By Greg Bordonaro
Connecticut Business & Industry Association events don’t always provide a cheery outlook, given the state’s economic and fiscal woes in recent years, but Thursday night struck a different, more positive tone.
The CBIA held its 204th annual meeting in downtown Hartford, which opened with the chair of the state’s largest business lobby — Pegasus Manufacturing President Chris DiPentima — praising the Lamont administration’s focus on manufacturing and workforce development.
“With his business background he has really pushed for public-private collaboration to address our state’s economy,” DiPentima said.
He continued: “All of us in this room are well-aware of Connecticut’s challenges. It’s very easy to get caught up in the negatives particularly around the state’s fiscal issues. But we must focus on all the opportunities.”
Later, CBIA President and CEO Joe Brennan took to the stage and commended Gov. Ned Lamont for not raising rates on major taxes. He also stressed the need for bipartisanship at the state Capitol as Connecticut continues to grapple with budget and other challenges.
“I know we can constantly find things to complain about, but there are so many good things happening, we just have to be persistent and keep our shoulder to the wheel and make things happen in the state,” Brennan said.
Brennan also acknowledged that CBIA has taken heat over the years for being too negative, but he defended the organization, saying it rightly and proudly stood up to raise alarm bells that Connecticut was slipping in competitiveness.
“I thought it was the right thing to do,” he said. “Since then, I think it’s been a little bit harder for legislators and others to do things make us less competitive.”
Both men, however, avoided talk about Lamont’s new transportation plan that includes highway tolling, which is an issue that has split the business community in the past. CBIA took heat earlier this year for not choosing sides on the issue.
Of course, Brennan and DiPentima had an incentive to play nice. Lamont was in the audience Thursday night and gave brief remarks through which he tried to establish his private-sector bona fides.
“I’ve tried to turn a new page in this state … and get a new relationship with the business community,” Lamont told around 500 business leaders in a crowded Marriott hotel banquet room.
Lamont reminded the audience of his small-business past and also touted his administration’s efforts to enlist business leaders. His checklist included:
- Ryan Drajewicz, his chief of staff and a former senior management associate at hedge-fund giant Bridgewater Associates.
- David Lehman, Department of Economic and Community Development commissioner, and a former Goldman Sachs partner.
- Josh Geballe, Department of Administrative Services commissioner, and a former IBM executive and tech company CEO.
- Sibongile Magubane, Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner and a former IT executive at Aetna.
- Colin Cooper, the state’s new Chief Manufacturing Officer, who was a long-time chief executive of Eastford aeroparts maker Whitcraft Group.
Lamont also boasted about some of his first-year accomplishments, including having an open-door policy with the business community, building up a $2.5 billion rainy day fund and passing a budget that didn’t raise rates on major taxes, although there was an overall significant increase in tax revenues.
“We still have some work to do there,” Lamont said referencing the state budget, which faced a multibillion-dollar deficit coming into 2019.
He also threw out some red meat to the crowd saying state government is likely to see up to 15,000 workers retire over the next few years and that there shouldn’t be a need to rehire for all those positions. It’s one reason he has focused on beefing up state government’s IT backbone.
Lamont also briefly touched on his transportation plan, noting that it includes a subtle rebranding. Tolls are no longer tolls. Instead, he’s calling them user fees, which indicates he hopes that might make them more palatable to the public.
He also discussed his focus on workforce development and training workers for tens of thousands of unfilled jobs in the state.
CBIA names new board members
At its annual meeting the CBIA also announced 14 new board members. They include:
- Chris Allen, president and founder, iDevices LLC in Avon
- Michele Etzel, EVP and CFO, National Graphics Inc. in North Branford
- John Burkhardt, SVP, Pfizer Inc. in Groton
- Rohan Freeman, president and CEO, Freeman Cos. LLC in Hartford
- Shelia Denton, SVP and general counsel, Boehringer Ingelheim in Ridgefield
- Lucia Furman, president, Mercantile Development Inc. in Shelton
- Kevin Grigg, president and CEO, