Though Aetna has said it plans to move the company headquarters away from Hartford as a way to broaden access to innovation and new talent, some economists remain puzzled over the company’s strategy.
This will be the first time Aetna has moved the company headquarters since it was founded in Hartford in 1853.
“It seems that they’re reinventing their company. And what better way to signal a reinvention of the company than an iconic thing like your headquarters,” said economic development expert Bob Santy of CERC, the Connecticut Economic Resource Center.
But to Santy, what seems inconsistent about the plan is the news that Aetna will keep the bulk of its workers in Connecticut. The company plans to move only the top executives and administrative staff necessary for a headquarters operation -- a similar decision to the one GE made last year.
"I think it’s ironic that the people who would probably move are not the ones they’re messaging here," he told WNPR. "I mean, they supposedly are talking to millennials, and I think in both the GE instance and this instance they’re going to be moving senior executives who are not the millennials, so I really do think it's about image."
Even if image is the most important factor, that doesn’t say good things about the image of the Nutmeg State.
Alissa DeJonge, an economist at CERC, said for now the state can still call itself the insurance capital of the world, but it will have to hope defections don’t become a trend.
“Connecticut still ranks top in terms of the share of its insurance workers per capita," DeJonge said. "But will we be able to hold onto that rank is a question. And I think now that we’ve seen two really major employers leaving does kind of cast a shadow.”
One takeaway for policymakers at the capitol, according to DeJonge: get the state’s fiscal house in order. No company, she said, wants to make major investments in a state that can’t balance its budget consistently.
“That’s what it's going to take to reverse what we’re seeing in Connecticut with some of these major employers leaving. Not until we do that will we really see a shift,” she said.
Aetna is rumored to be headed to Manhattan, but the company itself said it will make a final determination in early summer.