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Letter to the Editor: Quit Bashing and Start Advocating

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[Editor’s note: The following letter has been written by Shari and Michael Cantor regarding Connecticut’s assets, perception, and outlook in light of GE’s announced departure from the state and other events.]

We love Connecticut! And that is why we are discouraged by the constant negativity we hear about our state. We need to stop disparaging this special place. Rather than sitting back and criticizing our current state of affairs, let’s work together to appreciate all that Connecticut offers while also taking the steps necessary to secure a promising and prosperous future.

Shari has served on the West Hartford Town Council for the past decade and as Deputy Mayor for the past five years. During this time, West Hartford has continued to be a successful, thriving, and diverse community, nationally recognized as such and a model for others. She is also a University of Connecticut Trustee. Michael is Co-Managing Partner of a global intellectual property law firm, which, using Hartford as its base, has grown from five lawyers in the 1990s to more than 120 today. He also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Connecticut Innovations, the state’s venture capital firm. Together we have traveled the world. We have met business leaders, policy makers, innovators and investors. Although we do not claim to be experts, given the talk surrounding GE’s announced departure, we feel strongly that rather than feel sorry for ourselves, it is time to focus on the great things we have in our state. More importantly, let’s focus on the straightforward policies that will propel Connecticut’s growth and success.

First, remember that Connecticut has amazing assets:

  • A highly educated and productive work force
  • World-class colleges and universities, both public and private, including UConn, Yale, Wesleyan, Trinity and many more
  • Growing businesses in diverse industries, including aerospace, software, advanced manufacturing, alternative energy, insurance, finance, pharmaceutical, biotechnology and defense
  • The only corridor between global powerhouses New York City and Boston

We believe the following five points are essential to making Connecticut what we know it is and can be:

  1. High speed internet. High speed internet is not a “nice to have,” it is a “must have.” It is simply the most critical tool required to be part of the 21st century global economy. Young people, employers, universities, entrepreneurs and innovators require at least 10 Gig capabilities at a reasonable cost, making this one criterion alone decisive in determining where people live and locate their businesses. We need this right now.
  1. Transportation. Our state is the corridor between two of the world’s most thriving urban centers. This puts Connecticut in a uniquely competitive position. While we are a stone’s throw away from New York and Boston, we offer a lower cost of living and a more relaxed life style. We need to leverage these assets by transforming transportation to allow people to easily work and live along this corridor. This is a draw for national and global innovators. The state needs to come together to actualize the vision presented by Governor Malloy. In so doing, we will transform the urban centers of Stamford, Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford and Waterbury into thriving 21st century cities that will draw our youth and sustain our future.
  1. Perception is reality. Let’s do everything we can to change perceptions about Connecticut. Many people inside and outside of the state think that we are unfriendly to business. While we know that this is far from the truth, we also know we can do much better. We must take bold, aggressive, proactive and “out-of-the-box” steps to change the narrative of our state. This means we need to change some of our business regulations and corporate taxes so that the state is universally perceived as one that fosters job growth.
  1. Connection of universities to business. In this highly sophisticated and technical economy, we need to strengthen the relationships between our educational institutions and our state’s technologies and businesses. The relationship between The Jackson Laboratory, UConn and Yale is an example of what is possible, and is an incredible platform for economic growth. These relationships are engines for job creation and retention, and they need to be replicated throughout the state.
  1. We need to be the biggest advocates, not the biggest critics of our state. Too many of Connecticut residents are bitter and self-loathing about our state. This trait, peculiar to Connecticut, is exacerbated by the constant negative refrain by much of our press, politicians, and business leaders. How can others see what we have to offer if we ourselves are so disparaging of our communities? This must stop. Connecticut is made up of intelligent, innovative, hardworking, demanding, committed, generous and enlightened people. Let’s make this our message about Connecticut.

We are better than the way we are being presented. It is time to quit bashing and start advocating.

-Shari and Michael Cantor

West Hartford, Connecticut

Shari Cantor is the Deputy Mayor of the Town of West Hartford and a Trustee of The University of Connecticut.

Michael Cantor is Co-Managing Partner of Cantor Colburn LLP, a global intellectual property law firm based in Hartford, Connecticut and is the Chairman of the Board of Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public state economic development agency.

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  • I agree completely that we need to work on transportation. We need to make Hartford as accessible by train and bus as New Haven is. Most people I know go to New Haven to take the train in to New York. We used to have a bus/limo stop in Farmington, that is gone. The last time I tried to use ct limo to Bradley I had to call a relative to contact them so I could get picked up. We used to be more commuter friendly.

