As Connecticut, and particularly as Fairfield County, lags behind much of the U.S. in job creation and job growth, the time to address these issues has never been more critical. Policies that have focused on luring big business with tax breaks, low interest and forgivable loans, and other perks have proven to be at best marginally successful.
Programs designed to provide small businesses with incentives to hire and expand has had marginal success, but have ended, and with the current fiscal crisis have little if any chance of being reintroduced or re-funded.
The time for new ideas is now. We need to look at the issues that are weighing on the region from another perspective. It all starts with a simple effort in updating our understanding of who resides in the region.
The demographics of the county have changed, measurably, in the last 10 years. Every quarter we have seen new apartment buildings and rental units spring up in Stamford and in many of the surrounding communities. We have several thousand new residents in buildings that cannot seem to be built fast enough to accommodate demand, and more buildings continue to rise and be planned, indicating that this growth is going to continue.
Where more people were getting off the train in Stamford in the morning (because they were commuting each day to our region vs. from) and heading to work, today the numbers have tilted back to commuters leaving the area, to mostly head to New York City. So who are these people? Most importantly — Would they consider good jobs in Fairfield County if they were available?
The time to find out is now.
If the region wants to attract companies to the area and keep them here for the foreseeable future, not because of tax breaks or loans, then they need to properly understand the regions assets, and those assets are people, and right now it seems clear that not enough work has been done to know who lives in Fairfield County today.
Surveying those waiting on the train platforms in the region each morning will allow for a more precise understanding of the professional profile of our residents; our newest residents in particular. Where firms in NYC are competing daily to attract and retain talent, all in one of the most competitive and saturated and expensive markets in the world, here in Connecticut we don’t see such activity. As such an employer relocating to the region could find the most valuable incentive of all – more easily accessible talent.
In the wake of all the recent announcement of the loss of GE to Boston, and most recently the likely loss of many regional jobs at Starwood, the Department of Economic Development (DECD) has been running ads on the radio touting Connecticut as a great place to work. To make that assertion more powerful the time has come to know who we are…today, vs. who we were demographically. THAT is a sound strategy that will yield real results.
David Lewis is CEO of OperationsInc, a Norwalk based human resources consultancy that supports hundreds of small businesses in Fairfield County. He is also CEO of FairfieldCountyJobs.com, the largest regional job board in the state, as well as founder of two regional business groups (The CEO Roundtable and The HR Roundtable). He resides in Stamford.