WNPR’s Business Desk has a tradition at this time of year of asking our contributors from around the state to reflect on the year just past, and make a few predictions for the future.
Our series began with Eric Chen, associate professor of business administration at the University of St Joseph in West Hartford. Chen, who spent a chunk of his career on Wall Street before turning to academia, says 2014 was the year that the economy finally returned to some semblance of reasonable growth levels - although seeing might not yet be believing for some. “Our economy is actually doing alright,” he said, although “this is hard to stomach for a lot of us, because we’ve really been through a lot.”
What might finally convince us — the amazing story of oil prices, which was the headline bringing 2014 to a close. “I don’t know about you,” said Chen, “but I really feel extremely fortunate that every time I go fill up at the pump I feel like I’ve got an extra ten spot in my pocket.” That new feeling of well-being drove extra luxury shopping this holiday season, and will return consumers as a meaningful engine of economic growth in 2015, he says.
The other big trend he sees continuing into this year is data. So much data, in fact, there’s a new term for what we’re suffering from: “infobesity.” The data glut will sort companies into those that can cope and take advantage, and those that can’t. “We now have the tools that enable us not only to collect that data,” said Chen, “but also analyze that data, and give us the means, the tools that we need in order to make decisions based on that kind of data.”
Our second expert is a man who’s stepping into a new job with the new year - Joe Brennan, the new CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association. His first prediction is business as usual. “Well, the person leading the organization may change, but the mission does not,” he told the Business Report. That mission is moving Connecticut up in the rankings of competitive states, the central plank of CBIA’s 20x17 campaign, which was launched in 2014. Brennan says the needle has certainly moved in 2014 on national economic recovery, but the jury may still be out in the Nutmeg state. “Our concern is always, as the national economy recovers, does Connecticut participate in that recovery or do we lag?” said Brennan.
The fall’s jobs numbers were encouraging, and he’ll be looking for that trend to continue. But sometimes state government still seems to be standing in the way. “The recent decision by Tenet Healthcare to pull out of Connecticut, I think was very emblematic of what hurts Connecticut, that we make things difficult,” he said.
On his wishllist for 2015 - a lean state budget and more efficiencies in government - although he recognizes the need to spend on the right priorities. “It’s always a fine line because we know we need investments in education, we need investments in transportation infrastructure, we need certain investments in housing and other critical areas, but if we do it in ways that’s going to make Connecticut look less favorable to investors to put their dollars in the ground here and create jobs here, that’s a problem.”
For the last of our turn-of-the-year perspecctives, we checked in with Connecticut’s entrepreneurs, courtesy of a man who’s met a lot of them this year - Eric Knight. “In the calendar year, in 2014,” said Knight, “I helped 120 different little businesses, companies, sole proprietorships, inventors take those next steps.”
Knight is an inventor, owner of the company Remarkable Technologies, and an entrepreneur in residence at CTNext, the state’s startup ecosystem. He spends two days a week helping fledgling businesses find their direction. “What you want to be able to do, is evaluate an idea, size it up quickly and then provide the support to move it forward. Or if an idea is not sound, you want it to fail very quickly,” he said.
This type of mentoring, along with other support services is common in places like Silicon Valley and Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is why they birth so many successful companies. “For some reason Connecticut is about one step behind. We’re catching up very quickly, but we need a system to catalyze that connectivity,” according to Knight.
For him, 2014, the second year of CTNext has seen some encouraging expansion and coordination of the support services available to entrepreneurs, and he’s excited for next year. “We’re starting to put together systems, locations, community, and bringing this all together so that’s why I’m very optimistic for 2015.”
Whatever expectations you have for 2015, WNPR’s Business Report wishes you a Happy New Year.