  • It is easy in this social media world to bash people-it has become the “thing”.
    Having said that, there are some concerns about GE’s exit: CT has become a difficult place to live due to costs and taxes-make no mistake about that.
    So just regular working folks say making $50K have a lot of trouble keeping up with the overall cost of living here in CT.
    Now, transportation upgrades have been long overdue, as have many other “infrastructure” projects. For years we ALL have kicked that can down the road and now we are paying for it. In this current political climate, getting people to sit down and work things out has been too rare; especially when they are worried about their next election cycle.
    The lockbox idea for transportation funds is a must, as quite frankly I do not trust future General Assemblies and Govenors to keep their promises without it.
    Sensible, frank discussions, hopefully devoid of finger pointing and pandering to the media would allow us to move forward. I hope it happens

  • No bashing here, just respectful and strong disagreement with the Cantor’s perspective on Connecticut. When significant change is needed, the last thing the target needs is soothing words of reassurance spoken with heads-in-sand. I too have traveled extensively and yes CT is certainly not an undesirable place to call home. Our failure however, is CT’s deep leadership void in government and institutions. Our curse is our pride in being the ‘land of steady habits’ and our ‘quality of life’. With few exceptions, steady habits has CT missing out on the new economy, a dominant employment force. And, don’t bother asking bright young innovators about our quality of life, they’ve all left CT to find better quality of life elsewhere. When travelling, I ask people why they chose to move/stay there – you guessed it – quality of life. We do not own the patent on such a claim!

    GE did not leave because of taxes, they high-tailed it to an innovative, energy-infused region chock-full of new economy resources! CT needs aggressive, innovative and brash leaders who will not cow-tow to an out-of-touch establishment and get working to create a vital and progressive economy. Only then – while tossing out the steady habits mantra, will I have good reason to clarion our quality of life.

  • I agree 100% with Tony above – I am originally from NYC, have been living in CT for 24 years. When I first moved here this was a fantastic place to live with many advantages over New York State. During my time here I have seen many of those advantages gradually disappear. Since the recession and turning 50 in 2008, I have had to stay in a job in a company where my salary is lagging behind other areas, plus there is no opportunity to get a better job somewhere else in what I do at my age. Jobs used to be plentiful here, now forget it. I’ve barely seen any salary increases since 2011. Most people I know my age are putting up with this and just hanging onto what they have because there’s nothing out there. I got laid off in a massive workforce reduction in 2009 and it took me over 2 years to find a job despite having great skills and experience. I am told the situation is no better now and could be even worse so I stay where I am. I am now starting to see resumes coming across my desk from GE people looking for a job – Now they are going to be out there competing with people like me, making it all the harder to find a job.

    Plus my medical insurance goes up and eats up any raises I do get. My house has not appreciated in value since I bought it a decade ago, in fact it has gone down! I would not even get back the down payment on it if I sold it today. Plus grocery prices have shot up in CT. Many websites now put CT grocery prices among the highest in the nation and virtually the same as NYC. When I first moved here I loved the fact that grocery prices were lower than in NY but now there is no difference and I know that’s true because I still go down to NYC and compare prices with my friends down there. So much for a lower cost of living when it comes to food.

    And speaking of transportation, if we are such an important corridor between NY and Boston why don’t we develop that and widen I-95? I think it’s unbelievable that one of THE biggest interstates in the nation is only 2 lanes in each direction in this day and age. The traffic is abominable, especially in the summer. No, instead, we get told that we have to pay even MORE taxes with little to no improvements. When I moved here there were no tolls and no state income tax but now we get told we are going to have tolls in addition to the income tax we got saddled with 24 years ago. We were told back then that the income tax and the higher gas tax were supposed to avoid tolls but now suddenly we need tolls too and we STILL can’t make key improvements to our highways? Plus we have car property tax in CT while in many other states including NY there is none – What’s wrong with this picture?

    Sure, CT is a beautiful place and there are great people here but let’s not bury our heads in the sand over its many problems, and short-sighted politicians who say one thing but do the other. I know many people who were born in CT and have family ties here who want to leave and that’s sad. I wasn’t born here and have no family here so I can understand how I would want to leave but when natives are that upset something is very, very wrong and needs to be addressed. We don’t need to be told that we are just being “Debbie Downers” with all of this going on. That’s just not fair.

  • Those who are out of touch– should not– be scolding those who are frustrated and angry that the state of CT is driving out its middle class.

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