By Bill DeRosa
This scenario offers the business community a prime opportunity to move the CT20×17 campaign toward its goal of making Connecticut a top 20 state for business in national business climate rankings by 2017.
“The environment is right,” says CBIA President and CEO John Rathgeber. “Post-election, lawmakers have to be concerned about what’s going on in Connecticut. In many cases, even those incumbents who won didn’t win by as much as they may have thought they would. Whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, no one should feel very comfortable that the status quo is acceptable, especially when it comes to the budget and the economy.”
‘Every Legislator from Every Community’
The foundation has been built for advancing CT20×17, says Rathgeber, referring to the work that the campaign’s partners, steering committee, and issue-oriented working groups have put in to raise public awareness of the campaign and develop policy recommendations ahead of the 2015 General Assembly session.
“Now, the critical step is channeling the enthusiasm and support that’s been generated into effective advocacy around the most important public policy issues.”
The objective, he says, is that every piece of legislation raised in the General Assembly in 2015 be considered in light of whether or not it improves our business climate and furthers or detracts from the goal of making Connecticut a top 20 state for business.
The key to getting lawmakers to think in those terms is ensuring that they have meaningful interaction with businesspeople before and throughout the 2015 session.
“We need every legislator from every community to hear from business leaders and employees about the importance of improving our business climate and being ranked among the top 20 states—and why that means so much to his or her constituents,” says Rathgeber.
Given the relative accessibility of state legislators versus, for example, members of Congress (who spend much of their time in Washington), that task shouldn’t be too difficult, he says, noting that state lawmakers live, work, and raise their families right here in our communities.
“There are many opportunities to make the point that unless we achieve this aspirational goal, we’re not going to be able to sustain the quality of life we want or create the opportunities we want for our children and grandchildren. Seize the opportunity when it’s there.”
A Proven Strategy
Collective efforts by businesspeople to communicate with state lawmakers about critical policy issues have resulted in many positive legislative outcomes over the years.
One of the most notable was a campaign spearheaded by CBIA to reform workers’ compensation in Connecticut, culminating with the passage of landmark legislation in 1991 and 1993 that stabilized what had become one of the nation’s costliest workers’ comp systems.
“It was a simple message: Reform workers’ comp; it’s costing Connecticut jobs,” recalls Rathgeber. “Wherever legislators went, they ran into businesspeople who could tell them a story about how the state’s workers’ comp system made it more difficult for them to expand their workforce. Consequently, lawmakers realized that they had to do something. The only way we’re going to
progress toward making Connecticut a top 20 state for business is if state lawmakers feel that their constituents are committed, supportive, and paying attention to what legislators are doing to try to accomplish this goal.”
Jim Torgerson, president and CEO of UIL Holdings Corp. and CBIA board chair, agrees.
“The next legislative session will be one of the most important in the state’s history,” he told more than 500 business leaders at CBIA’s Annual Meeting in October.
“Making Connecticut a top 20 state for business by 2017 is an ambitious goal. We need the commitment and broad participation from the business community to make it a reality. Stay informed, stay engaged, and hold elected officials accountable for their promises.”
A Good Start
During the 2014 election season, CBIA got a head start bringing state legislative candidates and businesspeople together to discuss the need for moving Connecticut up in business climate rankings. In September and October, CBIA arranged for 79 candidate tours of member businesses and is planning more with newly elected lawmakers.
Don Droppo, Jr., president and CEO of Curtis Packaging Corp. in Sandy Hook, was one member who hosted candidate tours, saying that CT20×17 was well-received by all three candidates who came to his facility, two of whom won their election bids.
“I explained that it’s getting tougher each year to do business in Connecticut,” says Droppo. “Our tax structure is not competitive and our business costs—energy and insurance, for example—continue to rise. All the candidates appeared to be familiar with CT20×17 and supported it, promising that they would align themselves with it. They all understood the frail condition of our state and that something needs to change quickly to move us forward.”
Disappointing News from Forbes
Connecticut’s frail economic condition has led to the state’s deteriorating position in many national business climate rankings, a trend that became the impetus for CT20×17.
Earlier this year, CNBC’s America’s Top States for Business index ranked Connecticut 46th, a drop of one place from 2013 and 15 places since 2007. The CNBC rankings and many others assign significant weight to states’ fiscal condition and business costs—including tax environment—areas that have dragged down the Nutmeg State.
Last month, Forbes released its Best States for Business rankings for 2014, which put Connecticut at number 36, a better showing than in CNBC’s study but a decline from last year, when Forbes had the state at 33rd.
The Forbes index analyzed 36 data points across six main categories:
- Business costs, which include taxes, energy, and labor (Connecticut ranked 47th, unchanged from last year)
- Labor supply, which factors in high school and college graduation rates, net migration, and projected population growth (20th, down from 17th in 2013)
- Regulatory environment, including labor regulations, healthcare mandates, licensing, and the tort system (37th, up from 39th)
- Economic climate, measuring growth in jobs, income, and gross state product, as well as average unemployment over the past five years (44th, down from 37th)
- Growth prospects, which reflect employment, income, and gross state product growth forecasts over the next five years, as well as capital investments and business stops and starts (28th, down from 26th)
- Quality of life, including poverty rates, crime data, cost of living, education, and health and wellness (3rd, down from 2nd)
Rankings such as these are important not only because they provide a snapshot of the various factors that make a state a good or bad place for business investment but also because they can play a role in driving—or driving away—that investment.
“National rankings create a perception, good or bad, about a state’s viability as a place to start and grow a business and create jobs, daily impacting decisions companies make about investing, expanding, and relocating,” says CBIA’s executive vice president, Joe Brennan.
Brennan’s point is supported by a 2014 study by Development Counsellors International, which surveyed randomly selected corporate executives responsible for finding future sites for their companies or operations. When asked to identify the leading sources of information influencing their perception of an area’s business climate, nearly a quarter of the 356 respondents (24%) cited rankings and surveys. (Of those, Forbes’ rankings get the most interest.)
“Connecticut’s place in the latest Forbes index reinforces the sense of urgency that lawmakers should have about the state’s business climate,” says Brennan. [Read More...]