Snapshots: 60 Seconds with Peter Denious, AdvanceCT

Denious, President and Chief Executive Officer, AdvanceCT, discusses foreign direct investment, why Millennials are flocking to Hartford, and Connecticut's new long-term economic development strategy.

By the BF Staff
From the May/June 2021 Issue

Business Facilities: Prior to becoming President/CEO of AdvanceCT, you managed a venture capital fund that generated significant investments in Europe and Asia. What makes Connecticut an attractive destination for foreign direct investment?

Peter Denious, President & CEO, AdvanceCT

Peter Denious: In Connecticut we always start and end with talent. We have a highly educated workforce which is why we have 13 Fortune 500 companies based here, delivering some of the most sophisticated and complex and high-value products and services. This isn’t just a marketing soundbite…. it is part of our value proposition. Our state is always in the top tier for educational attainment and quality of public education. Talent is one of our strengths.

I was amazed to discover the level of innovation and R&D activity that was going on here. Our strength in life sciences, quantum computing and data science is a large part of the reason why Bloomberg Analytics ranked Connecticut as the 4th most innovative economy. Companies from across the world partner with our 42-world class educational institutions, including Yale and the University of Connecticut.

On the international side, we rank 18th in the U.S. for foreign direct investment and 3rd in the nation for percentage of workforce supported by a U.S. subsidiary. Over 14 percent of Connecticut’s jobs are created by foreign companies. UK, Japanese and German companies make up a large part of our foreign corporate base.

Geography plays a role in our attractiveness to foreign companies. Connecticut is an excellent place for them to establish a US / North American footprint given our strategic location. Within 500 miles of Connecticut, foreign companies can access over 29 percent of the U.S. population and 30 percent of U.S. businesses. Also within 500 miles of Connecticut are Canadian provinces with 66 percent of Canada’s population, 61 percent of Canada’s businesses, and 65 percent of Canada’s employment. From our borders, you can drive to Montreal in less than 6 hours, Toronto in 8 hours, New York in less than 2 hours and Boston in less than two hours.

BF: Millennials are choosing mid-market cities over large urban centers, seeking a better quality of life and work/life balance. What makes the Hartford metro area a leading millennial magnet?

PD: The pandemic has led to a complete re-think of living and working in big, dense urban metros. We have noted that trend too, in fact, 16,500 households changed their address to CT in 2020. I also think it has something to do with wanting to be part of a community and to make a difference where you live. Young professionals are moving here to Hartford, Stamford and New Haven because they want a better quality of life than they find in large cities.

Hartford, in particular, is attracting young professionals for a range of reasons. From Hartford, you can be at the beach in less than an hour and in the winter, on the slopes in just over an hour. The city has a vibrant social and cultural scene and according to the Sperling Cost of Living Calculator, Hartford’s cost of living is 99 percent less than New York’s and 73 percent less than Boston.

Besides a great quality of life, folks are attracted to Hartford because there are great companies to work for here. Apart from our incredible ecosystem of insurance companies (more than 1,478 companies, representing 70,396 jobs), there is a vibrant and growing ecosystem of advanced manufacturing, healthcare, technology, and professional services companies, such as Stanley Black and Decker, Infosys, Hartford Healthcare, and Voya Financial. Bottom line: Hartford and our other small cities have what young folks are looking for these days.

BF: AdvanceCT is pursuing 30 active relocation projects. Can you tell us about some recent successes involving relocations and/or retentions?

PD: We have seen several company relocations from New York to Connecticut including the 500 headcount corporate headquarters of Nuvance Health Systems.

Despite the pandemic, inbound investment into Connecticut kept a steady pace. Amazon put two distribution sites and a fulfillment center in last year and one of our big technology companies, Infosys, announced that they would be adding 1,000 jobs.

Our biggest growth areas were in healthcare/life sciences, advanced manufacturing and like most states, we have seen a lot of inbound interest in “fill and finish” pharmaceutical projects as well as datacenters, thanks to Connecticut’s recently passed data center legislation.

