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    Op-Ed
    Saturday, January 28, 2023

    Coan had signficant impact on aquarium, region

    This weekend the Board of Trustees of Mystic Aquarium will honor Dr. Stephen Coan, for his 20 years of service to the organization. He announced in August that he is stepping down to move onto other pursuits in public service. I have known and admired Dr. Stephen Coan since the beginning of his tenure as President and CEO of the Aquarium and I am pleased to share my thoughts on the important contributions he has made to the Aquarium and to the State of Connecticut.

    From the day he arrived at Mystic Aquarium, Steve involved himself in the region and state as a leader in economic development, education, and tourism. Over the years he served multiple terms on the Chamber Board of Directors, including two years as Chairman, helping to steward the Chamber successfully through Covid.

    Coan’s impact on the Aquarium, and the region, is significant. At the Aquarium, he developed the “One Ocean, One Mission” strategy that streamlined a previously complex array of programs, missions, and brands, to focus Mystic Aquarium on its core operations and ocean conservation. He also opened the doors of the Aquarium to low-income families and youth, creating multiple avenues for free and reduced access.

    Today, Mystic Aquarium is on solid financial footing thanks to Coan’s adroit efforts to reduce and eliminate a massive $34 million debt that existed when he took over, steer the organization through Covid and raise funds. During his tenure three new buildings were constructed, along with renovation of infrastructure and securing long-term multi-million-dollar investment in beluga whale research aimed at conserving the wild population of whales.

    As Chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, Coan worked closely with me, Governor Lamont, Mayor Passero and other Chamber board members to move the Chamber headquarters to New London and to secure the development of the new Innovation Center in downtown New London. This will support under-represented populations in developing new small businesses, as well as help grow the “blue economy” of maritime related industries emerging with the region’s growing influence in ocean wind energy, submarine development, deployment, and maritime shipping.

    Mystic Aquarium is the largest attraction in Connecticut and fourth largest in New England, having grown annual attendance to 800,000. Under Coan’s leadership, Mystic Aquarium is also a major provider of education, conservation, and youth programs, serving hundreds of thousands of learners annually, including pre-schoolers.

    Finally, Dr. Coan masterful management of Aquarium resources during the Covid pandemic have helped ensure that Mystic Aquarium survived and thrived during a very difficult period. With no paying customers and most of the support staff working from home Steve and his key staff members were responsible for caring for over 8,000 species. All of which will ensure that the Aquarium will continue to be a major economic engine and tourism attraction for our region and State.

    He will be missed as a straight-talking leader of fish and people at Mystic Aquarium. His legacy lives on in the vibrancy of the Aquarium as an internationally acclaimed institution. All of us at the Chamber wish him all the best as he proceeds to a new chapter.

    Tony Sheridan is president and CEO of Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce.

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