Finding what works for Connecticut

I applaud the perspective and ideas expressed in your Aug. 27 editorial, “State needs a fiscal reform commission.”

It is painfully apparent that slash and burn fiscal restraint coupled with shifting the Connecticut’s financial burden to municipalities will do nothing to improve the state's situation, and very possibly worsen it. Policies dealing with taxes, budget allocations, aid to municipalities, and revenue sources need to be thoroughly examined and re-engineered going forward.

However, financial reform alone will not provide a long-term solution to the problems facing the state. Connecticut must clearly define and differentiate itself in the highly competitive arena of attracting businesses, skills, and talent. We need a cohesive strategy that includes growing the state’s economy and branding Connecticut as a state that encourages and thrives on innovation; a state that fosters living, working and leisure environments attractive to the people who drive that innovation. Many of those assets are in place already. Our task is to organize and focus them.

As someone who started a manufacturing business that now employs 250 people and who manages one of the most beautiful towns in America, I understand that success starts with a strategic plan and moves forward based on tactics that support it.

For those reasons, it is critical to form a select commission tasked with developing a comprehensive strategic plan that addresses tight fiscal controls, economic development, as well as regulatory reform. The latter involves making sure the regulatory framework of the state isn’t an impediment to businesses flourishing and municipalities finding innovative ways to solve their problems and deliver services to their constituencies. Without an executable strategic plan that deals with all three aspects of the problem, we will remain in the perpetual state of crisis that has plagued us for decades.

These three vital tasks − financial reform, regulatory reform and strategic planning − should be accomplished by accessing the wealth of business, legal, technological, and academic talent that resides in our state. We would need “buy in” from all ends of the state and all constituencies, and that would take persuading everyone that we are stronger together, and will fail if we are divided. Everyone needs to be rowing in the same direction. If not we will continue going in circles.

Since we will be creating a plan that will have a significant impact for years to come, young people, who are a source of creative ideas, and who are the business and civic leaders of tomorrow, should be included in the process. We should frame policies to keep those talented and skilled young people in our state. An example of such a policy is education debt forgiveness in return for a commitment to live and work here.

In order to meet the challenge of developing broad-based sustainable solutions, we need our best and brightest to focus on what works for Connecticut; not what’s best for a political party or a special interest group. We need a profound re-engineering of how we manage and market Connecticut. Fixing this mess will require tough decisions, shared sacrifice, and new ideas that will almost certainly upset the status quo. 

It is time we harness the talent and experience that resides in our state to provide actionable long-term solutions, instead of the duct tape measures so aptly described by The Day.

Norm Needleman is the first selectman of Essex and owner of Tower Laboratories in Essex.

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