Input from its business leaders is one reason Connecticut has fared better economically than many other states during the coronavirus pandemic, says Josh Geballe, the state's chief operating officer.
Speaking Sept. 24 at CBIA’s annual The Connecticut Economy: Rebuilding Connecticut conference, Geballe said the state has recovered about 84% of its pre-pandemic economy, ranking it eighth nationally.
Connecticut achieved that performance thanks to the business leaders, scientists, and public health experts who served on the Reopen Connecticut Advisory Group, Geballe said.
“Their work was instrumental in putting out those Phase One and Phase Two guidelines, the sequencing and thought that went into that,” he said.
"We kept many businesses open, including manufacturing, with the belief that they could operate safely. In retrospect, that worked and enabled us to limit the damage to our economy.
“The protections that businesses put in place enabled us to get back to that 95% reopen threshold."
The state will achieve that threshold with the third phase of reopening set for Oct. 8, he said.
'Long Way to Go'
While 95% of businesses are open, Geballe acknowledged that "these are very difficult, sometimes dire situations" for those businesses that remain closed or operating under restrictions.
"We still have a long way to go and a lot of challenges ahead to rebuild our economy," Geballe says. "We remain optimistic about the recovery.
"All these challenges get a lot easier if we're driving growth and job creation."
Public health and economic recovery "are closely linked" Geballe says.
"We've focused on looking at them hand-in-glove as we make decisions about moving forward," he said,
“The governor recognized early on that we can only recover economically if we have stability and predictability around public health.
“The impact on consumer confidence with regard to where we stand on public health metrics is critical.”
Despite a recent uptick in virus cases associated with the reopening of colleges, universities, and schools, Connecticut remains “in a position that most other states would certainly prefer.”
That’s resulted in inquiries from out of state businesses interested in opening or relocating here, he said.
“We are hopeful there is a silver lining in all of this for Connecticut—that a lot of businesses are taking a fresh look at us and like what they see.”
Geballe said he’s not hopeful for additional federal help for small businesses and suggested the state may provide more help like the Connecticut Recovery Bridge Loan program offered earlier this year.
“We’re getting increasingly resigned to the likelihood that they will not move, either before the election or through a lame duck period, regardless of how the election shakes out,” he said.
While the state’s current fiscal situation looks good with $3.1 billion in its rainy day fund, it will face considerable fiscal challenges in the next few years with sizable budget deficits projected for fiscal years 2022 and 2023, Geballe said.
“We know that the goal we look for is both to avoid, to the extent we possibly can, tax increases and provide tax certainty to businesses and residents of Connecticut but, at the same time, protect the critical services that we provide as a state that so many people rely on,” he said.
He added that the projected wave of state employee retirements—up to one-quarter the workforce could retire in the next few years—represented an opportunity to further streamline and improve state services.
Geballe believes Connecticut will continue to fare well during the pandemic, largely because people are cooperating with mask and social distancing guidelines.
“We can continue to maintain this balance we have over the last several months—the alignment between our public health interventions and our effort to recover our economy, help our businesses get through this, and protect jobs,” he said.
“We know we’re not out of the woods. We know we have to keep our guard up.
“But I think it’s worth pointing out that we all believe that if there is a resurgence, we all feel we’re much better prepared than we were in March and April.”