“Help us stay in Connecticut and create jobs” was the unison call of 300 business leaders to state policymakers at Connecticut Business Day this week, co-sponsored by the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives and CBIA.
“That’s just what we’re working on,” is, in effect, how Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman, Senate Republican Leader John McKinney (R-Fairfield), and Department of Economic and Community Development Commissioner Catherine Smith responded to the business leaders.
The biggest topics of the day were jobs, education reform and fiscal responsibility. Business leaders and policymakers exchanged ideas on how to move ahead from last fall’s Jobs Session to make even more progress this year.
Everything that happens this year, said Lt. Gov. Wyman, starts with the bipartisan package of jobs programs and incentives lawmakers passed last fall.
She said the rare across-the-aisle accomplishment, a wide-ranging package of job-creation programs and incentives, was a critically important effort to tangibly demonstrate that Connecticut “cares about businesses.”
Now the administration is focused on another concern of businesses—the availability of skilled workers. “We have heard from businesses that they can’t find enough people to fill the positions they have open,” she said.
So through Governor Malloy’s legislative proposals (contained in SB 24), the state is pursuing sweeping reforms to improve public education in Connecticut. It will start, she said, with expanding preschool education, but will extend into helping teachers and administrators become better at their professions, and turning around poorly performing schools and school systems.
Modernizing and revitalizing Connecticut’s technical schools is also part of the reforms, said Lt. Gov. Wyman, and the state is working with the business community to achieve those goals.
Legislative Republicans are backing the Governor’s education priorities, said Senate Republican Leader John McKinney. “Education reform is something we must do and must do together,” he said, noting that the governor has reached out to GOP lawmakers for support. “We all agree that … it’s not fair that our kids are in failing schools.”
But Republican lawmakers are also very concerned about the additional spending called for in the governor’s revised budget in a year that’s already seeing red.
“We should not spend $1 more than we have budgeted,” said McKinney. Instead, policymakers should reduce spending in other areas in order to meet the $321 million in additional spending in the proposed budget revision.
“I consider everyone in this room my customer,” said DECD Commissioner Smith to the business leaders. After 20 years of no job growth in the state, she said the Malloy administration’s aggressive approach to listening to businesses throughout last year helped produce the successful jobs bill.
Smith said the 9,000 jobs created in Connecticut in 2011 “is a small puff of wind in our sails” that she aims to increase by “double or triple” per year in the next several years.
Helping small businesses grow, improving the state’s regulatory climate, reducing business costs and creating a “second-to-none” workforce are major priorities of her agency and the administration.
Introducing Commissioner Smith was Dr. Fred McKinney, president of the Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council. He said that “understanding how laws impact all businesses in the state” is an integral part of Connecticut’s recovery. “The demographic reality is changing,” he added, so he appreciated the DECD’s outreach to make sure the state is “available and open to all businesses.”
Reforming public education will take “a historic effort” from the legislature this year, said CBIA President and CEO John Rathgeber.
He called on businesses to actively support Senate Bill 24 that contains the governor’s education reform proposals to improve education and strengthen teachers, education leaders and schools.
“We have to have great teachers and support them; we also have to have great principals and superintendents and support them,” said Rathgeber. “They are the ones who will make the difference.”
The proposed reforms, he said, are similar to those several other states adopted many years ago and which brought them considerable improvements in their education systems.
Reforming public education is imperative to securing Connecticut’s future and providing young people with the opportunity to have productive lives and lead our economy, Rathgeber added.
Closing the Business Day session with a charge to the business leaders was Bill Purcell, President & CEO, Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce and President, Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
“Don’t let this be a one-day event,” said Purcell. He urged attendees to invite legislators to visit their businesses, “because seeing is believing.”
But most of all, he said, “focus on the positive” with lawmakers and what can be accomplished this year.
Thanks to everyone who attended Connecticut Business Day, including these the chambers of commerce and other business organizations from across Connecticut:
- Avon Chamber of Commerce
- Branford Chamber of Commerce
- Bridgeport Regional Business Council
- Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce
- Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut
- Cheshire Chamber of Commerce
- Darien Chamber of Commerce
- Glastonbury Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Mystic Chamber of Commerce
- Greater New England Minority Supplier Development Council
- Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce
- Greater New Haven Manufacturers Association
- Greater Norwalk Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Norwich Area Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Southington Chamber of Commerce
- Greater Valley Chamber of Commerce
- Guilford Chamber of Commerce
- Hamden Chamber of Commerce
- Madison Chamber of Commerce
- MetroHartford Alliance
- Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce
- Milford Chamber of Commerce
- Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce
- New Britain Chamber of Commerce
- North Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce
- Northeastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce
- Northwest Connecticut’s Chamber of Commerce
- Old Saybrook Chamber of Commerce
- Orange Chamber of Commerce
- Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce
- Ridgefield Chamber of Commerce Inc.
- Simsbury Chamber of Commerce
- Smaller Manufacturers Association of Connecticut
- South Windsor Chamber of Commerce
- Stamford Chamber of Commerce
- The Chamber of Commerce, Inc./Windham Region
- Tolland County Chamber of Commerce
- Waterbury Regional Chamber
- of Commerce
- West Hartford Chamber of Commerce
- Westport-Weston Chamber of Commerce
- Wilton Chamber of Commerce
- Windsor Chamber of Commerce