A group from around the state met Friday to talk about how to make Connecticut a healthy innovative ecosystem that attracts entrepreneurs who will in turn create Connecticut companies and jobs. We need new businesses and we need new jobs. As if it weren’t already abundantly clear, a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis has rubbed our nose in the fact that our state was dead last year in economic growth.
Part of the loss is due to shrinking government. Governor Malloy warned us back in 2011 that closing the deficit would take sacrifice, and went on to say, “There is no cavalry – except us.” So here we are, and now we need to think about how private industry is going to come to the rescue. Casino revenues are shrinking. I’ll refrain from commentary on whether that was a horse we really wanted to hitch our economic fortunes to anyway, and just stick to the fact that this gravy train has moved on. Other states have opened their doors to casino dollars and our piece of the gambling pie has and will continue to shrink as a result. We may still be the Insurance Capital of the world, but that’s another fading star. The large financial and insurance companies that were our mainstay have been shedding jobs for a while and there’s no reason to expect a reversal there.
OK - Problem defined. What we need now is a vision.
How do we get our state on the right track, creating a healthy ecosystem that attracts business and grows jobs? We’ve got an industry sector vision. Making Connecticut a magnet for health and bioscience works. It builds on what we already have to offer. It creates a niche market to focus on and stand out in, building on our strengths rather than trying to copy another state’s success story. This focus has helped to make us attractive to companies like Jackson Labs, Boehringer Ingelheim, Pfizer, and Protein Sciences. It encourages the creation of support organizations like CURE and the MetroHartford Alliance Health Council which will amplify the activities and success of what’s being done in this area. It helps provide structure and focus for educational and governmental efforts all of which add to the momentum and will help create the cavalry that is us.
We need the same vision for attracting entrepreneurs. What does the CT entrepreneur look like?
Most of us can picture the young techie growing the next google out of his dorm room, but when we’ve hatched them here in CT we too often lose them to Boston, New York, or California. The young, they tend to roam, and they like to go where there’re lots of others like them. But! And this is important… They often return. They come back when they have kids. CT is a great place to raise a family. Connecticut – Home of the Family Entrepreneur.
And even entrepreneurs who aren’t planning families find CT a great place to move to when they tire of the hustle, bustle, bright lights, and bars of the big city. They return to be closer to parents, community, and the land. We have open space. Close enough to the big city to avoid becoming bumpkin, but far enough away to breathe. Not too hip, but not too hick either. Connecticut - Home of the Comfortably Cool Entrepreneur.
And not all entrepreneurs are the 18-25 hipster set anyway. An increasing number of entrepreneurs are in their 30s, 40s and beyond. In fact retirees are a growing demographic on the entrepreneurial scene. Connecticut – home of the Mature Entrepreneur.
And Connecticut is a socially innovative state. We have reSET working to make us a hub of social enterprise - a growing international trend. The idea of building businesses that solve community problems is one whose time has come. Our schools are graduating kids who want jobs with meaning, careers that makes a difference, and entrepreneurial types who have ideas for how to solve big problems. Let’s keep them here. Connecticut – home of the Social Entrepreneur.
We know the industries we’re trying to attract. Let’s learn more about the entrepreneurs we’re trying to lure. Capitalize on our strengths and what is already in place. Create an infrastructure to support these entrepreneurs and the businesses they’re building and we’ll have a healthy, viable, enviable ecosystem that attracts the engine drivers of our economic future. With a vision we can build it. And then they will come.