A good day of CT economic news in a long slog for Lamont | #education | #technology | #training | #education | #technology | #infosec

Within the space of three hours in the middle of the day Monday, inside of a few miles from his home in Greenwich, the governor presided over events at three Connecticut companies, each with a global reach and growing; each spending millions of dollars on education, jobs or technology with a clear statement that it stands behind its home state.

They were all state government events, not part of the Lamont 2022 campaign schedule — we’ll have plenty of time for that in the summer and fall — but they might as well have been scripted by Lamont’s reelection team.

Combined, the events at Synchrony Financial just off the Merritt Parkway in Stamford, Mirador LLC down by the harbor in Stamford and Bigelow Tea in the town of Fairfield, gave Lamont a chance to sell, once again, his view of the newly revived Connecticut.

“People really believe in the quality of life here in Connecticut. They think it’s getting better ,” Lamont told my colleague Alex Soule at the Bigelow event. The first-term Democrat talked about education, access to parks and beaches and the state’s massive budget surplus, attained without increasing any of the main state taxes, three years after he inherited a multi-billion-dollar shortfall.

Sounds great, and it is, as many people see it. Bob Stefanowski, Lamont’s near-certain Republican opponent this year, is not among the believers.

“This Governor has shown such blatant disregard for the struggle people are going through,” Stefanowski said in an email, in response to my request for written comments on Lamont’s excellent adventure Monday. “Instead of running around the state, patting himself on the back, the Governor should step away from the microphone and listen to people who aren’t looking through his rose colored glasses.”

The corporate credit card

Is Connecticut better off than it was four years ago? Has Lamont run the economic horse race as well as voters could reasonably expect? He clearly has a lot of good news on his side, and just as clearly, recovery has passed over many residents.

But no issue — not crime, not the environment, not education, not the handful of state government ethics matters that Lamont says he handled properly, not even Lamont’s management of the pandemic — will surpass the state of the state’s economy when it comes time for voters to fill in a ballot for Lamont, Stefanowski or maybe someone else on Nov. 8.

Days as strong as Monday don’t come often. If they did, Lamont really would be King Ned, as opponents derisively call him. That said, were the events of the day a sign of the way things are going in Connecticut, or an up day in a down market?

I’m an optimist girded by 30 years of low expectations in Connecticut, so I’m just looking for a late-night deli to open and I’ll be happy. Obviously we have some signs of life, if not corned beef after 10.

Synchrony, the giant provider of private-label and store-brand credit cards that spun off from General Electric several years ago, opened its Synchrony Skills Academy at its headquarters late Monday morning. Financed by the company as part of a $50 million, 5-year training and education initiative, the skills academy aims to bring job opportunities and tech training to people from under-served communities.

That means dozens of slots for selected high school students. What’s not to like about that? Time was when the big companies basically ran their own vast trade schools for incoming employees.

That a state is able to spark a few corporate projects like this is great, though not enough — and the high-minded speeches from government and business chiefs reflected that. My colleague Paul Schott was there to report it.

Fintech fortunes

By 1 p.m., Lamont was down at the soon-to-open headquarters of Mirador LLC, a company offering services to the wealth management industry, founded seven years ago in Darien. Mirador, now with 100 employees, will take prime office space with the hope of adding 250 more jobs in Connecticut by mid-2025.

This was the biggest win of the day. Mirador represents another in a handful of companies in the financial technology industry, a nascent cluster in booming Stamford, which saw its global banking operations shrink after the Great Recession.

The finance sector hasn’t fared well of late in this state. Even as Connecticut has created an estimated 47,700 jobs, or 3 percent over the last year, finance jobs have dwindled by nearly 1,100, or nearly 1 percent — in part due to bank consolidations.

Mirador will be eligible for an estimated $3.2 million if it creates 250 new jobs under a formula available to all companies with more than 25 jobs that add a certain percentage. That’s about $13,000 per job, higher than the typical Lamont-era payout by about double — which tells us these jobs average upwards of $200,000 a pop.

That’s far less than the tens of thousands of bucks per position that former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy handed out to large, growing companies including Synchrony — which has in fact added more than 200 local jobs since 2015.

Tea for $2 million

From Stamford, it was off to Bigelow Tea in Fairfield, a rare national consumer goods brand based in Connecticut.

With 200 jobs here, the family-owned business didn’t announce new hiring Monday, or a new program for the community. No, third-generation CEO Cindi Bigelow unveiled a $2 million, robotic shipping system with enough whizbang to wow my three colleagues on the scene — two reporters and a photographer.

You may say, gee, that’s nice technology but if anything, it replaces jobs rather than creating them, right? Wrong. Like Mirador, Bigelow, has operations in other states, any one of which would and probably did beg the company to invest there. So it’s a statement, as Cindi Bigelow confirmed, that the company known for its Constant Comment flagship flavor is here to stay — and to grow.

Good optics for Lamont — let’s say he beat the steep odds — and he talked about the upcoming tax breaks he’s negotiating with lawmakers.

Stefanowski was less than impressed. “It’s always a good day when job creators like Bigelow Tea make investments here in Connecticut, but the Governor himself said it’s easier for companies to start groundbreaking businesses in Nashville than in Stamford,” he said.

That was a reference to Lamont saying over the winter that his wife, venture capital investor Annie Lamont, would look to Nashville rather than Connecticut because it was easier — easier, that is, to avoid accusations of a conflict of interest. He never meant to say it was easier for businesses to operate there than here, although, of course, it is.

As for taxes, Stefanowski said, “While he sits on a $4 Billion surplus and $4 Billion rainy day fund on the backs of overtaxed residents and businesses, he offers a few hundred million in promised tax cuts in years to come, it shows just how out of touch he is.”

It’s a $4 billion surplus plus a $3 billion rainy day fund, but who’s counting? Yes, we’re drowning in short-term cash but Lamont says he’s looking out for the long-term, trying to pay down the economy-choking pension liability. And he’s forced to live under federal rules that limit tax cuts for states that use the pandemic relief in their budgets.

Sadly, that’s a debate only a few voters will follow. Let’s stick with the core question — how are we doing?

On Monday, the answer was good. After 4 p.m., W.R. Berkley Corp., the large insurer in Lamont’s hometown, announced record quarterly underwriting profits.

Two hundred seventeen days to the election. Each one brings news. This is going to be fun.


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