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Catch Them Doing Something Right!

Dec 08, 2013
Hartford Business Journal
Catch Them Doing Something Right!
Hartford Business Journal - Op-Ed
By Sandra Johnson

As a former elementary school teacher, there was no better way to encourage my students to continue to make better choices, work harder and strive for excellence than catching them doing something right. What other practice has bridged time and remains so fundamental to motivating today's young people and where “good job!” has become part our vernacular.

But, something seems to “mutate” in us as we become adults where politics trump policy, criticism trumps a congratulations and the media responds to our interest to tune in for a condemnation rather than a commendation. Today's national dysfunction or gridlock seems to be metastasizing and it is time for a call to action. It's all about balance. It is time to “catch them doing something right.”

While at a national conference in October, Texan attendees were quick to point out how proud they were of their Governor trolling for Connecticut businesses. They endorsed their Governor and leaders traveling internationally to promote their state, recognizing that it takes time to develop the relationships for business development to occur.

As an economic developer, I too am pleased to see my Governor and leaders making strategic international linkages, often amid less positive reporting. I am also pleased to see where our state is better leveraging the work of and collaborating with private organizations such as the MetroHartford Alliance. In follow-up to the successful, Connecticut-Israel Technology Summit, produced by my organization in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Hartford, DECD Commissioner Catherine Smith will be leading a small, focused business delegation to Israel in early December. Within the tight itinerary, the mission will provide opportunities to introduce Connecticut to Israeli business, follow-up on work in progress and to initiate new business and academic relationships all toward future foreign direct investment. Plans also include meeting with those Israeli businesses that have chosen Connecticut for a U.S. beachhead.

Another move in the right direction was in 2006, under the Rell administration, when Connecticut became one of only four states that passed legislation to fund and to support stem cell research. However, we were the only state to structure it as an ongoing, competitive grant program, insuring that we taxpayers would have a ROI. At the time, there were only two labs doing stem cell research. Now we have over 100 scientists doing stem cell research and Connecticut is recognized as a global leader in this field. State funding of $68.89 million has been leveraged to attract almost $300 million of additional outside funding, yielding taxpayers a ROI of more than 4 to 1 not including job creation.

In addition, Yale invested $80 million in the Amistad Building now housing the Yale Stem Cell Center; UConn established its $52-million facility for cell and genome research, home of the UConn Stem Cell Institute, and the co-located Technology Incubation Program is now spawning new companies. Leveraging this growing center of excellence, the Malloy administration seized the opportunity to attract The Jackson Laboratory, further strengthening the work toward personalized medicine and the Connecticut brand.

Aside from the financial ROI, Dr. Diane Krause, associate director of Yale's Stem Cell Center, told me that Connecticut's catalytic investment prevented a huge “brain drain.” Top researchers follow the money. In addition to talent retention, they have been able to attract the best and the brightest here to Connecticut. And Dr. Milt Wallack, the founder of the Stem Cell Coalition reminded attendees at a recent Stem Cell Retreat, “The goal is as stem cell research becomes more self-sustaining in the future, it will allow the state to play a more diminished role in funding.”

The goal for government should be to give an initiative roots and wings. But for now, there will be another call for action. At the end of 2015, our state again has the opportunity to build on its original investment by renewing another 10-year round of funding to help ensure our leading place on the global stage.

Collectively, many are doing it right and producing results — from targeted global marketing, to stem cell research and personalized medicine, to the creation of the Connecticut Airport Authority for a more nimble statewide airport system, to adding captive insurance to our repertoire of industry practice, and the list can go on. Sometimes it doesn't hurt to just say, “Good Job!”

Sandra Johnson is vice president and director of business development for the MetroHartford Alliance and a board director of the Connecticut Economic Development Association (CEDAS).

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