Steve Blazejewski oversees a portfolio of $2 billion in surgical product sales for medical device manufacturer Covidien, which spends $500 million a year on research and development, employs more than 3,000 Connecticut residents in its North Haven and New Haven facilities, and boasts the largest medical technology internship program in the state.
“We really do believe the best and brightest minds are here,” he told a packed room at The Connecticut Economy, CBIA’s Sept. 5 economic conference in Rocky Hill.
The global president of Covidien’s General Surgical Products business, Blazejewski acknowledged that despite the state’s talent pool, most of his company’s 40-plus manufacturing operations are located outside the U.S.
“Cost is a real factor. We want to stay here, and we want to continue to invest. We’d like it to be a little easier.”
When asked what Connecticut would have to do to bring more of Covidien’s operations in state, Blazejewski was direct. “Promote a viable economy. Minimize taxation and regulation.”
That was the message echoed by a number of speakers at the sold-out event.
Survey Shows Mixed Results
“We live and work in a great state,” said Jim Torgerson, president and CEO of UIL Holdings, noting among other things advances in bioscience, aerospace, medical technology, and financial services that would not be possible without a highly productive workforce.
But, he added, “Our economic recovery has not kept pace with the national and regional economies.”
Indeed, in a survey released that morning, the state’s economy emerged as the single greatest concern among Connecticut companies.
The CBIA/BlumShapiro 2014 Survey of Connecticut Businesses found that while three times as many Connecticut companies are growing as contracting, and nearly half are adding new products or services, concerns about the economy run deep.
The most important actions policymakers can take to enhance the state’s business climate, according to survey respondents, are to reduce taxes, regulations, and government spending.
Torgerson called on business leaders to support the CT20x17 campaign, saying that they needed to ensure that the major issue of the 2014 elections was "making Connecticut a top state for business, jobs, and economic growth."
"It’s about responsibility, and those of us in this room have an important role to play," he said. "As business leaders, as leaders in our community, we have a responsibility to our employees, to our clients, to our family, friends, and neighbors–a responsibility to get involved."
Job Growth Lags
“While we continue to recover from the depths of the recession,” said Dr. Susan Coleman, professor of finance at the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business, “and we have a healthy mix of large and small firms in a diverse array of industries, and our educational attainment is higher than the national average, Connecticut’s job growth lags the northeast region and the U.S.”
Coleman noted that Connecticut ranks near the bottom in several national business rankings, including the Thumbtack.com 2014 Small Business Friendliness Survey (which give the state a grade of D) and the Tax Foundation’s 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index (42nd place).
Similarly, CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business study ranks Connecticut’s business climate at fifth worst.
“As you can see,“ said Coleman, “we’re at the wrong end of these business climate indexes. We need to educate our policymakers, legislators, and voters on these issues. We cannot let ourselves keep spiraling downward. We need to act now.”
Coleman urged policymakers to “aggressively tackle the high cost of doing business,” address government spending in excess of the growth rates of personal income and population, and combine public and private dollars to leverage key industries such as aerospace, financial services, and bioscience.
“A rising tide lifts all boats,” she said.
Robert Triest, vice president and economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, and Donald Klepper-Smith, chief economist and director of research at DataCore Partners, observed that while New England and the nation have rebounded to pre-recession employment levels, Connecticut’s economy has merely chugged along, forcing many employers to hold tight on hiring. (Connecticut has reclaimed only 64% of the jobs lost during the recession, while neighboring Massachusetts has recovered 169%.)
Among the recommendations for boosting the economy and Connecticut’s business climate rankings were reduced costs and administrative burdens on businesses; a clear, cogent, strategic plan for IT investment; and greater fiscal responsibility, including more efficient, cost-effective delivery of public services and health and human services.