I'm Leaving Connecticut, But I'd Love To Return

Curmudgeons leaving Connecticut sell state short

I've just moved to Cambridge, Mass., to pursue an opportunity that takes me away from Connecticut, but as I packed, I thought about how the only thing more fortunate than having been born in Hartford was that I got to grow up in Wethersfield. I do not know what prompts the negativity about our state that I read in the newspapers, but I think some of these pundits need to have their vision checked.

Despite the cynics rooting against us, we are a community that has stubbornly refused to fail. When the cynics said the busway from New Britain to Hartford was not going to work, it launched with higher ridership than anyone predicted. When the cynics said Obamacare would not work, we built an exchange that became a model for the nation and cut the number of uninsured state residents in half.

When the cynics said that we cannot tackle climate change without hurting our economy, we blanketed the state with solar panels, and electric vehicle charging stations are common across the state. While chronic homelessness is a problem that places like San Francisco and New York find vexing, we ended chronic veterans' homelessness in August and are on track to end all chronic homelessness in a year. There may be no challenge that is too tough for us to tackle with a little Yankee ingenuity.

Meanwhile, something special is happening in New Haven. I am not talking about the plummeting crime rates or rising graduation rates. I am talking about the fact that a band of entrepreneurs is coming together to build the future of our economy. Ben Berkowitz and his team at SeeClickFix are transforming the way citizens connect with their government. Two other entrepreneurs who found their success in digital marketing are going to build a $20 million technology incubation center in the city, sending a clear message that more of these innovators are on their way. Although General Electric may be flummoxed at how to succeed in one of the most educated states in the nation, the business owners on Chapel Street sure aren't.

Dealing with success can also be difficult, but Jamie McDonald of Bear's Smokehouse managed to snag one of the larger properties in the Front Street district in Hartford for his expansion before someone else figured out how good a deal it was. From Blue Back Square to Main Street in Middletown, when I ask people what's new in the Nutmeg State, the answer always seems to be a lot. For some people, choosing which beach or free hiking trail to enjoy on the weekend can be difficult, but fortunately we have enough summer weekends to at least sample the best ones.

I have been lucky to grow up in this place that believes in itself. Sen. Chris Murphy inspired many of my friends to get involved in politics, and because of him many towns have accepted and encouraged their young people to participate in their communities. It has been exciting to watch others build their own businesses when they could have chosen a safer path. Other places in America may have to import entrepreneurs and experts and watch their success be built by outsiders or gentrifiers. In Connecticut, we do it ourselves.

Most important, I have been lucky to have mentors and friends who believe in me. Whether it was making a phone call, sharing advice or offering a shoulder for commiseration, it is hard to overstate the generosity I experienced as I slogged through my job search. I will miss the people and places in Connecticut as I begin a new chapter of my life at Harvard University. I do not yet know what will follow my year in Cambridge, but unlike some of the curmudgeons leaving the state, I would not be upset if I returned.

Matthew Zagaja just moved from Wethersfield to become a fellow at the Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. A version of this piece appeared on Zagaja's Facebook page.

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