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January 5, 2015 5 To Watch 2015

Brennan's focus is to make CT the best place for business

PHOTO | Pablo Robles Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association.

Joe Brennan has prepped 26 years to take over as head of Connecticut's leading business lobby, and he is readying the 200-year-old organization for what will be a pivotal year in its latest campaign.

Brennan took over as president and CEO of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association Dec. 11, replacing John Rathgeber, who retired after 37 years at the organization, the last six in the top role.

“Connecticut is never going to be a cheap place to do business, but it can be the best place to do business,” Brennan said.

Brennan takes over just as CBIA enters the first full year of its CT20x17 campaign, seeking to get the Nutmeg State ranked in the top 20 states to do business by 2017. The effort was launched last year, focused on showing policymakers where state government can shore up its weaknesses and play up its strengths.

That message will continue in 2015, Brennan said, focusing on three areas of concern: balancing the state government budget; training the educated workforce of the future; and improving the state's aging infrastructure, including roads, bridges, airports, ports, and rail.

“That is all part of a large system that needs to be modernized to help businesses,” Brennan said.

Brennan started at CBIA in 1988 as a staff attorney, five years after moving to Connecticut when his wife, Nancy Brennan, took a job at the Southern New England Telephone Co. He and Nancy have been married 31 years and have two daughters, Julia, 17, and Caroline, 14.

Brennan's first task at CBIA was to convince state government to lower its corporate taxes; at the time Connecticut had the highest effective corporate tax rate in the nation. Brennan rose in CBIA's ranks over 26 years to become senior vice president for policy, prior to being named Rathgeber's replacement.

“He's absolutely the best candidate and most natural successor to lead CBIA into the future,” said Donna Galluzzo, the president and CEO of Wallingford-based HMS Healthcare Management Solutions, who took over as CBIA chairwoman on Dec. 11. “Joe, who has a strong set of leadership competencies, possesses the knowledge, experience, energy, and vision to hit the ground running and build on the tremendous work already started.”

In addition to working to make Connecticut a top place to do business, Brennan said he will focus on helping CBIA fulfill its potential. With 81 employees and 10,000 member companies, he said the organization must provide strong services and products to its members and the larger Connecticut community.

Those services include the well-known legislative lobbying but also health insurance and energy purchasing products for smaller businesses.

“We look at ourselves as conveners, bringing people together,” Brennan said.

As CBIA's CEO, Brennan said he plans to be out in the community as much as possible, preaching growth in the Connecticut economy, rather than battling the zero-sum game where one company's gain is another's loss.

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