A small group of construction workers, unemployed individuals, and advocates stood outside the Connecticut Convention Center Thursday to welcome those attending Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Economic Summit.“

Organized by the Working Families Party, which cross-endorsed Malloy’s gubernatorial bid in 2010, the group was careful to point out that even though they were holding signs—it was not a protest.

“It’s a rally,” Lindsay Farrell, legislative director of Connecticut Working Families, said Thursday.

“Businesses in Connecticut frequently have their voices heard. That’s why Connecticut has the lowest business taxes of all fifty states,“ Farrell said citing a recent study by the Council on State Taxation. “If we want to put Connecticut back to work, it’s time to listen to the needs of working people also.”

The “Economic Summit” featured economists and other national experts on the subject of job creation and economic growth. Farrell said the summit seemed to be focused on how to grow business, not necessarily expand the workforce.

Dave Roche, president of the Connecticut State Building Trades, said he was on Columbus Boulevard Thursday to make sure those attending don’t forget about the workers. He said giving tax breaks to businesses may help, but it’s uncertain if those tax breaks ever help create a job.

Darlene Herrick, 57, of West Hartford said she was standing outside the convention center at 8 a.m. Thursday morning holding a sign because she lost her job.

Herrick said because of her age and experience she’s overqualified for many jobs she’s sought and people like her need a voice equal to the one of big corporations.

“It’s getting serious out there and there are a lot more people like me,” Herrick said.

But she’s not just doing it for herself. She said she also worries about college graduates because there doesn’t seem to be any place for them to go right now.

“This is the first generation in many years that’s not expected to succeed beyond their parents,” Herrick said.

She said people are also holding onto their jobs much longer, those left behind are asked to be more productive, and reduced mobility seems to be an issue. It’s much harder to pack up and start over in another state than it was in past decades.

Herrick’s observations were noted by several economists inside the summit.

Bryan Hancock, a partner in McKinsey & Company, said when you look at employment over time the “jobs engine was broken in the U.S. before the crisis began.” And mobility is the lowest its ever been in 50 years.

The last decade had the worst job growth of any decade since the Great Depression, Hancock said. From 2000 to 2007 there was only a seven percent increase in employment which is less than half of the job growth seen in previous recoveries. He said McKinsey & Company is predicting it will take a total of 60 months to replace the jobs lost in the latest recession. If Hancock is right that means jobs won’t return until mid-2016. 

What caused it?

“One reason that this is changing is employment dynamics,” Hancock said. “In 1973 reduced employment constituted one-third of every percentage point of decline in GDP. Lost productivity was two-thirds. In the last two recessions workers took almost all of the hit. In other words, it was not a loss in productivity, it was a reduction in jobs that resulted in the drop in GDP.” 

Adding insult to injury, the jobs that do come back require new skills, which means the current skills employees have won’t help them find a job.

“We are going to be short 1.5 million college educated workers by 2020,” Hancock said. “We are also going to be short 1.6 million vocational workers.” And there will be a surplus of 6 million high school dropouts for which there won’t be any employment opportunities, he added.

The picture painted may be grim, but Malloy remained optimistic.

“We have heard loud and clear what we need,” Malloy said. “And I have to now tell you that we’ve reached out to all parties, Democrats and Republicans, anyone of good will, who wants to be part of the solution cause I can assure you we’ve identified the problem.”

“There’s not a Republican way of building jobs. There’s not a Democrat way of building jobs. If anything we as a state have proven that we’ve got to get together, and get on the same stage, and get this state moving,” Malloy said.

Malloy is working to reverse two decades of no net new job growth in the state which currently has a 9.1 percent unemployment rate.

“We need to concentrate on making sure we are training the replacement workforce for precision manufacturing in our state,” Malloy said. “Something which we have failed to do over a long period of time probably very much corresponding with our loss in manufacturing.” He also talked about making access to capital easier and reducing bureaucratic hurdles businesses have to climb in order to get into and stay in business.

Sen. Gayle Slossberg, D-Milford, said Thursday’s summit signals a significant cultural shift in the state and sends the message that “in Connecticut we’re serious about being business friendly.”

“This is all about making sure Connecticut starts growing its workforce for the first time in more than 20 years,” Slossberg said. “This is a major shift in that direction.”