage funding at Connecticut Innovations, incubators, new professors at UConn in key areas and an entrepreneurial program there. It deserves support, although it could use more money and perhaps a bit less specificity about exactly how much CI should be spending on overhead to deliver these programs.

Do we really want to handcuff a would-be entrepreneurial agency with a requirement that they spend only 3% of $8 million on administration? Perhaps a little more confidence and less micro managing would go a long way.

A very positive meeting was held a few weeks ago when each of the state’s cluster groups (we oversee the Software and IT Cluster). We met to share ideas and strategies. It was very good to see the leadership of DECD led by Commissioner Jim Abromaitis and his staff fully engaged in a strategic discussion. A few days later, a number of cluster representatives came together with state administrators from various commissions and departments to talk about workforce development at a state-wide strategic level. In some ways these discussions can be mind numbing. Still, they are critical to developing a set of policies that will crank-up the Connecticut job machine.

I close with a plug for a great program for another sister organization, CVG’s Crossroads Venture Fair to be held in Stamford on May 2nd and 3rd. It’s a great place to see the top hopes that Connecticut has for the “next great idea.” Some of the firms presenting are part of our Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge LLP FastTrack program with support from DECD and all will be incorporated into our new Innovation Pipeline Accelerator.

A typical exciting firm is Materials Technology Corporation, a firm using multiple technologies to make aerospace repairs and maintenance faster and better. It’s a great Connecticut innovation story. The leaders are an American with a military and local defense industry background and an Indian born Ph D. (who is as patriotic a believer in America as you will ever meet). The company has received an SBIR grant, several patents and is poised to receive big contracts from an industry that needs to keep costs low and performance high. It’s just what Connecticut can excel at, using our cluster based knowledge to innovate new ways to make money out of our existing key industries. Check them out at the Crossroads Venture Fair along with 70 or so other firms and then let’s work together to keep the best companies growing right here.

Matthew Nemerson President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

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