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Transportation and technology based economic development programs

Let me say at the onset that this week’s column is not for the policy wonks and lobbyists, they know everything I’m about to write about. So, this is for the rank and file Council members who are interested in what is going on in Hartford this session and how it all relates to issues we have been advocating.

I am not sure if this week’s theme is “an embarrassment of riches” or “be careful what you wish for.”  In two major areas of great concern to the technology community – transportation and technology based economic development programs – there is the potential for great and positive change. On the other hand, there is also the possibility of a political head-on collision. So, since the current legislative session will be done by the first week of May, the next few weeks will decide if we end up in a better place, a worse place or the same place by next year.

The good news is that both the Governor and the legislative leadership are focusing on these policy areas and this week there were hearings on a variety of approaches to making real improvements in both of them. There is a trend emerging where the Governor has proposed a set of programs that cover key areas of concern, but clearly these are just early steps in a multi-year set of objectives that are intended to unfold in later years. One can imagine her programs going off in different directions depending on the availability of state funds in future and early successes.

The legislature is coming back with a more far reaching set of proposals that call for putting everything on the table right now.  This pattern is true in both the development and transportation areas, so it seems clear we are dealing with more than coincidence.  It may be style or it may be politics. This is, after all an election year for everyone in the state except mayors and Senator Dodd.

A few examples.  The Governor is calling for some new money – about $25 million – and a reorganization of existing economic development agencies. The legislature is asking for a new agency that will actually move current functions to a new organization that might be a not-for-profit without the built in operational limitations of agencies or quasi-governmental organizations. The Commerce committee is calling for new funding for incubators, a new seed capital entity and in a move that is related, though tangential to this agenda, is proposing that property taxes be lifted from manufacturing equipment.

On the transportation side the Governor is proposing a list of important initiatives in rail and bus improvements and last fall put together a program to address many of the woes of Metro-North. The legislature, led by the Speaker himself, has taken pages from both the seminal “Gallis” report and the Transportation Strategy Board and proposed a sweeping $6 billion program that addresses many of the long-standing problems.

So the good news is that while a few years ago funding for Connecticut Innovations (CI) was being slashed, this year leaders are lining up to testify in behalf of supporting CI and restoring lost dollars. And, given the desperate need to keep Connecticut well connected to both Metro New York and the globe, it is refreshing that everyone is talking about planes, trains and automobiles.

Dealing with these economic development and transportation policy issues will convince a great many who are now reluctant to invest in our state – because they have questioned our resolved to create a world class innovation environment – that we are committed to make it work. Technology can and will flourish in Connecticut.

We need to support all of the state’s leaders as they struggle to find a middle ground between the executive and the legislative proposals. There are many ways to think about paying for transportation improvements or delivering innovation support services. A dialectic process rather than a political power play is required.

It is naïve, perhaps, to hope for a bi-partisan approach to economic growth and infrastructure. And yet, as we see other states reorganize, develop, and launch massive rebuilding efforts of their own, we know that it is not only possible, but may be the only way these things ever get done. It would be a shame if the good work that led us to the proposals before the legislature went nowhere this session

The Council represents a constituency that is uniquely able to pick-up and move to more supportive locations relatively easily. At the same time our CEOs genuinely love being here and are always looking for reasons to remain convinced to stay planted firmly in Connecticut soil. Nothing could help this case more that seeing the good ideas put forward by both the Governor and the legislature result in an amalgam that improves our ability to grow companies and move people and goods.

Our position should be to encourage behind the scenes negotiations that produces a sharing of credit and results in legislation that creates noticeable and substantial improvement in economic development and transportation policy.

Matthew Nemerson President & CEO Connecticut Technology Council

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