July 20, 2018

Lamont in the lion's den

Photo | New Haven Biz
Photo | New Haven Biz
Ned Lamont.

Does the campaign of Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Ned Lamont actually have an economic-development platform?

The answer is yes. The Greenwich millionaire was in town Friday morning for a candidates forum hosted by the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce and attended by about 75 business leaders from the private and non-profit sectors.

(The session was nominally "off the record," so no direct quotations are used here.)

Lamont's name tag at the speakers table identified the candidate as an "Entrepreneur and Candidate for Governor." And that is true: Lamont made his millions in the cable-television industry, which he entered as a freshly minted graduate of Harvard College and Yale's School of Management (1980), when he went to work managing the startup of Cablevision's Fairfield County operations.

In 1984, he founded his own telecom startup, Campus Televideo, which developed and then marketed satellite and telecommunication services, including foreign language and distance-learning programs, to some 250 colleges and universities — and made Lamont a rich man.

So the business bona fides of the 64-year-old are undeniable. And, as he promised the New Haven chamber group, he planned to inject a healthy dose of that entrepreneurial experience and energy into the governor's mansion should he prevail first on August 14 (against his primary opponent, Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim) and then in the November general election.

Lamont's economic-development platform rests on three legs:

• Providing education and job-training for young people in Connecticut aligned with 21st-century workplace needs;

• Addressing the state's transportation system, including highway, rail and air transportation, which he characterized as inadequate to the needs of Connecticut businesses;

• Somehow addressing Connecticut's "chronic" fiscal crisis, which Lamont freely acknowledged has played a key role in driving major employers such as General Electric and Aetna to greener pastures beyond the Nutmeg State's borders.

One Lamont proposal that addresses two of those three concerns is the introduction of electronic tolling for out-of-state tractor trailers using Connecticut highways. In addition to revenue-generation, such a scheme would help incentivize 18-wheelers to forego traffic-choked interstates, especially I-95 and I-91, during peak congestion periods.

Lamont also threw business leaders a bone with regard to the quixotic quest to lengthen runways at Tweed-New Haven Airport, to attract air service to cities other than Philadelphia. He asserted that carriers such as Southwest and Jet Blue were "ready" to come to Tweed should runways be lengthened to accommodate larger aircraft — a bid that neighborhood opposition has squelched for decades.

With regard to education, Lamont criticized the "incredible disconnect" between the needs of major state employers such as Sikorsky Aircraft in Stratford and Groton's Electric Boat, and the education and training young people in Connecticut are actually receiving. The result, he said, is that tens of thousands of high-paying jobs in industries, such as advanced manufacturing, are going unfilled.

Despite that disconnect, Lamont noted, there are currently 8,000 fewer students in Connecticut's community colleges than ten years ago. The job of state government, he added, is to help "train people for the jobs that are out there."

Lamont initially dipped his toe into electoral politics as a single-term first selectman of his Greenwich hometown. He was thrust into the national spotlight in 2006, when he improbably dethroned incumbent U.S. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman of New Haven by running a hard-left Democratic primary campaign. That November, Lamont was trounced in a three-way general election by Lieberman, on the ticket as an independent.

Despite that disappointment, Lamont said he remains "proud" of his bid to unseat Lieberman. It may be that a different outcome awaits him in November 2018.

Reach Michael C. Bingham at mbingham@newhavenbiz.com

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