November 19, 2005
By KENNETH R. GOSSELIN, Courant Staff Writer
The new buzzword when it comes to keeping and creating local jobs is "urgency."
Hartford Mayor Eddie A. Perez leaned heavily on the word Friday after meeting with corporate leaders in the city to begin building a plan to stanch the bleeding of financial services jobs from Hartford.
Downtown Hartford has shown signs of rebirth with its new convention center and the ongoing construction of a new apartment tower and condominiums. But Perez said he was prompted to call Friday's jobs summit because he has grown increasingly troubled by accelerating losses of insurance, brokerage and other financial services jobs.
"I'm concerned with the pattern that's developing in our local economy, in the last seven months, in particular," Perez said at a press conference after the early morning, hourlong summit.
Perez, who faces re-election next year, said the city must devise a plan to retain and increase financial services jobs. No specific plan came out of Friday's meeting.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell also used the word "urgency" last month when she met with business leaders to talk about how the state can remain competitive. Business leaders also used the word after a report said the state was in danger of losing its competitive edge and its ability to add new jobs.
The question is what, exactly, "urgency" means and where it leads.
"I've been trying to talk about a sense of urgency for three years now," said Robert F. Flynn, chairman of the insurance and financial services cluster, a group that seeks to promote and build up industry in the state. "But this is an encouraging sign."
Perez said he will forge a stronger working relationship with Rell and state legislators to promote job growth. Perez was critical of Rell earlier this year for offering tax breaks to ING to move out of Hartford to a new facility in East Hartford, taking about 2,000 jobs out of the city by the end of 2007.
The mayor said he also will visit corporate leaders in the coming months to foster more open communication. Perez said he intends to get a better sense of what the city can do to ensure that companies stay or expand in Hartford. "But also what they need to do as private industry to be a partner in this," Perez said.
Since the spring, there has been a run of discouraging employment news for Hartford.
MetLife's acquisition of Travelers Life & Annuity will result in at least 288 layoffs in the city by the end of the year. And it is now expected that Merrill Lynch & Co. will eliminate about 300 jobs when it acquires the brokerage Advest next month.
There also is the prospect of job losses, analysts say, in the merger of life insurer Lincoln National, which has a major Hartford presence, and Jefferson-Pilot Corp.
The erosion is part of a longer trend afflicting Hartford. Since 2000, the city has lost nearly 3,000 insurance, banking and other financial services jobs, according to the state Department of Labor. As of June 30, the financial services sector had 30,435 jobs in the city.
Friday's summit was closed to the press. It was attended by representatives of the Phoenix Cos., Prudential, Bank of America, St. Paul Travelers, The Hartford, Aetna and Webster Bank.
Business leaders raised concerns about taxes and the lengthy approval process for new insurance products, Perez said.
Companies contacted afterward praised the mayor's initiative. "This is a complex issue, which obviously cannot be solved with one meeting," Phoenix President and Chief Executive Dona D. Young said in a statement. "At the same time, it was a positive step forward." Young noted that Phoenix has moved 450 employees from Enfield to downtown Hartford.
Oz Griebel, president of the MetroHartford Alliance, said Friday's summit dovetails with ongoing efforts by the alliance to attract business to Greater Hartford.
"This is the time to be having the conversation," said Griebel, who also attended Friday's summit. "It isn't the day before some announcement that affects jobs. It's constant marketing. And listening to companies."
Both Perez and Griebel said they were encouraged by the state's plan to hire a manager to market and recruit for the financial services industry. The manager will work closely with elected leaders, corporations, and the insurance and financial services industry cluster.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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