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    Wednesday, August 17, 2022

    Fixing region's economy

    When Day Staff Writer Lee Howard took a harder look at the seemingly rosy job numbers recently trumpeted by the Malloy administration, he found some disconcerting facts that should get the attention of southeastern Connecticut’s political and business leaders.

    While much of Connecticut has recovered the jobs lost in the wake of the Great Recession, this region has not. Finding ways to extend the recovery to southeastern Connecticut must become a policy priority.

    Gov. Dannel P. Malloy focused on the good news that Connecticut has finally recovered all of the private-sector jobs lost during the recession.

    The focus on private-sector jobs did not tell the full story, and certainly not for this region. That is because the positions at the Foxwoods Resort and Mohegan Sun casinos are considered public-sector jobs because tribal governments own and operate them. Factor in the nearly 10,000 jobs lost at the casinos since the depths of the recession, as Mr. Howard did in his reporting, and you find that the region has a job recovery rate of only 8 percent.

    Southeastern Connecticut also took a hit when Pfizer downsized its local workforce.

    Mr. Howard’s story notes that the Norwich-New London-Westerly area had 500 fewer jobs in November than it did a year ago.

    Arguably, the recession has never left these parts.

    Yes, unemployment is down, at 5.2 percent from 6.6 percent a year ago, but that is because many dislocated by the casino and Pfizer job reductions have left the area. Others have given up on the job market.

    While casino jobs appear to have stabilized temporarily, declines are likely to resume when casinos begin opening in Massachusetts. The challenge, then, is to diversify the region’s economy.

    The 400-plus acre former Norwich Hospital campus remains an untapped resource. Located off Interstate 395, serviced by full utilities, and near the Mohegan Sun casino, it is ripe for development. Preston has done a good job of cleaning up the site and razing old buildings.

    The Malloy administration, the local council of governments and the chamber should all make it a priority in 2016 to work with Preston and Norwich in marketing the property.

    The Avery Point campus of the University of Connecticut and the reuse of former Pfizer laboratories can attract science and technology investment with partnerships and incubator programs.

    And expansion projects bring the prospect of tourism growth.

    The status quo is unacceptable. Southeastern Connecticut needs to join the recovery.

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