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August 22, 2019

DECD's Lehman says CT will recruit companies to create ‘ecosystems’

HBJ Photo | Sean Teehan DECD Commissioner David Lehman talks at technology event Aug. 22, 2019 at Infosys' Hartford innovation hub..

Connecticut’s chief economic development commissioner on Thursday said the state is altering the way in which it recruits businesses to the state, focusing on specific industries, rather than casting a wide net.

David Lehman, who Gov. Ned Lamont appointed commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development earlier this year, said that under his stewardship, DECD will work towards recruiting and retaining businesses that compliment ones already here, in an effort to create a robust, but specialized business ecosystem. 

“We’re going to be very focused going forward on a targeted, proactive strategy focused on companies that we think can thrive in the state of Connecticut,” said Lehman, who specifically mentioned tech, financial services and healthcare businesses (among others) as ones that could help create a business hub distinct to Connecticut. “We’re really going to focus where we think there’s an edge.”

Lehman made his comments at an event hosted by Infosys, the Indian tech behemoth whose establishment of a tech hub in Hartford, and promise to create 1,000 local jobs marked a major feather in the cap of Lamont’s predecessor Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. Infosys to date has hired more than 500 people in Connecticut and about 125 in Hartford, said Jeff Auker, who runs the innovation hub.

Lehman’s speech carried an optimistic tone about Connecticut’s future. He noted recent studies that could indicate growth opportunities for the state and its Capital City. Bloomberg, for example, recently ranked Hartford fourth in the nation for innovation and a study by called Hartford the country’s eighth best city for Millennials. 

In addition to focused recruiting of companies, Lehman said Connecticut should also focus on growing its cities, and selling itself to the rest of the country.

“We as a state need to do a better job of marketing ourselves as a state of innovation,” Lehman said.

The state’s economic-development strategy has been evolving under the Lamont administration. Another major change is how the state plans to use incentives to stimulate job growth and development.

The Malloy administration transformed the state’s jobs strategy, aggressively ramping up corporate incentives — to the tune of more than $650 million in loans and grants and hundreds of millions more in tax credits — to entice private-sector companies to retain and add jobs in a state desperate for growth.

Some of that aid was in the form of grant money or forgivable loans that companies benefited from up front, before they created jobs or made certain investments.

Lehman has said he wants the state to move to more of an “earn-as-you-go” system, meaning employers won’t reap state incentives until they’ve created a certain number of jobs or made a certain level of investment.

That prevents the state from having to borrow money to incentivize job growth, or from having to clawback funds from companies that failed to live up to their deals.

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