Sometimes, important life lessons come from unexpected sources, and that's just what happened to Achillion Pharmaceuticals vice president and CFO Mary Kay Fenton at her first job, working for a nonprofit organization.

"I wanted to turn around economically impacted communities, but what I didn't know was that I was about to get a business education," Fenton told more than 450 business leaders at CBIA's 2018 Annual Meeting Nov. 8 in Hartford.

Mary Kay Fenton: "Businesses create jobs."
"We must be active partners with our elected leaders." Mary Kay Fenton speaks at CBIA's 2018 Annual Meeting.

"My first boss, a powerful, burly guy, an ex-farm worker organizer with a booming voice, taught me a very important lesson—that at the heart of every effort to improve communities is one thing: a job.

"Jobs improve individual lives, jobs turn around communities, jobs turn around states—and they don't come from government, they come from businesses."

Fenton, who recently completed a term as chair of CBIA's board of directors, suggested that every person elected to state government on Nov. 6 shares a common goal with CBIA and the business community, "to improve our communities and our state."

"It's not adversarial, it's a win-win," she said.

"With the assets we have here, we should be one of the best states in the country to do business."

Public-Private Collaboration

CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan agreed, telling attendees the incoming Lamont administration presents the private sector with a unique opportunity to drive economic and workforce development.

"Ned Lamont has his own business background and great relationships with the business community, and he has an enormous job ahead of him, so I think he's going to be ready, willing, and able to consider suggestions from the private sector," said Brennan.

Fenton cited numerous examples of the private sector leading an economic resurgence in Connecticut through collaborative efforts, including Stanley Black & Decker's choice of Hartford for its new advanced manufacturing training and research center.

With the assets we have here, we should be one of the best states in the country to do business.
— Achillion's Mary Kay Fenton
She also pointed to other companies' renewed commitment to the state, including United Technologies, Sikorsky, and General Dynamics Electric Boat, calling the submarine builder's new workforce development programs, "models for public-private partnerships."

In addition, the decision by Infosys to create 1,000 jobs in the state, said Fenton, came about "in large part because the leadership of companies like Cigna, Stanley, The Hartford, UTC, Travelers, and Hartford HealthCare campaigned with state officials on the sales pitch."

The move by the San Francisco-based Holberton School—which develops software engineers—to create its east coast campus at the new District New Haven tech and innovation complex is another case of successful public-private collaboration, said Fenton.

"Holberton is here because companies like Cognizant, Comcast Business, Digital Surgeons, iDevices, and Sikorsky got involved, along with the state," she said.

Active Partners

Brennan sees in all this a new era of public-private partnerships, with business taking the lead.

"Instead of just relying on government to solve the problems, we're going to go to government with solutions, and everybody in this room is invited to participate," he said.

Fenton echoed those sentiments.

"We must be active partners with our elected leaders and…unlock our state's immense potential, find and develop long-term economic solutions, and create and retain jobs," she said.

"Just as I learned 30 years ago, it's all about jobs. And businesses create those jobs."