Jobs, Economy Require a Team Effort
Can state agencies pull together to restore business confidence?
By Bill DeRosa
In his speech to the General Assembly on the last day of the 2011 legislative session, Gov. Malloy made clear what his administration’s next priority would be.
“Here’s what we need to focus on now: jobs,” he said. “It’s an emergency, and we need to treat it as such.”
The governor announced that he would be calling lawmakers back to the Capitol for a special session this fall to concentrate solely on jobs. He also revealed plans to travel across the state with Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) Commissioner Catherine Smith to “listen to and share our ideas with the business community about ways state government can aid in job creation.”
And he called on all state agency heads to “participate in a tangible way with plans for job creation and economic growth.”
“That’s important,” says John Rathgeber, CBIA president and CEO. “For a long time, we have said that creating an environment conducive to business investment and job creation is not just the domain of the state’s economic development agencies. Rather, it requires a true team effort across state government. All departments that interface with the business community must be accountable. They can help without diminishing their oversight role by working with businesses to design innovative approaches to achieve regulatory goals, treating employers with respect, and providing timely responses to questions and applications.”
So, just how do state commissioners plan to carry out the governor’s directive to support job creation and economic growth? That was among several questions CBIA recently asked key members of the Malloy administration. Here’s what they had to say.
Position: Commissioner, Department of Economic & Community Development
Appointed: April 2011
Experience: CEO, ING U.S. Retirement Services; COO, ING U.S. Financial Services; CFO, Aetna Financial Services
Education: Master’s degree in public and private management, Yale School of Management; bachelor’s degree, Hampshire College
Accompanying the governor to a series of meetings with business leaders throughout Connecticut this summer, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith is at the center of the administration’s efforts to bring jobs and economic growth back to the state.
“It’s of tremendous value to have the governor come out and listen directly to the concerns of businesses,” Smith says. “For manufacturers, the biggest issues are finding good talent and making sure they have a pipeline of workers. Other businesses have different issues. It has been very helpful to hear all their ideas and suggestions.”
She and the governor will provide a summary of what they learn to other agencies, businesses, and lawmakers.
“Ultimately, this is the fodder for the ideas we will bring to the special jobs legislative session in the fall,” says Smith.
When asked about her biggest challenges in moving the governor’s plans forward, she cites the stagnant economy.
“We’ve certainly seen improvement since the dark days of 2008, but the economy is clearly not picking up at the pace many of us had hoped it would. This has a negative impact on job creation as Connecticut companies worry about whether this is the right time to be making additional investments”_or whether they should just wait it out.”
Waiting it out is not an option for Smith, who has been working hard to involve other state agencies in the DECD’s economic development plans.
“I have been reaching out to many agencies to explore how we can collaborate to create more jobs,” she says.
So far, Smith has been working most closely with Dan Esty, commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), and James Redeker, acting commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
“We have monthly meetings where we talk about longer-range plans for economic and transit development,” says Smith, “but we also look at day-to-day issues: projects that are stalled or waiting for permits, for example: so that we can troubleshoot them and make sure things are progressing in a timely fashion.”
Long-range transportation planning for the state: whether it be highway, railroad, bus, or other forms of transit: requires input from the DECD, says Smith, because “you can’t do that in a vacuum”_You need to know where you expect economic growth to be.”
DECD outreach to other agencies has also extended to the Department of Public Health, where Smith has teamed up with Commissioner Dr. Jewel Mullen.
“[We] have been reaching out to the healthcare community to determine how to accelerate job growth in the healthcare arena,” says Smith, “particularly through IT investments associated with the new federal legislation, which requires companies to put health records online.
“There will be many, many more opportunities for this type of collaboration in the weeks and months ahead.”
Position: Secretary, Office of Policy and Management
Appointed: Jan. 2011
Experience: Operating officer, Bridgeport Public Schools; director of operations, City of Stamford; government finance director, Connecticut Conference of Municipalities
Education: Master’s degree in urban planning, New York University; bachelor’s degree in history, Swarthmore College
As the department responsible for overseeing the execution of the state budget and assisting state agencies in implementing policy decisions on the governor’s behalf, the Office of Policy and Management (OPM) has a pivotal role in state government.
