Senator Osten: Rhode Island and Connecticut can choose cooperation

Maybe The Providence Journal editorial board can be excused for the irrational exuberance exhibited in its January 24 editorial “Lessons from a struggling neighbor,” which quoted one member of a private panel of corporate executives in Connecticut that will make financial recommendations to our state legislature later this year. The Day, which has a circulation area that includes my Senate District, reprinted the editorial on January 29.

Rhode Island Democratic Governor Gina Raimondo has done a good job of turning around Rhode Island’s business climate after decades of lackluster performance. Citing some criticisms of Connecticut’s economy, the ProJo encouraged Gov. Raimondo to poach Aetna insurance jobs from Hartford now that Woonsocket-based CVS Health Corp. is buying Aetna for $69 billion.

But that will probably not happen, nor should it happen, and the ProJo editorial board should know that. I’ll tell you why.

Let’s start with the comments by that Connecticut panelist. They were made by Jim Loree, the CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, which has been headquartered in New Britain, Connecticut for 175 years. The Providence Journal deduced that businesses believe some state policies are making it harder for them to be profitable in Connecticut.

And yet Jim Loree just announced in December that Stanley Black & Decker ($12.7 billion in 2017 revenues, up 12 percent over 2016) is opening an advanced manufacturing training and research center in downtown Hartford. The two co-chairs of the panel that Loree sits on — Bob Patricelli of Women’s Health USA and Jim Smith of Webster Bank — have made billions of dollars in profits by founding and expanding their businesses in Connecticut. So not only are businesses staying and expanding in Connecticut, they are wildly profitable at doing so, too.

The ProJo also casts stones at Connecticut’s economy while, quite frankly, Rhode Island’s economic recovery is still on training wheels. In December, Forbes magazine said of Rhode Island in its annual “Best States for Business” rankings that “Rhode Island had a net migration out of state every year from 2005 to 2013. With the second-worst average unemployment rate over the past five years, residents are leaving the state in search of jobs. Rhode Island has been stuck in the bottom five overall of Forbes Best States for Business for seven straight years…”

That’s not much of an incentive for CVS to walk back its stated commitment to keep Aetna in Hartford or to reverse its stated view of Hartford as “the future location of our center of excellence for the insurance business.”

But there is hope for economic expansion in both Connecticut and Rhode Island, a hope predicated on our shared similarities, not on our perceived differences. We can start with Electric Boat.

EB has locations in both Groton, Connecticut and Quonset Point, Rhode Island. They are separated by a mere 50 miles, a 45-minute car ride on I-95. EB is one of the largest employers in both states and is undergoing a massive expansion that will require thousands of new jobs over the next decade.

So far, Gov. Raimondo has invested $4 million in state job-training funds to help meet EB’s need for a skilled workforce. I have proposed Connecticut spend $150 million over a decade to train a similar workforce in Connecticut and make various infrastructure improvements in and around EB.

EB has already added a thousand new jobs over the past year in both Rhode Island and Connecticut. Hundreds of subcontractors in Connecticut and Rhode Island will also benefit from our shared support of EB.

As the ProJo editorial board wrote on January 30, “In a state that has cobbled together its economic recovery with too many low-paying jobs, it is encouraging to see one company adding some of the jobs that Rhode Island really needs.”

Connecticut and Rhode Island face many of the same challenges, but we also share many of the same opportunities. We should learn from each other, and rely on each other — not pick on each other — to grow our respective economies.

State Senator Cathy Osten (D-Sprague) is the Senate co-chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee. She originally wrote this for the Providence Journal, but The Day is offering it to our readers as well since we also published the editorial referenced.



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