Mark Bertolini, you fooled nobody. We’re not at all surprised you want to move Aetna’s corporate headquarters to the bright lights and tall buildings of a place like New York. We saw GE snipe at the government over taxes and then hypocritically decamp for a higher-tax state with a big city. We know a CEO has no loyalty and no shame, only ego.
We also watched as you tried to merge, unsuccessfully, with Humana. They’re in Louisville, and I bet your combined headquarters would have been there, if not somewhere even nicer. It’s hard to imagine Hartford without Aetna, but you clearly had no problem at all imagining Aetna without Hartford.
Listen to this, from a statement your company released: “We are in negotiations with several states regarding a headquarters relocation, with the goal of broadening our access to innovation and the talent that will fill knowledge economy-type positions.” This is corporate-speak for “We’re out of this backwards, depressing place, and there’s nothing you rubes can do about it!”
It oozes insincerity, and it’s gut-wrenching. After 164 years of Aetna being in Hartford, it’s a slap in the face — just as much of an insult as not even bothering to meet with Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin to see the wheelbarrows full of cash they were trying to give to you in order to convince you to stay.
You didn’t meet with them because you don’t want to stay. Jeff Immelt of GE didn’t want to stay, either, and he’s getting a cool skyscraper on the Boston waterfront for his troubles. Maybe you’ll get one in Brooklyn, or Chicago, or even Raleigh (ask Peter Karmanos about that last one).
Go, then. Be a big shot in a big city. Find life and energy and innovation. Be successful and cool and new. But maybe spare a thought, someday, for a city and a state that’s been left further and further behind.
When my parents came here in the early 1980s, Connecticut was a place you left somewhere else for. Now it’s become one of those other types of places, the ones you grow up in and then leave as fast as you can.
I’ve been a lot of places, and I’ve made a lot of friends from around the world. You’d be surprised how many of them come from here, or have lived here. When I ask why they left, the answer’s always the same: no jobs, no opportunity, and … it was kinda depressing, you know?
Pretty much everyone in my high school and college classes left for Boston or New York or San Jose. My sister couldn’t wait to leave, and my parents went back to Pennsylvania, too, in the end.
What’s to keep people here? The government’s in crisis, malls are closing, cities are going bankrupt, our NHL team is 20 years gone, and that brief moment of glory we had in the 1980s has faded to a slow but unrelenting decline. It’s not an easy thing to take.
Now some of the big companies are moving their top talent somewhere else, and that apparently includes you, Mr. Bertolini. Sure, you promise you’ll keep most of the jobs in Hartford once you and your top executives leave, but it’s a little hard to trust you on that one.
What do we do then? I know you don’t care, but I do. Here’s what I’d like to see. We should repossess that big building by the interstate, and turn it into affordable housing, offices for startups, art spaces, and other things that will be more permanent and more useful. We should remember that a city and a region is more than just a company or some prestige or tax dollars. Our towns should band together with our cities, and work together. We need to encourage and support entrepreneurs and innovators, as well as small and medium-sized businesses. And lastly, our state needs to find a tax system that actually works, and that isn’t subject to the whims of people like you.
It’s a narrow hope, but it’s what I have.
I hope you’ll be happy wherever you end up, but I do have some worries on that front. Your company has been laying off a lot of people, your merger fell through, and a fancy new headquarters doesn’t come cheap.
Plus, someday soon you’re going to watch in horror as an American president signs a Medicare-for-all bill, and your parasitic industry goes down the tubes to the sound of people cheering. I used to worry what that sort of thing would do to Hartford, but I’m less worried now. Thanks for that.
In the meantime, we will endure. It’s what we’re best at, and maybe it’s what will save us in the end.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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