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Consultants At Jobs Summit: Be Like North Carolina

By CHRISTOPHER KEATING

October 06, 2011

HARTFORD Be like North Carolina.

That advice emerged as a theme at Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's jobs summit Thursday when leaders discussed which road Connecticut should take after 22 years of no net job growth.

A Moody's forecaster said North Carolina made the right moves with the famed Research Triangle and education improvements at the community college level.

Steven G. Cochrane, a forecaster for Moody's Analytics, appeared via video-link before a crowd of about 650 at the Connecticut Convention Center and was asked what Connecticut should do to turn around its economic fortunes.

He said that North Carolina started to lure high-technology firms to the state decades ago and capitalized on its ties to three major universities: Duke, North Carolina State, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In addition, the state decided to reshape its public educational landscape and focused on creating jobs by upgrading the community colleges. That has led to "a long history of success'' in the Tar Heel state that Connecticut should analyze and emulate, Cochrane said.

A consultant on a different panel came back to North Carolina as a model for Connecticut to follow.

Mitch Horowitz of the Battelle research and development group cited the North Carolina Biotechnology Center, created in 1984 to foster a new generation of jobs and help replace three aging industries in North Carolina: textiles, furniture, and tobacco. He said the center, a non-profit in Research Triangle Park, is an example of the type of organization that Connecticut could develop to generate jobs.

He also said Connecticut needs to focus on "industry-university partnerships'' such as the upcoming collaboration between the University of Connecticut Health Center and Jackson Laboratory, which is designed to generate 300 direct jobs within 10 years. If the project proceeds as planned, there could be as many as 600 direct jobs within 20 years.

The state is expected to provide $192 million for a construction loan and an additional $99 million for research under a plan that will be reviewed by the state legislature during a special session Oct. 26.

Catherine Smith, Malloy's commissioner of economic development, said that Connecticut already has a running start with stem cell research around the state and bioscience developments centered at Yale University in New Haven.

"We are in fact trying to create a research triangle here,'' Smith said. "At least that part of our strategy does emulate what they've done in North Carolina over the last 30 years. Maybe it won't take many, many years.''

Despite some pessimism in the state regarding the lack of job growth, the out-of-state speakers at the jobs summit expressed optimism because of Connecticut's wealth, outstanding universities, leading-edge companies, and high level of education among citizens.

"You have a lot to build on,'' Horowitz told the crowd at the convention center in Hartford. "You can be winners in the global economy.''

Like Cochrane, Horowitz said that improving education is a key factor in improving the state's economic future. But he said Connecticut needs to go far beyond the traditional K-12 model of kindergarten through the end of high school. Instead, the state needs to focus on P-20 from pre-school to the end of graduate school.

Startup Connecticut

During the day-long summit, Malloy stepped away from the main ballroom to hold a press conference to announce the launch of Startup Connecticut, an effort to help entrepreneurs in creating new firms. The effort will be part of a national network coordinated by The Startup America Partnership, a nonprofit dedicated to helping new companies grow.

"Connecticut has always had a reputation as the home to innovative companies, technologies and workers," Malloy said. "But in recent years, people have begun to wonder if Connecticut's best days are behind it. Nothing could be further from the truth. In finding new and innovative ways to compete in a 21st century economy, we also have to find new ways to reinvent Connecticut."

Startup America is headed by Scott Case, a founder and former chief technology officer of Norwalk-based Priceline.com. On a day when most of the attendees were wearing sedate corporate suits, Case had his shirt untucked and was wearing red, white and blue sneakers. He called them his "start-up shoes.''

"Entrepreneurs and innovators are special people,'' Malloy told reporters as Case stood nearby.

Malloy added that Connecticut needs to provide the atmosphere and the money to help struggling start-ups.

"We do need to step it up as a state,'' he said. "Having said that, we don't have unlimited resources.''

Many of the details regarding Startup Connecticut remained undisclosed Thursday, such as how much money will be spent and how many regional centers will be established across the state to help entrepreneurs. Those questions are expected to be answered at the special legislative session in less than three weeks.

Malloy has called for cooperation between the state and the business community during a year when the two sides have been at odds at times. The 10,000-member Connecticut Business and Industry Association fought hard and unsuccessfully against Malloy's plan for paid sick days for service companies and restaurants. Business leaders have also criticized the largest tax increase in state history, including a sharp hike in the corporate profits tax.

Thursday, Malloy noted that the legislature spent months this year trying to balance the budget and get the state on firm financial footing.

"We were careful that we did as little damage as we could,'' he told the crowd.

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.
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