Can Connecticut Grow Jobs?

Oct 7, 2011

Governor Dannel Malloy will kick off his highly anticipated one-day jobs summit today, a curtain-raiser to a special legislative session later this month, focused on the economy.  WNPR’s Harriet Jones has been talking to entrepreneurs, new and established, about how jobs are really grown in Connecticut.

The splashiest part of the Malloy administration’s economic policy so far has been giving tax breaks to big corporations with its First Five initiative. But DECD commissioner Catherine Smith says the jobs summit will take a more strategic approach.

"During the jobs tour we had the opportunity to talk to all of our constituents in the different sectors and the different geographic regions. The idea of October 6th is to take that input and now look at it from the lens of someone who’s thinking about economic development at a national level.”

Part of what the administration would like to encourage is companies like this. Tolland-based OpenSky Corporation, an information technology consulting practice, was just named the winner of the Marcum Tech Top 40 – a listing of the state’s fastest growing tech companies. OpenSky’s CEO Roger Levasseur began the company in 2007 with a handful of colleagues.

"There was five of us who started in a basement in Glastonbury, Connecticut. Five founding partners. It was jumping off the cliff, yes, and it was scary. But we were confident.”

"We had the bust in 2000, right. Technology just crumbled. So they stopped investing in their networks – there was just no money. Ten years later they have to invest in their networks, because they have to get to the newer technology, they have to get their products out to the marketplace quicker.”

That confidence has been rewarded with many Fortune 500 clients and revenue growth of more than 18 thousand percent in the last four years. From the five founders, the company has grown to 78 employees today, and…

"We have offers out to I think, 15. We’re hoping to hire sixty people in the next 90 days. We just have enormous demand and enormous backlog of work right now.”

But, he has trouble hiring local graduates. And that’s his biggest advice for the Governor’s jobs summit – look after the state’s workforce and match the training to the need.

"We don’t have any young people coming into this industry right now, and it’s hot. There are jobs out there and very rewarding career potential for these young people – just a huge opportunity for them, but I don’t think they’re aware of it.”

Talking to and celebrating companies like OpenSky is the job of Matthew Nemerson of the Connecticut Technology Council, the organizers of the Tech Top 40.

"We want to know how the economy is producing winners, and we want to analyze them.”

Nemerson says Connecticut must think about job creation as in part, retaining growth companies who might be courted by other states.

"I think what the government now is able to do with the jobs tour, with these kinds of summits, is to get companies to sort of re-up. To say, I started here, I grew to a certain point here, then I looked around, and that’s the key moment where they say ‘and I’ve decided to stay.’ And then they become an evangelist for you. Then they start talking to other companies and saying, yeah, like you I looked around, but I’m still here.”

Aaron Bohigian is one young Connecticut resident who would like to follow in OpenSky’s footsteps.

"I think people need to become more aware of being an entrepreneur as an option.”

Bohigian currently works in banking for a large corporation, but last month he was part of an entrepreneurial team that pitched ideas during StartUp Weekend Hartford, a 54 hour competition for website and mobile app business plans.

“Every day that weekend I probably went to bed at 1.30 in the morning. But it was just so much fun to be in a space that was open, nobody ridiculed you about throwing crazy ideas out. And that was the whole purpose of the weekend – just have a blank whiteboard and throw all your ideas out there.”

The team was a finalist and will now receive free business services to try to get the idea off the ground for real. Bohigian says he hopes Connecticut will seize on those sectors that are actually growing, and start to think differently about its economic future.

“Having people realize that maybe it won’t be the same jobs that we saw 40 years ago, but fostering what jobs we can create.”

Fostering those jobs in the new economy is becoming ever more urgent – Connecticut companies announcing layoffs just in recent days include Sikorsky, TransSwitch and The Hartford

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.