By the BF Staff
From the March/April 2002 Issue
Connecticut is back in business. At least, that is what officials at AdvanceCT, the New Haven, CT-based non-profit business advocacy group want to make perfectly clear to any and all comers who might love the Nutmeg State’s favorable location, highly educated workforce and an increasingly-clear willingness at the state level to work with new and existing companies.
“Our state has had a tough go since around the financial crisis in 2008,” said Peter Denious, CEO of AdvanceCT. “We are now two-plus years into a turnaround that is paying handsome dividends for the state, bringing new businesses and corporate headquarters here as well as helping in-state companies expand or choose to stay.”
Denious, who stepped into his current position in September 2019 after a long career in private equity and venture capital, says the company’s nearly two dozen employees played a leading role in that turnaround. The organization is funded partially by the state through contracts with the Connecticut Department of Economic Community Development and through funding from the private sector, plus has the strong support of Gov. Ned Lamont. He noted that more than 30 companies, most with corporate headquarters in the state, are involved with AdvanceCT.
In fact, AdvanceCT’s board of directors reads like a Who’s Who of top corporate executives in the state. They include the CEO or presidents of such companies as Infosys, Black & Decker, Otis Worldwide, Philip Morris International and Charter Communications. Margaret Keane, the executive chair of the board of directors at Synchrony, and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean, leadership studies at Yale University School of Management, are co-chairs of the AdvanceCT board. Donald Kendall, principal at New Fork Capital, is vice chair.
“We are quite proud of the fact that so many senior corporate executives have signed on to our team and are helping us to draw more interest to the state. Their experience and networks have been extremely helpful,” Denious said.
Connecticut certainly seems to need the help. Long viewed as one of the wealthiest and most educated states in the nation, during the last 20 years the state has developed a reputation for high taxes and intense regulations that has hurt its status among corporations looking to relocate or expand. In recent years, the state took it on the chin when a number of high-profile banks and Wall Street firms, who had moved to the state just a few years earlier, decided to relocate back to nearby New York City. The departure of high-profile General Electric, which was headquartered in Fairfield, for Boston, also did not help.
However, recently things started turning around and several large players decided to call Connecticut home. Last year, for example, Philip Morris moved its headquarters from New York City to the Stamford area, becoming the 15th Fortune 500 company located in the state. Fortune 1,000 company ITT Inc. and Digital Currency Group are also moving their headquarters, and bringing 350-plus jobs, to Stamford. Similarly, GE Appliances located an innovation center and micro-manufacturing operation in the state.
With a population of about 3.55 million people, Connecticut is home to the second most Fortune 500 companies per capita.
Denious said that AdvanceCT is playing a big role in publicizing the state’s many advantages. “We realize that we are not a low tax state,” he said. “We win companies over with our high-value added factors. For example, in Connecticut, we sell our workforce. It is all about talent and the workforce and we have that, unlike many states in the south and southwest who have a hard time finding the workforce to meet the needs of the market.”
A talented workforce is clearly something in the state’s favor. With New Haven-based Yale University as its anchor, the state has a well-earned reputation for its highly skilled workforce. The state’s 38 colleges and universities graduate more than 150,000 students per year and Yale and other universities such as the UCONN public system, Quinnipiac University and even the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London are pumping out highly talented graduates eager for challenging jobs across many sectors of the economy.
Quality of life in Connecticut is also a draw with many reports ranking it among the top 10 states to live in. With Boston and New York both within close driving distance, and much of the state being suburban or even rural, Denious said the combination of convenience, location and the unique New England culture are key selling tools for his team. “Access to both cities is important to attracting people to our area,” he noted.
So, too, is the fact that the state’s many small towns offer a unique culture and flavor. That is becoming more important to many companies, particularly after what has happened during the last two years with COVID-19. State officials were lauded for its response to the pandemic, thanks in part to its world-class healthcare system, and it remains one of the most highly vaccinated states in the nation.
Additionally, Connecticut is a draw for people looking to be around others with similar professional backgrounds. Hartford is still the leading area in the country for insurance and insurtech companies and the life sciences segment is becoming a huge player throughout the state, with Yale leading the way in R&D and spin-off businesses. Biotech and fintech are also becoming major factors along the Stamford to New Haven Interstate 95 corridor, he added.
According to Denious, AdvanceCT is focused on five different key industries. In addition to insurance and life sciences, AdvanceCT is involved in financial services, advanced manufacturing, and technology, including fintech, cyber securities and biotech. “These are all big sectors in Connecticut, and we have to do more to make businesses see that and realize what we have to offer,” he said.
While the future is quite bright for the state, Denious said there is still a lot of work to be done for AdvanceCT and its partners. He emphasized that U.S. Census Bureau data shows that many young people and young families are moving to the state and that new business applications are growing quickly. He also pointed out that the state’s budget is in good shape, with a $1 billion surplus this year and a rainy-day fund of more than $4 billion leading to upgrades from credit ratings companies such as Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s.
“Our job, working with the state and individual companies, is to get the word out that Connecticut has an incredible upside and businesses should consider us when they are looking at other states like Massachusetts or New Jersey,” he said. “Our job is to be pro-active and aggressive. We want to make it clear to all that Connecticut is a great place to live and a great place to do business. Our story is just getting started.”