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The Jobs Challenge

Hartford Courant Editorial

January 04, 2012

The goal this year is to end Connecticut's dismal distinction of having the nation's worst record on job creation.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the General Assembly have big ideas for Connecticut's economy. The challenge is making them operational. Best-laid plans can die at the agency level for many reasons, including endless reviews and confusion over who is responsible for what.

They took remarkable first steps in 2011 with bold investments in bioscience projects and an unusually bipartisan jobs-creation package. They've committed money to nurturing startups and rewarding big companies that stay and grow -- a necessity in an age when states poach from each other.

The trick will be to make the plan work. Mr. Malloy is a pro at this on the city level. He performed wonders as mayor of Stamford by picking great managers and making them accountable. His choices in state agency heads have pleased business leaders. Those department heads will have to cut through Gordian knots of bureaucracy to make the state's $626 million investment yield jobs.

What else does the state have to do?

Make schools responsive. Gov. Malloy's top priority for 2011 is school reform, which is critical to the state's economy. It's shameful that 72 percent of those attending community colleges in this state-- and 65 percent for those at public universities -- require remedial or developmental math or English. Connecticut is in a global race for jobs. This is not the way to win it.

It's critical to empower local leaders. The legislature must let school boards use teacher performance, not seniority, in making layoff decisions. The "last in, first out" policy serves tenured teachers at the expense of children.

Part of the jobs package includes money for a study of how well colleges and schools are matching employer needs. A thousand jobs in high-skilled manufacturing are reportedly going begging in Connecticut. Schools must do better at preparing students for them.

Coddle small businesses. They are the engine of job growth, as the saying goes. But entrepreneurs can easily run out of gas before their ideas and services catch on. The state will now provide booster fuel in grants and loans to startups to keep them from stalling.

Government could do more to help emerging companies and struggling cities at the same time by turning empty buildings in cities like Hartford into business incubators.

Get leaner. Gov. Malloy did yeoman's work in 2011 in putting the state on a sounder fiscal path. But he has to do more to get state costs under control. The state has $71 billion in long-term debt, one of the highest per-capita burdens of any state. Companies may put up with higher energy costs and taxes to be in a highly productive place filled with talent like Connecticut, but not if the state is in over its head financially in the long run.

Think export ? and import. Connecticut does a robust business beyond its borders -- $16 billion in exports in 2010, 15 percent more than 2009. Many foreign companies have their U.S. headquarters here, including Germany-based Trumpf in Farmington and Denmark-based Lego in Enfield. What can Connecticut do to be home to more global corporations? For one thing, it can make its largest airport truly international with a regular flight to Europe. With the legislature's change in Bradley International Airport's governing structure, it should be easier to develop the airport's potential.

Connecticut has great human capital, lots of bright people with wonderful ideas. The key is implementing them.

This is the fourth in a series on what the state should do in 2012.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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