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Studying Growth

I am writing this column from Old Town Alexandria on the edges of Washington D.C.. About forty technology councils from the U.S. and Canada are gathered here to discuss our programs, policies and best practices. It’s an annual exercise that is very useful and occasionally sobering.

A few themes come up year after year. Those councils fortunate enough to have been created with a wide mandate tend to be the most successful. Nationally and in Canada the growing synergies between IT, software, precision manufacturing and bio-tech are working themselves out in terms in of closer relations between formerly disparate groups. We’re on the right track with this kind of cooperation since integration of roles is a sign of strength. For instance, the Pittsburgh group also oversees that region’s version of CONNSTEP, so it is not surprising that they have the best integrated manufacturing and technology community in the country. The New Jersey group incorporates the state’s equivalent of the CVG, so it’s not surprising they have been able to bring their constituents to a point of prominence where they actual run an early stage seed fund with state support. The organizational collaboration of projects such as the Alliance for Connecticut Technology and the relationships we are building are borne out as critical.

Another growing trend is the contracting of state technology-oriented economic development programs to groups such as ours. The kind of relationship that we have had with the Department of Economic and Community Development with programs such as FastTrack and our new Innovation Pipeline Accelerator are the norm in some places and represent the direction that most states are going.

On a sobering note is the growing concern – panic may be the right word in some places – that we are not prepared as a country to maintain our global technology position due to deficits in our workforce, our investment in basic R&D and regional infrastructure problems.

We start our conference meeting with Washington think-tank types exploring national efforts to increase the quality and quantity of U.S. students in the science, technology, engineering and math areas, the so-called STEM skills. The goals we have for Connecticut are mimicked by almost every state, which only reinforces our need to be successful. The shadow of minimal federal leadership – especially compared to efforts in other nations starting with Canada and just about everywhere else in the world – adds a level of urgency for state and regional leadership in the growing vacuum.

Finally, a note about growth. I’m sitting in a new hotel near a Metro station next to a commuter rail station in a part of Old Town that did not exist 10 years ago. This is classic transit-oriented development.

When I lived in DC in the early 1980’s this was swamp land and run down factories. What is amazing is that the maybe one million square feet of building integrates in every way with the scale, beauty and street scape of the precious 1820’s almost Disney like sensibilities of the “real” Old Town to the east towards the Potomac. Not surprisingly, this part of the country is the fastest growing region on the east coast (outside of some parts of New Jersey). The growth, at least here – not in all parts of Northern Virginia – is of a style and scale that would be welcomed in any Connecticut town. So, the lesson is that dramatic and powerful growth can work and can actually improve the opportunities for high quality of life.

Given how important growth is to the technology sectors, the view outside my window may be the most important take away from my trip here this week.

Next week I will be discussing Connecticut within the context of trends affecting the greater Northeast. Get a headstart on your homework by viewing a great new report from the Regional Plan Association, Click here.

Matthew Nemerson President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

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