Joseph Brennan, a veteran of Connecticut’s largest business group, officially took over as president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association last week.
Brennan, who spent the past 26 years as the executive vice president of public policy for the organization, said the new title and corner office are going to take some getting used to.
He succeeds John Rathgeber, who is retiring next year but has agreed to stay on through the transition.
“Joe is a tremendous leader and it just made sense,” Rathgeber said.
Rathgeber said he turns 65 in February and needs some time to figure out exactly what the future holds, but travel with his wife at the top of his agenda.
Former state Rep. Brian Flaherty, who served in the legislature for 16 years before taking a job with Nestle Waters North America, will take over Brennan’s job as senior vice president of public policy.
Brennan said hiring Flaherty to fill his shoes was a “no brainer.”
“When you have the opportunity to bring people like Brian aboard, you jump at the chance,” Brennan said Friday during an interview in his office.
Flaherty will interact with members of the legislature while Brennan takes over the responsibilities of the entire organization that includes the 80 employees, more than 10,000 members, and a service corporation that sells several lines of insurance to the group’s membership.
Last year, the CBIA helped create an awareness campaign called “CT20X17.”
“Connecticut does not have a good reputation as a place to do business,” Brennan said, adding that the goal of the campaign is to increase Connecticut’s standing nationally in the rankings of states when it comes to business friendliness.
CNBC ranked Connecticut as the 46th best place to do business, while Forbes ranked it the 36th best state to do business. Brennan said they want to get Connecticut into the top 20 of those rankings by 2017.
“When you have national reputation of being not a great place to do business, it makes it more difficult to attract investment,” Brennan said. “It’s not that we can’t do well, but it makes it more difficult to do well.”
He said the point they were trying to make to people is “this is not really a business issue, this is a Connecticut issue.”
Brennan said 2014 was spent raising awareness about the campaign. He said 2015 will be about trying to make progress on their goals.
But Connecticut doesn’t always make it easy.
Just this month a for-profit hospital chain decided not to purchase a handful of Connecticut hospitals because of regulations imposed by state regulators. Utility regulators also approved a large rate hike for the state’s largest electricity utility.
Brennan said there also are all types of pipeline constraints on getting natural gas, which powers the electrical grid, into New England. He said that originally there was talk that it would be resolved by 2017, but that was recently pushed back to 2018, which is just outside the goal of the “20X17” campaign.
“But once that construction is done to increase capacity, I think that will help with energy prices in Connecticut,” Brennan said. “You’re constantly fighting against the tide.”
Brennan said the Dallas-based for-profit hospital chain’s decision to leave Connecticut is proof that “heavy regulatory schemes hurt Connecticut’s reputation for business and sustainable job growth.”
If the perception isn’t erased, then Connecticut may see the progress it has made on the economy and jobs disappear, he said.
This week, the Labor Department reported that Connecticut has now recovered 78.3 percent of the jobs lost during the 2008 to 2010 recession.
That means it has regained 93,200 of the total 119,000 lost jobs. That recovery continues to occur in the private sector. The report said Connecticut has recovered 92 percent of the private sector jobs lost and needs to gain an additional 9,000 private sector jobs for a full recovery in that sector.
Brennan said the organization will be releasing its agenda for the upcoming legislative session at the end of January and is interested to find out how Gov. Dannel P. Malloy plans on financing the improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure.
“Transportation remains a big issue for the business community,” he said. “Airports, ports, conditions on the highways, and understanding there’s nothing inexpensive when you’re talking transportation — so financing obviously would be a big part in any transportation improvements.”
As far as the new, two-year budget that Malloy will introduce on Feb. 4, “We really want to see a budget that is balanced without any new or increased taxes, and without borrowing,” Brennan said.