March 13, 2018

New Haven chamber’s new prez brings diverse background, optimism to the job

Photo | Contributed
Photo | Contributed
Garrett Sheehan, the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce's new president and CEO

Garrett Sheehan is a young man for all seasons. Not yet 40, the Middlefield native has been a local TV anchor and reporter, commanded soldiers in Afghanistan, earned MBA and law degrees and clerked for a state of Connecticut appellate judge.

It's a resume that might sound meandering but has in fact had a singular, underlying focus: economic development. Ever since his first job out of college as a journalist at a small TV station in Meridian, Miss., Sheehan has wanted to help communities better themselves economically. So great was his desire to bring jobs and investment to depressed areas he saw in the South that he abandoned his TV career for an economic development job in Alabama, a career path he has stuck to, with detours into the military and law, ever since.

Why trade the glamour of TV for the grind of chasing investment and jobs? Sheehan cites the economic distress he witnessed in the South, especially at his first job in the once prosperous city of Meridian, and his desire to do something about it.

"It (Meridian) was a successful community that had fallen on hard times," he said. "Economic development was an issue in town as far as, how do we bring new jobs here, how do we fill vacant buildings we have here? I felt like you could have a real impact on the community. That really appealed to me."

Now Sheehan is bringing his zeal for economic development to New Haven and the surrounding region. On March 1, he became the new president and CEO of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce, succeeding Tony Rescigno, who retired after 17 years in the position.

Just over a week into the job, the youthful Middlefield native was relaxed and poised as he chatted about his career, his priorities for the chamber and state and regional issues he intends to weigh in on during an interview in a conference room overlooking the New Haven Green. Sheehan, whose most recent job was as a community relations and economic development specialist with Eversource Energy, and earlier spent six and a half years doing economic development for United Illuminating, was unabashed in his love for the city and the area and in his optimism about the local economy.

"I think the Greater New Haven region is the premier region in the state," Sheehan said. "I'm really passionate about Connecticut. I feel strongly about (the idea of) place. This is where I'm from, and I want it to be successful. I want to be part of the solution."

Sheehan is already advocating on an issue he says is vital to the city and region's future: extension of the runway at New Haven's Tweed Airport another 1,000 feet to accommodate bigger jets. Sheehan said he has already testified at the General Assembly in favor of a bill that would allow the expansion, opposed by many in the neighboring Morris Cove neighborhood.

"I've heard a lot from our members that's something that's really important to them," Sheehan said. "Biotech, higher education, there's mobility with people coming in and out. If we have that airport resource, that can have a significant impact. I think it would be a great selling point we could use in economic development."

Sheehan also emphasized the importance of creating a friendlier business atmosphere both locally and statewide, be it through greater predictability in taxes to clearer and more consistent land-use rules. He agrees that the state needs to get its fiscal house in order but added that improving the business climate is just as – perhaps even more – important.

While Sheehan is enthusiastically bullish about the state's economic future and dismissive of doom-and-gloom talk, he wants state and local officials to be hungrier when it comes to attracting new businesses. From his time in the South, he knows how aggressive and relentless economic development officials in other states are. Connecticut could use some of that attitude as well, he said.

"We need to compete and we need to be aggressive," he said. "If there are issues that we are identifying with our businesses that are a problem for them, we should address them."

In between his economic development work, Sheehan, 39, has found time to pursue other side careers. While in Alabama, he joined the Army National Guard and transferred to a New Haven-based unit when he returned to Connecticut. He spent a year on active duty in 2009 and 2010 as a lieutenant, eventually rising to captain, including about nine months in Afghanistan, where he commanded an infantry platoon, among other duties.

"Thankfully, I came back unharmed mentally and physically," said Sheehan, whose Guard commitment ended in 2014. "I just learned so much through it. It's a great honor to serve in the military, but I gained so much from it personally."

After his time in Afghanistan, Sheehan tried out another potential career, using his GI benefits to help him earn a law degree from the University of Connecticut and clerking for state Appellate Judge Bethany Alvord. Sheehan called his clerkship "a great experience" but ultimately decided the law was not for him.

Sheehan is married – he met his wife, Julie, a doctor specializing in neonatal care, while she was a resident at Yale New Haven Hospital. The couple has two small children and lives in West Hartford.

Christopher Hoffman can be reached at

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