State and Local Politicians, Business Leaders Discuss Impact of GE’s Departure
An audience of community members, local business owners and students gathered at the Regina A. Quick Center for the Arts on Tuesday, April 11, for the First Annual MPA Summit, Moving Forward in the Absence of GE.
The public forum featured a panel of nine state and local elected officials, economists and business leaders, who shared their insight and perspective on the political and economic impact of General Electric’s recent move to Massachusetts. Moderated by veteran journalist Tom Appleby, panelists included: Rep. Cristin McCarthy-Vahey (D-133); Michael Tetreau, First Selectman of Fairfield; Timothy Herbst, First Selectman of Trumbull; Joseph McGee, VP of Public Policy & Programs for The Business Council of Fairfield County; Mark LeClair, Director, Master of Public Administration and professor of Economics at Fairfield University; Senator Tony Hwang (R-28); Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134); Rep. Brenda Kupchick (R-132) and Ken Flatto, City of Bridgeport Director of Finance/CFO.
“The purpose of the MPA Summit is to bring citizens, students, public administrators, community leaders and state and local officials together to participate in a constructive dialogue on matters that directly affect our community,” said Gayle Alberda, PhD, assistant professor of Politics and Public Administration. “Democracy works when we can gather as a collective – Republican, Democrat, elected official, citizen, private and public interest – and exchange ideas, ask tough questions, participate in the decision making process, and most importantly listen.”
Each speaker had two minutes to present opening remarks followed by a question and answer session. Moderator Tom Appleby opened with the question, “How does GE leaving impact the value of people’s homes and/or people’s businesses?”
Ken Flatto, Bridgeport’s Director of Finance and former First Selectman of Fairfield, provided historical context about how General Electric first established its presence in Connecticut almost 100 years ago, when it purchased the biggest industrial site in Bridgeport. At its peak during the 40s 50s and 60s, GE employed 20,000 manufacturing workers. GE moved its corporate headquarters to Fairfield in the 1970s, “and now, not only is the manufacturing component gone, but Fairfield has an enormous corporate hole in its soul.” Flatto added that there has to be recognition that communities matter as much as jobs matter.
Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau spoke about the timing of GE’s departure. “It’s a hit on our prestige. It’s a hit on the psyche of Connecticut.” According to Tetreau, GE’s relocation of 200 people to Boston did not have a significant impact on real estate or the local economy, “the other 600 people went to jobs in places like Norwalk.” But Tetreau voiced his concern that the sale of GE’s campus to Sacred Heart University “took over a million dollars out of our tax base at a time when the state cut us an additional $15 million dollars.” Tetreau added, “In the long run I think Sacred Heart will be very positive in terms of what they’re going to do for the economy and what they’re going to do for the community.”
State Senator Tony Hwang led remarks from the state delegation answering the question, “What is the state doing to make itself more attractive to major corporations to hold on to them and to bring them in?”
“One of the challenges is the state has to get its financial house in order,” Hwang said. “In our conversations with the GE executives, the lack of predictability, the lack of the courage to attack the challenges of the pensions and our pay equity and parity issues are really what drove them.” Hwang added that the state government has to create an “ecosystem of predictability” that is sustainable for businesses to succeed. “Whether it’s real estate, retail or corporations, we have to create and move forward, a momentum to help our business. That means we have to capitalize on our great educational institutions, we have to focus on our leadership in biotechnology — we have to create jobs and then advance manufacturing, but also more importantly, help our small businesses, they are truly the engine that has been neglected in this.”
State Representative Cristin McCarthy Vahey focused on “growing our strengths” including partnering with universities, colleges and technical schools to ensure a trained workforce in areas like engineering and advanced manufacturing.
Fairfield’s MPA Director Mark LeClair, PhD, echoed those sentiments, “Other states have had biotech corridors, high-tech corridors, tax incentives and other things to draw firms into a cooperation with the educational institutions. We need to make it a partnership between our academic institutions, one of our very strong economic legs in the state, and the manufacturing firms.”
Jobs, attracting millennials, retaining seniors, transportation and education in the state of Connecticut were predominant themes of the evening. According to Joseph McGee, VP of Public Policy and Programs for the Business Council of Fairfield County, “Connecticut is a great state going through a difficult transition.” McGee cited demographics that, “47% of our population is educated—that is the highest in the nation,” but looking into the future, “we need 70% of our population to have that skill set and we need 300,000 jobs – at the current rate, we’re falling short 23,000 a year.” He warned, “If we can’t produce this labor force and increase our population then we are going to decline.”
The MPA Summit was co-sponsored by the Dolan Business School, College of Arts and Sciences, Graduate Communication Program, and both the Economic and Political Science departments, and in partnership with the Quick Center for the Arts’ Open Vision Series.
To watch the 2017 MPA Summit please go to Fairfield University’s Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/FairfieldUniversity/?hc_ref=SEARCH