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December 1, 2014 OTHER VOICES

Business community must play key role in Hartford’s revival

Andy Bessette

Recent renovations downtown have temporarily changed my normal morning commute, leaving me with two other options for getting to work. One ride is about 10 minutes shorter than the other.

I take the longer way.

The longer way is a refreshing reminder of the good things taking place in the ever-evolving city of Hartford. I see the positive energy emanating from places like the Front Street District, with attractions like the brand new Infinity Music Hall & Bistro, Spotlight Theatres and the many restaurants now filled with people at lunchtime and after 5 p.m. Of course, there's also the Connecticut Science Center, the newly renovated XL Center, the future move of UConn's West Hartford campus to downtown Hartford and many construction sites dispersed throughout the city, where jackhammers and paving trucks shout the early signs of new vibrancy.

It's exciting to see what's been done and what's in the works, positioning Hartford to become a strong, core city for the region and a place where people seek to move, work and raise families.

Hartford is on that path. Residents can sense it and are looking for plans that will continue to benefit the area. The momentum is definitely in the right direction, but there's more that can be done for the city where we live and work.

With more than a quarter of Hartford's residents under the age of 18, the city's youth is its greatest asset. Resources are needed that approach education with vigor and address career-readiness skills that will create opportunities for Hartford schoolchildren to pursue a prosperous and successful future. We should encourage them to stay local once they've finished their studies and are ready to embark on a career. Don't we want Hartford's youth to use their valuable skillset here, instead of somewhere else?

These are just a few reasons why Travelers launched its career pipeline program, Travelers EDGE (Empowering Dreams for Graduation and Employment) in 2007, for which we partner with UConn, Central Connecticut State University, Capital Community College and two public high schools. Travelers EDGE increases access to higher education for underrepresented students, providing them with an opportunity to excel. Like any large city, some people have been exposed to more opportunities than others, and Travelers EDGE is one of many programs that are working hard with local educational institutions to even the score.

A strong education system is just one way to provide all students with a fair shot to showcase their talents. But a welcoming environment that makes it possible to pursue personal and professional success starts at home. Quality, safe and affordable housing for Hartford families can be a stimulating foundation for struggling communities and can help to create an atmosphere conducive to stability and, eventually, growth. Hartford Area Habitat for Humanity and its 25-year commitment has resulted in more than 200 safe, affordable homes for Greater Hartford families, and projects like the one at 777 Main St. are designed to make downtown more vibrant, with varied housing options for early-career workers through retirees.

Another valuable resource for the city is its diversity. Hartford is a gem in that no one ethnic group holds a majority of its population. Those differences should be embraced, and the arts are a great outlet to leverage this advantage.

Arts and culture programs offer neighborhoods a creative channel for residents to freely express themselves. Acceptance of those with dissimilar backgrounds is an imperative for a city as diverse as Hartford. All cultures have their strengths, and greater multicultural understanding will only mean good things for the city.

Development in these three areas will help shape Hartford's communities as healthy, strong and with distinct character and we all have a role to play in Hartford's long-term success. Local small businesses have an influential role in supporting these initiatives. Not only will their insight help better identify the city's needs, but showing an active allegiance to their customers' hometown will be much more meaningful than any “50 percent off” sign.

Larger companies should also engage as advisors to and supporters of key initiatives, and encourage their employees to participate in the many experiences Hartford has to offer.

Surrounding Hartford right now is this wave of contagious excitement. It's on the cusp of a great future, one that breaks down barriers to success and opens doors to a new surge of opportunity for residents and visitors.

Take a different route in to work tomorrow morning, and you just may catch it, too. 

Andy Bessette is the executive vice president and the chief administrative officer at Travelers. He is also a member of the board of directors and a past chair of the MetroHartford Alliance.

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