Job creation? Or filling jobs already created?
Economic development gatherings have tended to focus on the first question. A statewide confab held in New Haven Tuesday afternoon pivoted to the latter.
The standing-room-only “Connecticut Economic Development Summit” took place at the
airport terminal Yale School of Management on Whitney Avenue.
Hundreds of business leaders and policymakers attended the series of speeches and panels, which were organized by the state’s Development of Economic and Community Development. In some ways it was a follow-up to the election-season cheerleading “summit” held in the same spot in September to highlight all the new companies and jobs that come to Connecticut (including the fastest new-business growth since before the Great Recession), and the improvement in state finances, since Ned Lamont became governor.
Now that Lamont has safely won reelection to another four years in office, Tuesday’s follow-up aimed to figure out what’s next.
New Haven’s Alexandra Daum — who as the incoming state economic development commissioner is in charge of what’s next — told attendees officials were looking Tuesday for help with “issues we have to get right to keep up the momentum.”
Daum noted that 100,000 jobs are currently open in Connecticut, waiting for people to fill them.
The governor echoed that point in an address to the forum: He called filling those 100,000 positions connecting people to nursing, info-tech and welding positions that in some cases start at $70,000 a year “priority one, two and three” for his second term.
“If I can’t make sure Electric Boat gets the laser welders the need, that submarine will be built somewhere else,” Lamont said.
He appealed to the business audience’s help in seeing more affordable housing built in Connecticut to help in that quest.
Kevin Graney, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat, told the gathering that he believes Connecticut already has the potential employees in state for those open jobs. He spoke of working with the U.S. Navy to up salaries in order to attract more of them.
There was also mention of relaxing four-year college requirements for jobs.
Shellena Pitterson (at right in above photo), owner of a pandemic-spawned company called Orchid Maids Cleaning Service, had two suggestions for filling those 100,000 jobs and future ones that open in the new economy: more targeted higher education and training programs as well as immigration reform.
“Hiring has been my big issue. I don’t have the magic wand to fix it. I have raised my wages. I am very flexible with my employees. It is still an issue,” Pitterson said.
She cited immigration hurdles as a major impediment: “I have had people that cannot legally work in this country. I cannot hire them. They are hungry to work. Our hands are tied as employers. … Things needs to be fixed fast.”
“Solar has been really big the last past ten years,” Pitterson remarked at another point. “Why are we not teaching students more at those technical schools about solar?”
Asked about her remarks during a break, outgoing economic development chief David Lehman agree on both scores. He noted that the federal government has the biggest role to play in immigration reform. He also said the state is working to keep up with changing employment needs through its workforce development council.
Some of that needed job-training and workforce development is being done on the ground by New Haven’s Connecticut Center for Arts & Technology (ConnCAT), which has received $2.5 million to train “labor-ready folks” in the words of CEO & President Genevive Walker. She said all of the curriculum development at her agency is indeed driven by the nature of actual jobs employers have available.
New Haven Mayor Justin Elicker (pictured addressing the confab) urged the state to follow his city’s lead in seeking “inclusionary growth” in crafting its plans.
“Our model works. We are a city that welcomes everyone,” Elicker said.
He ticked off a string of recent groundbreakings and ribbon-cuttings in town on projects ranging from the rebuilding of the old Coliseum site to Beulah Land’s Dixwell project; he spoke of how ConnCAT’s upcoming Dixwell Plaza remake will be a “game-changer.”
“I just cringe,” he quipped, “at what Yale would be if not for the city of New Haven.”