“And we will not be shy in playing it,” says OPM Secretary Benjamin Barnes.
Barnes believes his agency can help further economic growth and job creation in Connecticut in many ways, including by making strategic infrastructure investments, developing growth policies such as the governor’s First Five program, and ensuring that “state agencies that have responsibilities for permitting economic development projects do so in an efficient and timely manner.”
He also believes that OPM can help by keeping Connecticut’s tax climate more predictable.
“We can put the state on a sound fiscal footing so that businesses need not face the kind of uncertainty in tax policy that has plagued Connecticut for too many years.”
Meeting the Fiscal Challenge
How to keep the state on a sound fiscal footing?
“The most important change is the move to GAAP accounting,” says Barnes, noting that the adoption of GAAP was Gov. Malloy’s first action upon taking office. (Full implementation will not occur until 2013.) GAAP requires that expenses incurred in one fiscal year be paid for in that year, something the state’s current system does not necessitate.
“It’s a crucial step toward making state government finances transparent and more straightforward,” says Barnes.
He also notes that the Malloy administration will maintain fiscal stability by developing budgets “without gimmicks or reliance on one-time revenues.”
Finally, says Barnes, “we will change the structure of government to make it more efficient,” but he’s under no illusion about how difficult that task will be.
“As we saw this year, proposals to reduce the size of government are controversial,” he says. “Every agency, department, or commission has a constituency that supports the status quo.”
Citing the administration’s success in reducing the number of state agencies from 81 to 59, Barnes says that those changes are just the beginning.
“We will take the next few months to review the workings of state agencies and will propose more consolidations and require more sharing of back-office functions to eliminate duplication. It is vital that our government get leaner, or in a few years we will again find ourselves spending more than we can afford.”
Position: Commissioner, Department of Energy and Environmental Protection
Appointed: March 2011
Experience: Author; professor of environmental law and policy, Yale University; several senior positions, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; environmental policy advisor, 2008 Obama presidential campaign; member, presidential transition team
Education: J.D., Yale University; M.A., Oxford University; B.A., Harvard University
Although Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) Commissioner Dan Esty is one of the world’s leading environmental experts, business and economics have always been integral to his thinking.
“My work with businesses large and small”_has convinced me that incentives for the business community must be a key part of the approach we take to environmental protection and energy policy in the state,” he says. “I have come to understand that the key to progress on environmental protection and in moving toward a clean energy future is engaging the private sector in a process of delivering innovation: getting the private sector to develop new technologies, new services, and new approaches to solving problems.”
It’s no surprise, then, that Esty and his agency are already contributing to the governor’s plans for economic growth and job creation.
“The governor has made clear that priority one for the state centers on revitalizing growth, and our staff has taken this message to heart,” he says, adding that DEEP has already begun to streamline permitting so that it’s more conducive to new economic activity. He’s also been working on the energy front to spur business investment.
“My focus on making Connecticut a leader in clean energy, efficiency, renewable power, electric vehicles, batteries and storage, and more will also create economic growth and jobs in our state,” says Esty. “I see a real opportunity for Connecticut businesses to play a role in the transformation of the $6-trillion-per-year energy marketplace, and in doing so, generate jobs and prosperity.”
Incentives with a Caveat
As Esty told business leaders at CBIA’s Environment 2011 conference, he is moving DEEP away from a “command and control” regulatory strategy to an incentive-based approach that will encourage businesses to address environmental issues.
Though he intends for DEEP to be vigilant in enforcing important environmental laws and regulations and to take action against violators, he says, “As a first step in our new approach, we will make certain that companies are clear on their legal obligations and the agency’s expectations.
“Most companies want to meet their environmental obligations and understand the benefits: reduced liabilities, lower costs (through “eco-efficiency’), and a positive presence in the marketplace.” The challenge, he says, is to encourage and enable companies to move forward with these goals.
