One small question could get big results in the effort to keep businesses in Connecticut and help attract others to the state, says a regional site-selection expert: “How can we make things better for you here?”

Asking that question, says Chris Steele, president of CWS Consulting Group LLC, recently helped keep a financial services company in the state. He knows, because he was advising the company on where it might move some of its operations--including out of Connecticut.

But because the state asked the right question, the business decided to stay—and ultimately expand--in Connecticut. 

Improving the perception of Connecticut as a place to do business will take that kind of consistent approach from the state, says Steele, who spoke at the Connecticut Economy conference in Rocky Hill today. 

Steele noted that while the results of the latest CBIA/Blum Shapiro survey showed that 17% of businesses (and 69% of manufacturers) have been recruited by outside states in the past year, it’s probably much higher than that.

“Actually, I would be surprised if the real number was below 90%,” says Steele, whose company helps businesses assess the many factors involved in selecting a place to do business.

Beating the perception

Making things more difficult is that a national website recently said Connecticut has one of the nation’s worst business climates-- a report, says Steele, that was not based on data but opinion.

It’s a problem, he added, because much of CWS’s preliminary work with the companies is done without the possible new locations—such as states like Connecticut—ever knowing that it’s going on. Many locations are ruled out even before they know they are being targeted.

And that means that Connecticut must take the initiative to burnish its pro-business credentials, promote the state’s advantages—such as its skilled, flexible and adaptable workforce-- and be actively involved in improving business conditions, says Steele.

Bullish bank

One company that’s particularly bullish on Connecticut is First Niagara, which recently expanded into the state when it merged with the former NewAlliance Bank.   

Despite the state’s struggling economy and the many regulatory challenges facing the banking industry, says First Niagara’s David Ring, the company loves the state’s “tremendous upside potential.”

Since the merger was finalized, says Ring, First Niagara Financial Group’s New England Region president, the bank is stepping up its hiring and loan operations, and opening up several new branches in Connecticut.

He told business leaders at the conference that Connecticut’s banking industry overall is strong and “poised to compete more vigorously for your business.” But he says that these “interesting times call for innovative banking.” For example, traditional, “formulaic” lending won’t work, says Ring.

That means lenders must take a "special look” at each client to assess such factors as a company’s quality of management, transparency, vision and willingness to invest in itself.  

But there’s more to improving the state’s business image than just business, says Ring. One of the big keys to changing perceptions of Connecticut is if the whole business community “works together to invest in our communities.”

Through volunteerism and being “good corporate citizens,” businesses can help create an environment that will attract other companies from out of state to Connecticut.