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November 19, 2018 Community Excellence & Nonprofit Awards 2018

Insurers unite to help 'seed' Hartford's financial reboot

Photos | Contributed Hartford Public Library's Elizabeth Rivera conducts a Servsafe class at Barbour Library in Hartford's North End. The class prepares immigrants and others for jobs in the food-service industry. The Hartford Public Library was the primary beneficiary of the first $10 million granted from three major insurers to the city of Hartford.
Library programs, which got an $8.1 million boost from insurer donations, include hosting exhibits like the “Door of No Return,” created by sculptor Robert Charles Hudson (center).
Mark Santos, President, New England market, Aetna
Photo | Contributed David Robinson, executive vice president and general counsel, The Hartford
Photo | Contributed Alan Schnitzer, Chairman and CEO, Travelers

PARTNERSHIP AWARD — Winners: The Hartford, Aetna Inc., Travelers Cos., City of Hartford, Hartford Public Library

When insurers Aetna, The Hartford and Travelers Cos. paid a combined $10 million to the city of Hartford this summer, they were making good on a March 2017 pledge to help the city regain its financial footing by providing a $50 million boost — assuming the city forged a comprehensive and sustainable solution to address its fiscal problems.

The insurers saw progress in the last year and paid the first installment of what they and the city hope will be four more annual payments of $10 million. Of that first amount, $8.1 million is covering operating expenses of the Hartford Public Library this fiscal year, with the balance going to law enforcement and recreation.

Library CEO Bridget Quinn-Carey underscored the importance of the donation.

“What it means is that the library can continue to provide all of the services that our community has come to appreciate and need and use, and we're so incredibly thankful for their generosity to make sure that we can continue to do that,” Quinn-Carey said.

Looking back on the genesis of the pledge, David Robinson, executive vice president and general counsel at The Hartford, said the insurers were confident in Mayor Luke Bronin's and the city's ability to improve Hartford's financial prospects, which were once so bleak the city considered bankruptcy until stakeholders — including big employers like the insurers, city employee unions, and mainly the state — pitched in to help.

“I think we all viewed it as a vote of confidence and almost seed money to continue the city's, or enable the city's success,” Robinson said.

Bronin had worked to establish a partnership with the insurers upon taking office in Jan. 2016, trying to strengthen ties with major employers. He was transparent with insurers about the magnitude of Hartford's financial woes because of their huge stake in the city.

The $50 million commitment is a significant part of the multistakeholder solution that allowed Hartford to stabilize and work toward future stability, Bronin said.

“But beyond the financial commitment itself, I think the three companies sent a very powerful message about how much the future of the city of Hartford matters to them,” he said.

The partnership demonstrates the companies, among Connecticut's largest employers, view a strong Capital City as important to the business climate “because that's how you attract and retain talent,” Bronin said.

The plan took teamwork, said Mark Santos, president of the New England market for Aetna.

“It was going to take more than one single mayor; it was going to take more than one single company,” he said. “But if you get a group of like-minded people and companies, and you recognize the greater good is … to have a thriving Capital City in a community, then we're happy to be a part of that.”

Robinson noted The Hartford's obvious connection to the city, by name and 200-plus years of headquartering here.

“I think we recognize that the success of our company is very much linked to the wellbeing of this community in particular, as well as the communities in which we have offices and employees across the country,” Robinson said.

Travelers also has a significant presence in Hartford, more than 150 years, Alan Schnitzer, chairman and CEO at Travelers, noted in a statement.

“We're deeply committed to this city and are vested in its success,” Schnitzer said. “Over the past year, the city has shown progress in reaching a comprehensive sustainable financial solution. We're looking forward to working with the mayor, city council and the Hartford legislative delegation to ensure that progress continues.”

Vital, too, was the state's help this year, agreeing to pay the principal on about $534 million in city debt over 20 to 30 years.

However, with a new governor taking office in January, it is unclear if that deal will maintain its current form.

“I am confident that so long as our partners in the state legislature continue to recognize the importance of having a healthy, strong and vibrant Capital City that we will continue to hit our goals under our five-year plan” and move the city toward long-term sustainability and strength, Bronin said.

The state's commitment was one piece of a broader fiscal-stability effort that included deep city cost cutting, dramatic changes in labor contracts with municipal employee unions, the insurers' contribution, and efforts to grow the grand list and retain and recruit business, Bronin said.

“The insurance companies' commitment was a really important signal, especially to leaders at the state level, about just how important it was to get this right,” he said.

While the insurers' funding will be an annual discussion, and there's a long road to fiscal sustainability, financial optimism and new developments — including UConn's downtown campus, Dunkin' Donuts Park's success, Dillon Stadium renovations for pro soccer, new apartments and mass transit, insurance technology initiatives, new arrivals like Infosys, Bushnell-area development, even LimeBikes — seem to have contributed to a sense of momentum, the parties agree.

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