Position: Commissioner, Department of Labor
Appointed: Jan. 2011
Experience: Several positions with the New EnglandRegional Council of Carpenters, including president of Carpenters Local 210 and Connecticut District business manager; positions in several construction firms, including carpenter foreman and supervisor at Henry & Gerety Construction
Education: Fairfield University; Sacred Heart University; graduate, Bullard Havens Regional Vocational School in Bridgeport.
When the state Office for Workforce Competitiveness (OWC): the governor’s principal workforce development policy agency: became part of the Department of Labor (DOL) this year, DOL Commissioner Glenn Marshall was put in a unique position to help meet a big challenge facing many Connecticut companies: finding and attracting skilled employees. To do that, he’ll be ramping up communication and collaboration with employers.
“Too often, a disconnect can exist between what employers really need and what we think they need,” he says. “My goal is to meet with…small and medium-size companies and ask them, “How we can do a better job of training your future workforce?’ We need to work as a team and do a better job of identifying training gaps so that we can better match worker skills with employer needs.”
The DOL’s training investments must target those needs, says Marshall, and line up with the agency’s strategy to promote job growth in key Connecticut industries: insurance and financial services, advanced manufacturing, aerospace and defense, bioscience, and tourism.
The Education Connection
Marshall also intends to improve collaboration between the DOL and its education partners, in part by leveraging data to help ensure that what’s taught in the classroom is what’s necessary in the workplace.
“Our Office of Research develops a jobs forecast to determine in-demand positions,” he says. “Additionally, the agency is working with other New England states to identify emerging green jobs in the region and the specific skills that will be needed. As partners, we can use this information when making decisions about curricula and courses in our schools and colleges. We can fill high-skill jobs only by offering comprehensive and individualized employment and training services that meet the immediate needs of an employer.”
Marshall wants to streamline the state’s workforce strategies to avoid duplication and turn successful, innovative pilot programs into large-scale efforts to ensure that entire growth industries have the talent base they need.
He also sees a big role for the state’s community colleges and vocational-technical schools, which, he says, are “geared up to provide very specific training that will closely match skills to a job that needs to be filled.”
Like Catherine Smith, Marshall is seeking ideas from business leaders for the legislature to consider during the proposed special session on jobs.
“I believe in the talent of our citizens and the resourcefulness of our employers. If laws need to change or policies need to be revised to help our state recover jobs, I hope to be part of the solution to make it happen.”
Position: Interim President, Board of Regents for Higher Education
Appointed: July 2011
Experience: Commissioner of Higher Education; ex-officio member, State Board of Education; president, United Way of Connecticut; president, Connecticut Policy and Economic Council; Connecticut state senator, 1986-1994
Education: J.D., Georgetown University School of Law; undergraduate degree, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service
Residence: West Hartford
Like DOL Commissioner Glenn Marshall, Michael Meotti plays a key role in advancing Connecticut’s workforce development programs.
Meotti is the interim president of the state Board of Regents for Higher Education, the centerpiece of Gov. Malloy’s sweeping overhaul of higher education governance. The Board of Regents replaces the Board of Governors for Higher Education and the boards overseeing the four regional state universities, the community college system, and Charter Oak State College.
One of Meotti’s workforce development goals is to widen the impact of successful regional programs, such as Asnuntuck Community College’s longstanding one-year certificate program in advanced manufacturing.
“While manufacturers across the state would hire graduates of such a program,” he says, “we haven’t been able to expand the geographical reach of this successful model.”
With Connecticut’s four regional state universities and 12 community colleges now under one governing body, Meotti sees opportunities for the institutions to collaborate in strengthening support for the state’s workforce needs.
“The engineering and technology programs at Central Connecticut State University can partner with community college leaders to develop a plan to expand manufacturing-related education pathways that are aligned to job opportunities,” he says. “Working together can deliver stronger programs while also creating opportunities for graduates of community college programs to go on to four-year degree programs later in their careers. The goal is to help Connecticut residents advance their personal goals throughout their careers and not just in their early years just out of high school.”
