AdvanceCT works in partnership with the MetroHartford Alliance (MHA) to enhance economic development in Connecticut. AdvanceCT President and Head of Business Development John Bourdeaux spoke with MHA Content Manager Nan Price about how their organizations work together and how we all have a part in advancing Connecticut.
NAN PRICE: You and I connected for a This Is My Hartford feature when you were Vice President of Advancement at the Connecticut Science Center. Tell us about transitioning into this role.
JOHN BOURDEAUX: During the pandemic, I started thinking about all the challenges our society faces. Working at the Connecticut Science Center was great and was able to address some of them. But the pandemic gave me that time to really think about what more I could do for Connecticut.
I was guided toward this idea that there are managerial-type roles in public service that aren’t elected offices. They’re not necessarily very high profile, but there is a need for good people who care to lean in and think about what more can we do for Connecticut.
I talked to folks in education, workforce development, and economic development. The economic development fit was right for me and my skillset and I landed at AdvanceCT.
NAN: That’s a good transition into talking about economic development, which is a focus at the MHA. How do our two organizations align?
JOHN: The MHA and AdvanceCT are partners in economic development. AdvanceCT is a statewide organization. Some regions in our state have phenomenal economic development professionals working in them, like at the MHA. Others don’t because they’re less populated or because that’s not where the town or region is investing its resources.
AdvanceCT’s job is to support and partner with strong organizations like the MHA and to step in and be that organization in places where there’s not that resource to try and create a level playing field for economic development in the state of Connecticut.
We talk all the time with our colleagues at the MHA about projects we’re working on. We partner and provide resources and ideas because there are never going to be enough people working on this. There’s no such thing as competition in economic development. There are only partners.
One of the things we do at AdvanceCT is source new leads and get new businesses interested in coming to Connecticut. I recently networked into a lead for an InsurTech company headquartered in Dublin, which has a really interesting technology product for the insurance industry.
When I handed it over to someone our team who works in technology, his next phone was to Susan Winkler, MHA Vice President and Executive Director at Connecticut Insurance & Financial Services. It just makes sense for us all to work together to convince this company to establish a presence here in Connecticut.
NAN: What types of businesses can help enhance Connecticut’s economic development?
JOHN: That’s a great question. We’re not trying to attract a manufacturing company with low-wage jobs that needs 4,000 workers. That’s not a good fit for Connecticut. But a company doing more precision work at a higher level that needs a combination of the advanced manufacturing expertise plus the engineering plus the innovation culture we have here in Connecticut, that’s a good fit.
Part of our job is to qualify and understand the types of businesses we’re looking for. Connecticut is not a one-size-fits-all type of state. We’re really looking for companies that are at the apex of their industry, at the top end of the knowledge economy. That’s the type of companies we’re looking to attract, whether it’s in advanced manufacturing, technology, or life sciences.
I’ll give you some examples. GE Appliances is opening an innovation center in Stamford. They’re headquartered in Louisville, KY, which is where they build their appliances—and they absolutely should do that in Kentucky. What they can’t do in is generate the next new idea for their next appliance and develop the processes, the machines, and the expertise to create and make it. They’re going to invent those things here in Connecticut.
The same is true with Pratt & Whitney. They’re opening a plant in Asheville, NC to build jet engines. That’s great. But the jet engines they’re building—the ones that are changing the world—those geared turbo fan engines were invented here in Connecticut.
Another great example is The Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, a phenomenal next-generation company. We’re going to collaborate with the MHA and the folks all around that area to try and use JAX as a magnet for people doing genetic and genomic medicine. It’s just a good fit.
NAN: What do you enjoy most about working in economic development in Connecticut?
JOHN: One thing I would love to get across is that everybody is in economic development. Everybody is on Team Connecticut. We need to keep highlighting the incredible assets we have here.
We’re one of the best states to be in during the pandemic. Why? Because we actually care about each other—and we do a good job with hard things. We’re one of the best places to be when it comes to innovation, one of the best places to be when it comes to talented workforce, and one of the best places to be in terms of our educational ecosystem, pre-K to Ivy League and everything in between.
We should all be really proud of the assets we have here in Connecticut, which have given birth to everything from the helicopter to vital research that underpinned the COVID-19 vaccine. Who knows what’s going to be next in terms of innovation? I have a good feeling it’s going to come out of Connecticut.