Three governors crisscrossed the state Monday, all looking to bolster their business strength, and no, there won't be a punch line here — other than the knockout that Texas Gov. Rick Perry and South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard are trying to inflict on our own Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
It was a day for the high art of political civility, which is to say, brutal competition barely masked. From the way these red-state dignitaries were talking, it's lights-out time in Connecticut. You'd think the cost of doing business, in dollars, is the whole ballgame. It isn't.
They have a point and the many people who called Monday's visits a wake-up call are right. Texas, and even ultra-remote South Dakota, can offer enough savings and lack of regulations to lure some firms to their soil. For now, their economies are booming and Connecticut's ain't.
Out of Monday's talks, we learned that the Colt Firearms companies, with 700 employees in West Hartford and a history to match that of any manufacturer in America, could pick up and move out of state, an executive said. Or Colt may stay put, expand elsewhere or perhaps move to another town in Connecticut, the same executive said.
But on Monday, Colt and other gun makers welcomed Perry, and planned to welcome Daugaard Tuesday, in a very preliminary dance.
And despite what those two governors say, victory in economic development is a matter of balance. Just as no amount of state largesse to corporations can fully make up for the costs of operating in Connecticut, no lack of income tax in Texas, no eye-popping jobs growth, can make up for the Lone Star State's shameful socio-economic record contained in a Texas legislative report this year that put the state last in health insurance, last in high school graduation, last in voter participation, and near the bottom in per-pupil spending.
And as for South Dakota, the tall and stately Daugaard almost had me wanting to plant myself in a state where I have as much chance as the deer and the antelope of getting an airline flight anywhere. He made a case that there's a burgeoning manufacturing sector there, and one of his targets — Mark Malkowski of Stag Arms in New Britain — promised to pay a visit in September. Will Malkowski really move his workforce of 200 heavily Polish employees to the shadow of Mount Rushmore?
The point is not to trash those other states. They are wonderful places, just as Connecticut is marvelous for its highly educated citizenry and proximity to the heart of the megalopolis — well worth the higher taxes and worker compensation costs to some, but not others.
And so the game is played, and will not end soon.
"That's the kind of competition I think our Founding Fathers had in mind. I don't think they realized there were going to be 50 laboratories of innovation," Perry said on former Gov. John G. Rowland's radio show on WTIC-AM 1080. "In a very civil way we are trying to compete with other states and that's how you become stronger."
Many suspect he's bolstering his credentials for a 2016 run for president after his cash-and-burn 2012. He would only say, "Twenty-sixteen will take care of itself."
It all came together at high noon Monday at Max Downtown, where Perry convened a reception in a back room. We in the media peered in through glass doors to see a strange yet familiar sight: Malloy entering the fray. He was uninvited but welcomed by Perry, who called Malloy's drop-in "a great show of hospitality."
"I wanted to welcome him to our state," Malloy said. "We wanted to show him what good Yankee hospitality is all about."
Malloy happened to be in the neighborhood, addressing the bar association across the street, on his way from doling out a few tens of millions of dollars to Alexion Corp., the pharmaceutical firm that broke ground on its move to downtown New Haven, and promises to add at least 300 jobs.
Perry, whose sojourn to Connecticut and New York is aimed precisely at firearms, pharma and finance firms, would love to have companies like Alexion in the Austin orbit. He was satisfied meeting Monday with disgruntled gun makers.
By all accounts, in Perry's meetings with firearms manufacturers and others, he offered few if any details about what Texas might give them. The Texas reforms that make that state among the friendliest for business go back more than a decade.
"You're going to be most comfortable in a place where you get to keep more of what you work for," Perry said, briefly addressing reporters between handshakes with Malloy and finger-food with his guests.
When I asked whether those reforms — including a loosening of regulations — contribute to situations like the fertilizer plant explosion near Waco, Perry shot back that there's no clear connection. "Until we get to the bottom of that investigation, I think it's a bit premature."
Indeed, it may be sabotage or even terrorism, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the company had too little liability insurance in the Wild Wild West of the town of West, Texas.
On a tour of Colt's Manufacturing Co., and Colt Defense LLC earlier in the day, Perry shot a half dozen pistols and rifles for about 15 minutes.