Greater accountability for economic development programs, expanded regional workforce partnerships, and revitalized cities are among the key job growth and economic policy recommendations presented to Gov.-elect Ned Lamont this week.

"We have big opportunities right now," Lamont told members of the Jobs-Economy Policy Committee, one of 15 policy groups assembled by his transition team.

The committee wants Connecticut to assess all economic development agencies and funding to determine where the money is going and how effective the programs are.

It's up to Lamont to decide which recommendations to accept.

"Our state has been flat as a pancake for a generation," he said. "Growth is going to be so key to what we've got."

Lamont indicated he's on board with one recommendation: Appointing a secretary of commerce to oversee the state's economic development efforts.

That position would be separate from the economic development commissioner, with broad powers to direct administrative and regulatory agencies in the same direction, and attract new companies.

Committee members said a new administration has the opportunity to make economic development and initiatives more flexible and responsive to a fast-paced, changing economy.

"Given the current fiscal pressures and environment in Connecticut, an economic development and pro-growth platform must have the laser-like focus of the new administration," the committee said in its report.

Workforce Development

Two of Connecticut's biggest employment needs are in computer science and manufacturing.

The committee recommended providing all K-12 students with access to computer science programs, and requiring colleges to provide training to students studying to become educators.

It also called for better regional workforce development programs and pointed to Eastern Connecticut as a model for programs in other regions and industries.

The Eastern Connecticut initiative works with career and technical education school systems in Connecticut and Rhode Island to realign curriculum programs to meet manufacturing needs and expose more people to the profession.

"We need to look at successful programs and determine how they can be modified to fit the demands of other regions in the state," said CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan, a member of the committee.

The committee also urged the incoming administration to evaluate workforce development programs for effectiveness and funding needs.

Other workforce recommendations include:

  • Incentivizing colleges and universities to provide teacher licenses based on what regional employers need
  • Increasing funding for additional areas of workforce training that align with industry needs
  • Getting employers, colleges, and universities to expand internships to retain recent college graduates
  • Offering loan forgiveness or direct incentives to recent college graduates hired into STEM positions

The Connecticut Brand

The economic subcommittee recommended developing a marketing and communications plan with a chief marketing/communications officer to elevate the Connecticut brand, and implement a business-retention program that uses existing businesses to attract new ones.

Committee members also called for developing a public-private sector strategy and process to identify emerging technologies and advanced industries, then leveraging an environmental public policy that supports these opportunities.

In addition, the committee wants Lamont to host a summit with the governors of New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts to coordinate the region's economic assets, capabilities, and begin discussions on high-speed rail.

Another suggestion is the adoption of a quasi-public structure for economic development modeled after partnerships used in Virginia, North Carolina, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Michigan.

Urban Agenda

The committee's urban recommendations center around ensuring fiscal fairness so towns and cities have adequate budgets and competitive mill rates.

Those recommendations included increasing PILOT funding for colleges, hospitals, and state properties, and adding new funds for certain affordable housing projects that don't pay full taxes.

In addition, cities will benefit from improvements to mass transit, including high-speed rail and an enhanced Metro-North connection between Stamford and Penn Station.

The subcommittee also recommended creating a $100 million fund through a statewide agency similar to the Capital Region Development Authority.

These funds would support roughly four annual metropolitan plans that include a potential mix of commercial, retail, market, affordable housing, entertainment projects, transit, and more.

The state should also create an urban coordination officer who would assist cities with various state departments.

The coordination officer would oversee marketing campaigns promoting Connecticut's cities as fun, innovative, relatively inexpensive, and great places to live and work.

Transportation

Lamont's Transportation Policy Committee met Dec. 19 with Rep. Toni Walker (D-New Haven), the co-chair of his transition team.

The transportation committee made several recommendations, including adjusting the gas tax, implementing highway tolls for cars and trucks, and exploring new alternative funding sources.

The tolling recommendation contradicts Lamont’s campaign promise to toll only trucks.

The top concern of committee members is future transportation funding.

The committee noted the need to diversify revenue sources available for transportation projects.

Committee members discussed prioritizing projects, in particular repairing roads and bridges, investing in passenger and freight rail services, focusing on transit-oriented development, optimizing bus services, and coordinating with businesses when developing transportation routes.

The committee also recommended exploring the concept of a state infrastructure bank, public-private partnerships, and savings from design-build contracts for key transportation projects.  

"Transportation is a main product that needs to be worked out in order for this state to evolve and thrive," Walker said.