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New MetroHartford Alliance CEO Griggs seeks to globalize region's economic message

BY Gregory Seay

4/2/2018
HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
HBJ Photos | Steve Laschever
David Griggs is only the second CEO in the history of the MetroHartford Alliance, which promotes economic development in the Greater Hartford region.

David Griggs

Age: 52


Hometown: Michigan City, Ind.


Personal: Married, two children


Education: Bachelor of science degree in urban planning and regional analysis, State University of New York, Buffalo State College; master of planning degree, University at Buffalo. 

Greater Hartford's diverse palette of "industry brands," from manufacturing to finance to insurance to bioscience, each has a story to tell, and David Griggs says it's one he's here to share more of worldwide.

"There's an opportunity to take on globally leading sectors and let more of the world know who we are,'' said Griggs, 52, the newest and only the second chief executive officer of the MetroHartford Alliance, the region's economic-development promoter. He succeeds R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel, who retired at the end of 2017 and is running as an independent candidate for governor.

"If you look at manufacturing as a whole,'' he said, "we have some of the best manufacturers in the world that I don't know the rest of the world knows about.''

Griggs, an economic-development professional for nearly 20 years who was recently recruited to Hartford after working 6 1/2 years at the Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership (Greater MSP), is known for his penchant for deep data analysis and other research to identify opportunities to recruit employers while enabling existing ones to thrive.

Griggs also is respected for his extensive Rolodex of global contacts that helped bring tens of thousands of jobs and nearly $4 billion of investment to the 16-county Minneapolis-St. Paul region in the last six years.

"For every industry, there's a whole new group of people we need to know,'' Griggs said of his contact list.

Chief on that list, he said, is the global network of "site selectors,'' mostly real estate brokers-advisors and relocation and site consultants such as CBRE and Jones Lang Lasalle.

Firms like those, Griggs said, typically occupy the top rung of direct contacts and influencers with employers looking for regions like Connecticut and Hartford for expansion and/or relocation.

"We need them to understand,'' he said of site selectors and their clients, "who we are and the kind of companies we're trying to attract. We need to specify why they should come to Hartford and what is our sales proposition.''

In researching the Hartford region's economy, state data tracking Connecticut exports caught his attention, he said. The value of goods shipped from Connecticut to outside the U.S. totaled $14.8 billion in 2017, up 2.5 percent from a year earlier.

"Some of the numbers that stuck out to me were about this state's exports,'' he said, primarily manufactured parts and equipment. "This state exports way above its weight class. … So this state is already globally connected, and this region is already globally connected.''

On the same day (March 26) when he was publicly introduced as CEO at a packed MetroHartford Alliance breakfast at the Hartford Marriott Downtown, Griggs sat with HBJ at Alliance offices on Pratt Street for a wide-ranging conversation about his career, his vision of economic development and the opportunities he sees for the Hartford region.

According to Griggs and peers, he has crafted a career helping communities discern and communicate their economic-development identities. He landed at the Greater MSP after 8 1/2 years in Buffalo, N.Y., and several years in Niagara Falls and Orleans County, N.Y., before that.

"The opportunity, when I took the position in Minneapolis-St. Paul, we had some folks question my sanity in moving from Buffalo to a community that was relatively unknown,'' Griggs said.

Minneapolis-St. Paul, which shares with Hartford UnitedHealthcare and Travelers Cos. as major corporate tenants, has companies in manufacturing, aerospace and biomedical that, too, are global leaders in their sectors. However, Griggs said, they were "letting their neighbors [outside the region and Minnesota] tell the world who they are.''

Griggs' success there drew attention to him from other U.S. communities, not just Hartford.

"I had options,'' Griggs said. "I'd gotten to a point in my career where the things we were doing in Minneapolis-St. Paul were successful and other communities were taking note and wanted that experience, too.''

So why Hartford?

"We wanted to find a community that met my professional needs and opportunities, but also a place where my family could feel great,'' he said of his wife, daughter and son. "And we found that in Hartford.''

The feeling is mutual among MetroHartford Alliance's staff and investors, including some of Hartford's best-known corporate brands like Travelers Cos.

Travelers Executive Vice President and Chief Administrative Officer Andy Bessette sits on the boards of both the MetroHartford Alliance and the Greater MSP. Bessette says he knows Griggs from his work with the Minneapolis-St. Paul economic partnership.

Griggs stood out among the 75 applicants for the MetroHartford CEO post, Bessette said.

"The thing that impressed us most about him is he is a nice person,'' Bessette said. "He's a smart person and he has good interpersonal skills. He's very intellectual. He loves data.''

Even more impressive, Bessette said, is that Griggs, working alongside the CEO and staff of Greater MSP, recruited employers who brought 20,000 to 30,000 jobs to the Minneapolis-St. Paul region in the last six years.

Rob Camoin, president and CEO of Camoin Associates, the Saratoga Springs, N.Y., consultancy the Alliance hired to aid in its CEO search as well as a reset of its mission, said today's more progressive economic-development entities are sifting deeper into market data to better identify opportunities and potential -- Griggs' strengths.

"His skill set just aligned so well with where we were suggesting [the Alliance] head as an organization,'' Camoin said.

Michael Langley, the Greater MSP's CEO and Griggs' boss when he arrived from Buffalo, describes Griggs as "a consummate economic-development professional."

"He grew a lot into this role," Langley said. "This was a bigger region [than Buffalo]. A bigger organization. He understands how to position the region for success with industries and industry clusters.''

CEO advisory panel

Griggs has a particularly strong background working with companies' back-office operations and data centers, Langley said. Current and former city of Hartford officials have expressed a desire to tout the city as a haven for New York City companies to relocate their information-technology operations.

"We're pulling for him to make a huge difference in the Greater Hartford region,'' Langley said.

Along with jobs, Bessette said Griggs' marching orders require he reach out to businesses, state and local government leaders, and other regional stakeholders. To that end, the Alliance has formed a "CEO advisory panel'' made up of Hartford region business leaders who will be a sounding board for the Alliance's staff and board, Bessette said.

As part of that, Bessette said he personally will be taking Griggs around to meet as many local CEOs as possible, so he can get to know them and their concerns.

"Over the past few years, we've focused on the chamber-of-commerce part of it and less on regional economic development,'' Bessette said. "We said we want a world-class leader who can collaborate" with local and state economic development leaders.