On the expansion front, one of our large employers, Electric Boat, secured a USD 9.5 billion-dollar contract and announced they were hiring 2,000 new employees. The contract was in addition to a USD 22 billion contract they secured in 2019.

BF: How big an impact will the shift to remote work have on the commercial real estate market in CT? Do you anticipate that companies with a large CRE footprint in New York or Boston may open smaller satellite offices in suburban Connecticut, following the migration of their workers?

PD: Definitely. We are seeing a good amount of activity throughout the state. As I mentioned, more than 16,500 households relocated to Connecticut last year triggering a jump in our housing market, which had one of the biggest booms it has had in decades.

We are seeing increased interest in low stack buildings with less density, that have ample parking for commuters. The suburban office market is seeing a revival and we are optimistic that this will not be a fleeting trend. People want to work where they live and in the post-pandemic world, they will be less willing to compromise their work/life balance.

People forget that people in Connecticut have a very high quality of life. We have over 300 miles of coastline, we have skiing in the northwestern part of the state, and we have a mix of beautiful towns and very vibrant mid-sized cities. We have one of the highest rated public school systems in the nation and our healthcare network is world-class. Our work-live-play value proposition in Connecticut is hard to beat.

BF: AdvanceCT and the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development will be unveiling a long-term economic development strategy for Connecticut this year. Will workforce development, training and talent attraction initiatives be part of this strategy?

PD: Yes, we are working with the state to update specific initiatives to invest in our communities, support our small businesses, spur innovation, and invest in our workforce. We are investing in our people, particularly those who have been ravaged by the pandemic.

The release of the Governor’s Workforce Council’s strategic plan last fall provided the foundation for the numerous initiatives already underway. There is a heavy emphasis on re-skilling, upskilling and ensuring that our training initiatives are structured to meet the needs of our employers and the future of work.

One of our biggest challenges is recovering from COVID, which means focusing on our communities, small businesses, and retraining and upskilling people left jobless by the pandemic. We want to get them back into the workforce quickly and preferably in higher wage jobs. As such, workforce training is a big part of the state’s strategy. One example: Governor Lamont has allocated $130 million to upskill workers displaced by the pandemic and to also make access to this training more equitable.

There are a number of barriers to entry into workforce training programs in underserved communities. We are working to address those barriers, which include childcare, transportation and even food insecurity. Our goal is to develop pathways to prosperity for people and lift them into high wage brackets.

We are also focused on keeping our talent here and not exporting our college graduates. We have 42 colleges and universities in Connecticut, with a fantastic opportunity to improve the retention of those graduates, through our new programs and initiatives including CampusCT (not yet live) and, both designed to keep our young talent from leaving the state.

In short, Connecticut is doubling down on workforce training and development and retaining our talent.

BF: Will Connecticut’s fintech, life sciences and health care sectors be growth leaders as the recovery gets stronger?

PD: Life sciences and the biopharma / healthcare industry have always been part of the bedrock of Connecticut’s economy, but over the past few years, we have seen a surge in activity across all segments of the life sciences industry.

Notable anchor companies such as Pfizer, Sema4 and Boehringer Ingelheim have continued to grow in the state while biotech startup activity has remained robust.

Connecticut’s R&D capability at Yale, Jackson Labs and UConn continues to generate world class intellectual property which, in turn, attracts talent and capital. Connecticut is the third smallest state in the nation, but we rank 16th for NIH funding and 6th for venture capital investments, by state. We are investing in infrastructure, lab space and recently announced a new 500,000-square-foot life sciences building that will break ground in New Haven this summer evidencing the vibrancy of this sector.

Fintech is also projected to be one of our growth leaders. We have a strong financial services industry in our state, which is bolstered by our insurance sector and innovation coming out of the Insurtech industry—there is a lot of cross-over between Fintech and Insurtech and Connecticut is at the nexus of these rapidly growing areas of technology.

There are over 7,225 insurance and financial services companies and we were recently ranked #1 in the U.S. for captive insurance formations. Based on the activity we are seeing, Connecticut’s role in the global Fintech and Insurtech industry will be significant.

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