Connecticut's Neighbors Courting Employers

The Hartford Courant

Neighboring states are actively working to improve their business climates, which adds to the importance of our legislators making critical decisions to signal Connecticut's competitiveness before the current session of the General Assembly ends.

New York's new state budget significantly reduces taxes on manufacturers and other Empire State businesses in an aggressive effort to attract private-sector investments and create more jobs.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, continues to move forward on a bipartisan plan to reduce the unemployment compensation burden on Bay State employers.

Clearly, other states are not standing still. They are sending a message to employers that the time is right to create jobs in their states.

Neither should we stand still. Connecticut lawmakers should know that state voters want them to focus on jobs and the economy more than anything else, according to a recent Quinnipiac University poll.

There is, in fact, much that the legislature can do in these final weeks of the session.

Lawmakers can adopt and accelerate the completion of a proposed comprehensive study of the state's tax structure and ensure that it focuses on making Connecticut more competitive and attractive for business investments and job creation.

They can also enact other proposals designed to provide employers relief from onerous federal unemployment taxes, and help Connecticut's small and midsize manufacturers grow.

Perhaps most important, legislators can reject proposals for new mandates and other restrictions on Connecticut employers that only make it harder for businesses to succeed and respond to changing economic conditions.

But regardless of the outcome of this session, much work remains over the next few years to make Connecticut one of the best places to start up or grow a business. We live in a terrific state blessed with many advantages, but unfortunately we rank low in most national business climate surveys.

Studies such as CNBC's "America's Top States for Business" (which ranked us 45th in 2013) affect the relocation and expansion decisions of companies outside and inside Connecticut. The rankings make it more difficult for us to attract the business investments we need to kick-start our economy, create good jobs and secure a brighter future.

That's why the Connecticut Business and Industry Association and more than 50 other leading business organizations from across the state started a multi-year campaign, CT20x17, aimed at placing Connecticut within the top 20 of all the national competitiveness rankings by 2017.

We will use prominent national studies — starting with CNBC's and Forbes's "Best States for Business" (which ranked us 33rd in 2013) — as benchmarks for annual goal-setting and progress-measuring.

Policy-makers should focus on the issues with the biggest impact on improving our rankings: state spending and taxes, education and workforce development, the cost of doing business, transportation, and the regulatory climate.

The recurring threat of budget shortfalls and our long-term debt are not just fiscal policy challenges but also determining factors in the state's economic well-being.

Only a sound fiscal foundation can give businesses the kind of confidence they need to increase their investments in our state, create more jobs and make long-term plans to grow here. Sustainable spending policies will both eliminate the threat of additional tax increases and give us the opportunity over time to create a more favorable tax climate for a global, 21st-century economy.

We have a real opportunity to make measurable progress on energy reliability and affordability. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, with the bipartisan support of the legislature, has begun a strategic plan to expand our access to cheaper and cleaner regional sources of energy. Implementation of that plan affects costs for our businesses and our homes.

Changes won't happen overnight, but we must start now. Connecticut has recovered only about 50 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession while, nationally, private-sector jobs have reached pre-recession levels.

Economic competitiveness touches every community, every neighborhood and every family in Connecticut. A more competitive economy will secure opportunities for a better present and brighter future.

Jim Torgerson is the president and CEO of UIL Holdings Corp., the parent company of the United Illuminating Co., Southern Connecticut Gas Co. and Connecticut Natural Gas. He is chairman of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's board of directors and the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century.

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