January 8, 2018
Newsmakers

Q&A with CBIA Chair Mary Kay Fenton

Mary Kay Fenton, Chair, CBIA

Mary Kay Fenton, CFO at New Haven-based Achillion Pharmaceuticals, a company focused on developing drugs to help people with serious diseases, is stepping in as chair of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association (CBIA) board of directors when the state could use a strong dose of medicine to cure its chronic fiscal and economic ills.

Fenton, who joined Achillion when it began operations in 2000, has had a front-row seat in what it takes to grow a company in an industry the state has invested heavily in. Fenton has been a CBIA board member since 2011 and will be chair for the next year at a pivotal time for the state's economy.

How would you rate Connecticut's business climate?

We have some important advantages that give Connecticut a potentially very strong business climate, but it is critical that we pull those advantages together for best use. For example, we have world-class universities and an educated workforce similar to Massachusetts, but our comparatively slow rate of technology transfer and limited venture capital leave that advantage unrealized. The more we can create an ecosystem with critical mass that includes tech transfer, venture capital, workforce training, etc., the more robust the business climate can become.

What's the state's biggest Achilles heel?

One important business challenge is uncertainty caused by financial instability. Without the ability to plan, business cannot function optimally. Uncertainty caused by perpetual budget deficits and long-term debt makes Connecticut a challenging place for business to grow.

What would you consider the top priority of CBIA?

CBIA needs to be the first voice of business, leading and collaborating with industry-specific and regional groups. As we see in the biosciences, an ecosystem is necessary for success and no one group can create it alone. But CBIA can help to facilitate it.

CBIA, for example, can and should be the voice of the newly formed Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth. We are a small state and the business community needs to be speaking with one voice to achieve results.

When your term as chair concludes, what do you hope CBIA will have accomplished?

I'd like the broader community to appreciate that "how goes business health, so goes the state's health." We need to make that point clear and encourage policies and legislators who understand that.

In addition, I have a personal goal to establish relationships for CBIA with other organizations to bring the bioscience industry in Connecticut together to be a cohesive and important force in the Connecticut economy.

What policy changes would benefit the state's bioscience industry?

Collaboration across constituencies is critical for bioscience success — universities, investors who provide capital, real estate developers, workforce, etc. Once the combined industry develops a plan, support it with livable, workable cities and a transportation network that connects them.

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