Meeting that goal, says Meotti, will require close collaboration between higher education and other public and private entities.
“We need to work with the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Labor, workforce development boards, and employers to make this work for graduates and businesses alike.”
Although the University of Connecticut is separate from the schools governed by the Board of Regents, Meotti sees an important role for the university in guiding the development of degree programs at other institutions.
From bioservices to environmental science, UConn’s 85 research centers continually develop new understandings and technologies that redefine the workplace: how we work and what we need to know and be able to do. As such, says Meotti, UConn’s graduate R&D work should help inform curricula throughout the state’s community colleges and Connecticut State University System.
To make his point, Meotti recalls a visit to the United Technologies Research Center to learn more about their work in photonics and fiber optics. The scientists there emphasized the need for a wide range of degree programs to prepare students for work in highly advanced research environments. They introduced him to a technician who had graduated from a community college and made fiber-optic cable to exacting standards for their experiments.
“In all seriousness, they said they couldn’t do any of their work without the support of the technicians,” says Meotti.
Position: Commissioner, Department of Revenue Services
Appointed: Dec. 2010
Experience: President, The Children’s Museum, West Hartford; vice president of community and institutional relations, Trinity College; Connecticut lieutenant governor, 2004-2007; Connecticut state senator, 1986-2004
Education: J.D., University of Connecticut School of Law; undergraduate degree, Trinity College
Residence: West Hartford
People typically have a love-hate relationship with state government. They love getting state services but hate paying for them. Unfortunately for Department of Revenue Services Commissioner Kevin Sullivan, his agency doesn’t get much love. Sullivan is intent on changing attitudes toward the DRS and creating a tax climate more favorable to economic growth and job creation.
For starters, he would like the DRS to have a role in informing tax policy decisions, especially when it comes to taxes that are “particularly burdensome or annoying to the business community.” That’s the policy side, says Sullivan, but he also wants to make changes on the practical side.
“How do we implement: in practice: the business of revenue collection? How do we interact with the business community? What works, what doesn’t work? I have said many times to my staff, “We want to be a partner with the business community, with taxpayers. We are the Department of Revenue Services, not the tax collector.’ And that’s a change.”
When it comes to compliance, Sullivan recognizes that while his department has a job to do, they must do a better job working with Connecticut companies.
“Let’s focus on how we have penalties be less a part of the tax collection process,” he says. “Let’s focus on how we get fewer long and large tax liabilities…We will do payment plans, we will do whatever we can. We want businesses to stay in business.”
As part of his approach, Sullivan plans to increase collaboration with the DRS’s Business Advisory Group, which includes members of CBIA’s Tax Committee, the Connecticut Society of Certified Public Accountants, and the Connecticut Bar Association.
“The Advisory Group needs to become an even more regular part of the way we test what we’re doing and, frankly, the way we advise the business community on the ways we think they could be doing things differently.
“I would also like to get the business voices into some of the more specific activities that we do at the department. We’ve done that in the last few months as we’ve been asked to come out with guidance on the new taxes. What we’ve done is turn to the business community”_and say, “This is going to affect you directly. Let’s sit down and talk about it and have you understand what we think it says, and let’s have us understand how you think you can deal with it. That’s the sort of model going forward.”
Speaking with One Voice
To help advance the governor’s plans for economic recovery, Sullivan has begun meeting with commissioners Esty, Marshall, and Smith.
“If we can bounce off of one another what we are doing, it offers the business community: the economic future of the state: the prospect that we will all be on the same page, that we will be able to communicate in a consistent fashion with the business community.
“One of the things I hear all the time is, “We may not like every one of the things that you do, but could you at least give us some reliability? Could you at least give us some consistency, something we in the business community can plan on?’ That begins with having the agencies of the state of Connecticut speak with one voice.”
Bill DeRosa is editor of CBIA News. He can be reached at email@example.com.
EXPLORE BY CATEGORY
Stay Connected with CBIA News Digests
The latest news and information delivered directly to your inbox.