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January 9, 2023

New CBIA chair sees labor shortage as CT’s top business challenge

HBJ PHOTO | STEVE LASCHEVER Matt McSpedon, newly elected chair of the Connecticut Business & Industry Association board.
Matt McSpedon 
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Matt McSpedon, a senior banking executive and 56-year-old father of four from Ridgefield, comes to the chairmanship of the state’s largest business group as its agenda is flexing to meet a historic labor shortage.

Businesses ranging from restaurants and manufacturers to financial consulting firms are having trouble filling their ranks, noted McSpedon, a JPMorgan Chase commercial banking market executive. The Connecticut Business & Industry Association elected him as chair on Dec. 8.

McSpedon has spent 35 years in banking, 25 with JPMorgan Chase. He manages a team of six commercial bankers providing services to middle market companies, generally ranging from $20 million to $500 million in annual revenue. His coverage area includes Connecticut, along with portions of Massachusetts and New York.

Manufacturers, distributors and service companies feature heavily among his clients.

“A CBIA survey found 90% of employers are struggling to fill positions, which I can tell you — going out there and visiting our clients and companies that we love to bank — is absolutely true,” McSpedon said.

Connecticut has nearly 100,000 open jobs, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. McSpedon noted that even if every unemployed worker in Connecticut suddenly were placed in one of those positions, there would be 30,000 left unfilled.

“We have the jobs in Connecticut but not the people,” McSpedon said.

McSpedon said workforce development is recognized by CBIA as the state’s No. 1 business challenge. The organization has begun to focus on soaring housing costs as a key contributing factor — prompting the association to partner with housing advocates and the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities to push for legislation to ease the state’s housing crunch.

A shortage of child-care options and affordability is another big contributor, McSpedon said. Many parents find child-care expenses would almost entirely eat up any salary they could earn while working, he said.

An aging workforce is going to be an increasing concern, with pending retirements threatening to strain the already inadequate labor pool, McSpedon said.

He acknowledges the labor shortage as a long-term problem.

“It will take a lot of angles to fix it, whether it is attracting people or keeping folks here, there are a lot of headwinds to building the workforce here in Connecticut.”

The diminished labor force may be the top priority for CBIA, but it won’t be the only issue the group continues to address. Improving the state’s overburdened transportation network has been and will remain a focus, McSpedon said.

One solution the CBIA intends to promote comes in tandem with its workforce efforts. The association hopes to convince lawmakers to incentivize housing development along public transportation hubs.

One issue the CBIA has long unsuccessfully lobbied for — the sunset of corporate business tax surcharge — could gain steam this year.

The surcharge sunset as of Jan. 1, and Gov. Ned Lamont has expressed interest and potential support of letting it expire.

“The temporary surcharge has been temporary for about 20 years,” Lamont told HBJ in December. “I think probably (it’s time to) let that go back to 7.5%, which is middle of the pack, but I have to negotiate that.”

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