More than 250 business leaders meeting with state lawmakers this week at Connecticut Business Day came with a list of things to talk about--including a $2 billion budget deficit, proposed tax hikes, a slew of costly employer mandates, and an outdated transportation system.
[Photo: Eric Albert (second from left), president, Albert Bros. Inc., Waterbury, asks a question during the Business Day session on labor and employment issues]
And their concerns found sympathetic ears, at the annual event sponsored by CBIA and the Connecticut Association of Chamber of Commerce Executives.
“We're all here for the same reason,” said Sen. Steve Cassano (D-Manchester) during the day’s opening session. “We all need a better Connecticut. We all want a better Connecticut.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-Southington) agreed, and candidly said addressing the concerns at the Capitol is going to take a little more effort from business leaders who need to “be at the table” more.
Being at the table is a lot of what Connecticut Business Day was about, with lawmakers and business leaders participating in breakout discussions on state taxes, labor and employment issues, and transportation; regional meetings; and impromptu hallway chats.
“We really believe Connecticut has enormous economic potential," said CBIA president and CEO Joe Brennan in opening remarks. "It's a great state to live in; it's a great state to work in. But we have some real challenges.”
"We have to do things to encourage growth, because at the end of the day, the only way we're going to solve our financial problems in Connecticut is to grow our economy. That's what really produces revenue to balance the budget, not tax increases."
In the day’s opening panel of legislative and business leaders, Burke Doar, who manages sales and marketing activities for Farmington-based manufacturer TRUMPF Inc, said legislators must ask if their policy choices make it attractive for companies to start or expand operations in Connecticut.
"We'd love to expand here, if it makes sense for us vis-a-vis our other alternatives," he said.
"There's some of us who think we should have 7,000 employees in Connecticut. However, a lot of those job opportunities went to other facilities in the TRUMPF group who had partnerships with other localities that made it attractive to invest there."
Sound Manufacturing president and CEO Kelli-Marie Vallieries spoke about the challenges her Old Saybrook company faced in recovering from the 2008-2010 economic recession.
"We lost about 34% of our business in three months," she said. "We went from 75 employees to 34 employees. It took us until 2014 to get back to the sales levels that we were at prior to the recession.
"Some of the things that we struggle with are all the mandates that affect the business and its profitability.
"We're looking for the legislature to support small businesses, minimizing mandates and added taxes, and helping us get through to the point where we can be the economic engine that we used to be and grow jobs in Connecticut."
Deputy House Speaker Peggy Sayers (D-Windsor Locks) said it was critical the state become more efficient, which included the regionalization of municipal services.
"We can't continue doing things the same way," she said.
And House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (R-Derby) said, “We get that the state is not business friendly. And we want to change that. The reason why we are here is because business drives our economy."
So how can the business community make a difference, particularly during this legislative session, which will have a significant impact on the prospects for Connecticut's economic growth?
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano (R-North Haven) said business leaders must actively engage with lawmakers and make sure their voices are heard.