ING executive is state's new economic development leader

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Catherine Smith, a top executive at one of the world's biggest insurance companies, was named Thursday as commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, which oversees the business climate of Connecticut.

Smith, 58, is coming to the DECD from her current position as head of ING Group's U.S. Retirement Services. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy named her to replace Joan McDonald, who left the post as Jodi Rell wound down her last term as governor.

"I'm very excited about getting started in April," Smith said in an e-mail to colleagues at ING that was acquired by The Hartford Courant and posted on its website. "It's a tremendous chance to become integrally involved with one of this state's highest priorities, which is to improve the economy and help create more jobs."

Malloy has made job expansion a cornerstone of his administration. But ING Group has not been immune from economic problems, having laid off 60 people at its Windsor office late last year as part of a worldwide reorganization that cut 600 positions in the United States.

Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, hailed Smith's appointment as a "bold step" that "re-positions the state to aggressively court new job-creating businesses and retain the ones we have."

Stephen M. Coan, president of the Sea Research Foundation at Mystic Aquarium, said he looked forward to the state's "development of tourism as a key economic focus" under Smith. He added that focusing students on science, math and engineering skills is key to a competitive work force.

Smith, of Northford, worked her way up the ranks of Aetna before joining ING a decade ago.

"Catherine's business acumen, her knowledge of Connecticut, and her passion to grow and expand business opportunities here made her selection a no-brainer," Malloy said in a statement.

"We will begin the process of attracting more jobs to Connecticut by actively promoting the state, and making it a place businesses want to stay and grow," Smith said. "Governor Malloy's reorganization plan is a huge step in the right direction - what sense does it make to have seven separate economic development and marketing bureaus all charged with the same task, but going about it in different, and sometimes, disorganized ways?"

Smith takes the reins at DECD just as Malloy has proposed an overhaul of the agency that would merge it with the Commission on Culture and Tourism and the Office of Workforce Competitiveness.

"For far too long, DECD has been too insular and not welcoming enough to potential businesses who wish to locate or expand here. That stops now," Malloy said. "Catherine will be fully empowered to create a new organization with a new approach, calling on the best tools on a national level that can be applied here in Connecticut."

l.howard@theday.com

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