The state's poor business climate is a perennial complaint for Connecticut's largest business organization. And now it's launched a campaign to make it an urgent priority.
It seems like the people who rank states on their economic competitiveness have long viewed Connecticut as one of the nation’s Cinderellas. Forbes had us pegged at 33 recently, while CNBC saw the Nutmeg State all the way down at 45th.
The Connecticut Business and Industry Association wants to change that. CBIA’s Joe Brennan said the whole state should be engaged with this problem. "We're really looking at this as something that is beyond the business community," he told an audience in Hartford. "If we just go out and say, 'Well, we need to do this to help business,' frankly, I don't think we're going to be successful. Economic activity has a lot of good benefits, and we need to have people outside the business community understand that we're all in this together."
CBIA’s new slogan is 20x17 – in other words by 2017, we want to be in the top half of the poll. Business climate rankings tend to rate things like the state’s fiscal health, its tax structure and its business costs including energy and healthcare, along with the quality of its workforce.
Governor Dannel Malloy said he isn’t willing to accept that we’re really all that bad. "I refer to Connecticut as the place where the glass that can only be half-empty was invented," he told CBIA's recent Business Day at the Capitol. "We actually lead in a lot of things already. And what we've become used to is telling ourselves how bad we are -- it becomes almost a self-fulfilling prophesy."
But that’s often not the story told by businesses themselves. Curt Rutsky has a specialty coating company based in New Hartford, and a laundry list of complaints about doing business here. "You've got energy," he said, "you've got property tax on equipment, you've got 6.7 percent tax on the gross -- we're a flow-through entity. And you have higher labor rates, higher workers' comp."
Rutsky also has a business in Florida. "The electric rates are less than half," he said. "Wages are 15 to 20 percent lower, and the people will actually live better because real estate is less, property taxes are a lot less. And all we want to do is have a competitive playing field with other states, and we don't."
Rutksy is currently debating where to expand his business, and Connecticut isn’t even in the running. That’s a metric the CBIA hopes to change.