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Business group shares plan to 'rebuild Connecticut'

Connecticut has weathered the pandemic’s financial toll better than many of its peers, and the state's largest business lobby is hoping that will help boost its plan for reinvigorating the economy.

The Connecticut Business & Industry Association has released an 11-point policy agenda called “Rebuilding Connecticut,” which it has asked every state legislative candidate and public official to sign.

More than 50 state lawmakers, including many of southeastern Connecticut’s representatives in the General Assembly, have pledged their support for the agenda, which covers five public policy areas: workforce development, urban renewal, infrastructure investment, small business relief, and return on investment for taxpayers.

“Now is a real opportunity to have Connecticut emerge from this pandemic in a better position than we entered it,” Eric Gjede, CBIA’s vice president of government affairs, said Thursday during a conversation with The Day’s Editorial Board.

The influx of people, many from New York, who moved to Connecticut last year helped grow the state's tax base, Gjede said, and he hopes that will persuade lawmakers to create a more business-friendly environment here, rather than institute any new taxes or mandates.

“We’ve come out of this pandemic a little bit better than a lot of other states. ... now is the real opportunity to continue to attract people here from cities who can see the benefits of moving to Connecticut rather than New York or Boston. That’s where the emphasis should be, rather than trying to chase folks out,” Gjede said.

CBIA’s agenda offers broad ideas for improving the state’s business climate and helping companies recover from the pandemic, but does not delve into details. The group hopes the series of proposals will serve as a guide to legislators as they craft bills and go about their work in the General Assembly. CBIA also sees it as a way to hold the legislators who signed it accountable for pursuing its proposals.

While Connecticut is seeing a surge in state tax receipts, the Lamont administration still is projecting shortfalls between $1 billion and $2 billion in each of the next two fiscal years. And a recent report from a University of Connecticut think-tank warned it could take the state until 2030 to recover from the pandemic.

Lamont has said he is opposed to raising any taxes this year, even on the state’s wealthiest residents, which progressive members of his party are proposing. Instead, he wants to use the state’s $3 billion rainy day fund to deal with the projected deficits.

CBIA also is opposed to any tax increases and Gjede said the group was pleased to see the governor and some lawmakers, both Republicans and Democrats, “come out very early and talk about the need to hold the line on any major tax increases this year.”

“It's resonating with them that this is an opportunity that we need to not chase out the folks who have come to Connecticut in recent months. We need to do a better job of helping the businesses that are here, and because of that, I think it’s put us in a much better position than we normally are in,” he said.

Much of CBIA’s Rebuilding Connecticut agenda revolves around workforce development, including tailoring the state’s public education system to meet workforce needs, prioritizing "high-value, in-demand" industries such as aerospace, software engineering, medical devices, biopharma and financial technology. These industries offer high-paying jobs that could incentivize people to stay here, and provide economic opportunities for residents of Connecticut's cities, Chris DiPentima, CBIA's president, said.

"There were 13,000 job openings in manufacturing alone going into the pandemic, and we couldn’t fill them. Yet we have plenty of people in the cities who are capable of going through training programs and filling those jobs,” said DiPentima, who is a former aerospace manufacturing executive.

Existing workforce development programs in the state need to be evaluated to ensure they are being successful in this regard, DiPentima said. 

The plan also seeks to make the state’s manufacturing apprenticeship tax credit program available to small manufacturers and to end the tax on employer training programs.

j.bergman@theday.com

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