State Senator Donald DeFronzo - photo Chion Wolf
Yesterday’s show about job growth pulled out several threads of thought we keep coming back to on Where We Live: Long-term planning and vision, transportation infrastructure, high energy costs and reality-based budgeting.
We started with conversation about the Senate Democrats’ new jobs plan called ”Connecticut Jobs Now.” State Senator Donald DeFronzo said their proposal would make 1 billion dollars worth of investments in areas of what he calls “strategic importance” like transportation, housing, and energy conversation. He told us that these projects are authorized, and ready to start within a few months.
“Getting this money put in to the construction industry over the next 12 months has the potential of creating 15 or 16 thousand new jobs over that period.”
Asked if this is like a miniature version of the federal “stimulus package,” DeFronzo said, “in theory.” But, in practice, their plan would not mirror the federal stimulus by propping up existing programs or providing relief, it would instead be aimed at making new investments in building, a sector that’s slowed to a crawl in the state. The timing is good, DeFronzo said, because of low interest rates, and a motivated construction industry that’s coming in with low bids, while facing a 25% unemployment rate.
“I think we need to prime the pump here in a way to get people back to work, and once this happens, I think the ripple effect across the economy will be felt, and small businesses and large businesses alike will feel the impact.”
And that’s the key argument for a billion dollars in construction bonding, at a time when the state faces mounting debts, and still can’t balance it’s budget. DeFronzo says the state does have to pay attention to the budget bottom line, but…
“We have focused too much on mitigation plans, and debt ceilings and balanced budgets, and not at all
enough on job creation, which I think is every bit as important as securing a balanced budget.”
Which, of course, we might not have for weeks or months if Governor Rell and the Legislature can’t agree
on what cuts to make. As much as I wanted to keep harping on our inability to “think big” and “strategically” about jobs, UConn economist Fred Carstensen pretty much agreed that a plan like the one DeFronzo touted is what we need.
But Fred also worries that the budget fights will cost us some of our best opportunities to become globally competitive. As he told WNPR business editor Harriet Jones
, Connecticut hasn’t capitalized on its early investment in stem cell research, and now those funds are in jeopardy of falling under the budget ax.
“I think everybody who watches television has seen the ads for Michigan, about what a great place it is to bring green technology or biotech research or other kinds of activities. You’ll never see an ad for Connecticut.”
But others involved in the bio-science world aren’t so sure. Joe Franklin, the author of the blog yalepatents.org, is a PhD candidate in cell biology at Yale. He writes about intellectual property and biotech industry in New Haven and Connecticut (and by way of disclaimer, is also the husband of Where We Live producer Libby Conn). He’s written for The Hartford Courant about what Pfizer’s departure from New London tells us about state investments in biotech.
He heard yesterday’s show, and is skeptical of claims that the state’s modest investment will have big impact on jobs in the state:
Stem-cells funding may have brought a few researchers and their labs to Connecticut, and encouraged good ones that are already here to apply for more funding and, perhaps, hire a few new postdocs or technicians to perform research. But Yale already has over 270 different labs working on biomedical science. In 2008, it received $300 million from the NIH alone, not counting that from other major funders like the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. UConn took in over $70 million from the NIH last year. The total outlay of the Connecticut Stem Cell Initiative? Ten million dollars per year. Denise Merrill, the majority leader of the state house of representatives said that with stem cells, the state brings benefits “for a relatively small amount of money”. The characterization of price is true, but what benefits do $10 million bring when spent on stem-cells instead of, say, transportation or inner-city education?
He returns to a central point in his Courant op-ed, that state government should work on the things it does better, like infrastructure and improving the cost of living.
Clearly other states are doing just that, but they’re also plowing money into attracting business and creating departments that court outside investors into their states. Chief Executive Magazine ranks the best and worst states for business, and the top contenders are all making these multiple investments: Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, and the one we picked to feature, Virginia (On that list, Connecticut is 38th). Both Forbes and CNBC have ranked the Commonwealth as the best place to do business in the country. But why?
Well, we could get into substantial side-by-side comparisons of many factors, but let’s keep it simple. First, here’s Virginia’s website for its Economic Development Partnership – it’s at YesVirginia.org. It’s filled with positive language, and positive reasons why you might want to locate your company there.
Now, here’s Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development. It’s at http://www.ct.gov/ecd (write that down). It’s a nice enough website, that tells you exactly what they do, but doesn’t make a case for why someone should try to create jobs here.
It may seem like a small thing, but it’s all part of what Virginia calls “creating a sustainable business climate” that keeps down costs, while still providing high-paying jobs. During our segment with Liz Povar from “YesVirginia,” State Senator Donald DeFronzo was taking notes.
Late addition: Forget everything I just wrote. It turns out that Hartford is the seventh “Hottest City for Job Seekers” according to job search engine JuJu.com. Whew…glad we learned that. Now we can get back to worrying about borrow to fill the budget gap.