On October 29, CBIA marked two centuries of fighting for a more competitive Connecticut at its 200th Annual Meeting and Reception at the Hartford Marriott Downtown.
Sponsored by 63 of Connecticut’s leading small and large employers, the historic meeting drew over 750 business leaders and featured remarks by Gov. Dannel Malloy; Donna Galluzzo, chair of CBIA’s board and president and CEO of the Corridor Group; and Joe Brennan, CBIA president and CEO.
A special appearance by MSNBC’s 'Morning Joe' hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski had attendees in stitches as the two offered their unique take on American politics.
Country Ahead of Party
The duo, did however, have a serious message.
“If you’re going to turn this country around, this state around, you can’t do it in a bunker,” said Scarborough, a former congressman from Florida who, despite his conservative views, was able to find common ground with political adversaries on many issues.
“If it’s going to happen, it’s going to be done by everybody. People have forgotten how to work together.”
He called for bipartisan cooperation and a return to the kind of cross-aisle friendship that typified Washington politics in the not-too-distant past.
Recalling his days in Congress during the Clinton Administration, Scarborough noted that the President and legislators of all ideological stripes were able to collaborate to achieve important goals.
“We worked together. We passed welfare reform, regulatory reform, and balanced the budget four years in a row.”
And, he said, in a line that received loud applause, “We helped businesses create 20 million new jobs,” alluding to the connection between fiscal reforms and a vibrant economy.
“We had politicians who knew how to fight, but at the end, they always put their country ahead of their party. That’s the way it used to be, and that’s the way it needs to be again.”
Malloy: ‘I Want to Spend Less Money’
Malloy echoed those sentiments and drew the connection between fiscal health and economic competitiveness—“a great sign,” said Brennan.
"I want to spend less money. That’s why I’ve called everyone [Republican and Democratic legislative leaders] to my office to have a reasonable discussion about how to move Connecticut into the future," Malloy said.
"Let’s cut spending and get our long-term and short-term obligations under control."
Referring to his recently announced deficit reduction plan, Malloy explained that it included state employee pension reform and a new structure for a unitary corporate tax system that would be less onerous to multistate businesses.
“We need to be competitive with New England and the Mid-Atlantic states—the people we compete against most,” he said, noting that successfully competing against low-cost, low-wage states such as Mississippi is difficult, because Connecticut “has decided to deliver a higher level of services than other states."
“Let’s address some of the tax issues that business is concerned about," he added.
The Birth of Business Advocacy
Colorful banners depicting seminal moments in CBIA’s history lined the walls of the reception area, reminding attendees of how long business leaders have been working together to keep Connecticut growing and prosperous.
Galluzzo noted that CBIA’s history traced back to the Connecticut Society for the Encouragement of American Manufactories, which met for the first time around the need for tariffs to counter unfair British trade tactics.
“Two hundred years ago, with Connecticut’s infant economy threatened by postwar export embargoes and British import dumping, 20 business leaders, perhaps visionaries—including manufacturers, bankers, insurance brokers, and merchants—met in Middletown,” said Galluzzo.
“That meeting set in motion two centuries of Connecticut businesses working together—through civil war, the Industrial Revolution, two world wars, the Great Depression, natural disasters, and economic booms and recessions
“It set the stage for Connecticut businesses to protect and promote the state’s rich legacy of ingenuity and innovation, tackling challenges and unlocking economic opportunity.”
In 1910, the members of the society were seeking a more permanent, structured organization. The result was the Manufacturers Association of Connecticut, which lasted for 61 years, until it merged with the Connecticut Chamber of Commerce to become CBIA.
Looking Back to Chart a Future Course
Brennan believes that a historical gaze can point the way toward a better future for Connecticut.
“If we look back at Connecticut’s history, at what made our state great—for example, our cutting-edge manufacturing sector—you realize that we had a knowledge economy, even back then, and that Connecticut companies were always involved in social causes," he said.
“If we inform ourselves by looking at the past and what made us successful, we need to ask how that can help guide us as we chart a course for the future.
"What was it that distinguished Connecticut? How did we distinguish ourselves as the insurance capital of the world? How did we distinguish ourselves as a great center of innovation and invention?”
Education, freedom of thought, and freedom to act were key ingredients, he says, made possible because businesses were not overly burdened by red tape, regulations, and taxes on success.
“We need to incent people to innovate and create new and better ways of doing things. Overregulation and over taxation creates a drag on innovation,” says Brennan.
“It’s all about informing our decisions going forward by taking a look back to see what made Connecticut successful, what made Connecticut a great state, and how we can sustain that into the future.”
‘We Stood Up, and We Stood Out’
Galluzzo pointed out to attendees that just as historic events reshaped Connecticut, so too has CBIA evolved, “not only in name, but in member numbers, strength, services, and impact.”
Today, she said, “CBIA is Connecticut’s leading business organization, with thousands of member companies, representing a diverse range of industries from every nook and cranny of our beautiful state.”
CBIA continues to evolve to reflect new business imperatives, member needs, and political realities, said Brennan, pointing to the creation of the Connecticut Bioscience Growth Council, a new logo, a completely redesigned website launching in mid-November, and a new look to programs and events.
CBIA has also adopted a new, more aggressive approach to advocacy. At no time was that approach more in evidence than during the 2015 legislative session, when CBIA spoke forcefully against the tax increases contained in the new biennial state budget approved by lawmakers in early June.
By the time a special session took place in late June, CBIA had convinced lawmakers and the governor’s administration to reopen the budget and roll back a significant portion of the business taxes it contained.
It's not about business winning. It's about Connecticut winning.
“Even when bricks were thrown at us, we kept our arguments factual and direct, and I think that resonated.
"We stood up, and we stood out."
A Turning Point Year
The inroads toward a more competitive Connecticut made during the last legislative session cannot be a one-off event, said Brennan.
“We must make this year a turning point. If we go back to business as usual, we all lose. If we make it a turning point, we all benefit.
"We have an opportunity to change the current economic course in Connecticut.”
To capitalize on that opportunity, Brennan put out a call for CBIA members—and all Connecticut businesses—to be an active part of the effort.
“Imagine if we had every business in the state in this cause," he said. "Imagine what an impact it would have.”
CBIA is also working with non-traditional partners, such as hospitals, human service organizations, and even organized labor who, said Brennan, “recognizes that if we don’t have greater economic growth, we’ll be fighting over a shrinking piece of the pie. Our economy shouldn’t and can’t be a zero-sum game.”
"It's not about business winning,'' he added. "It's about the state of Connecticut winning.''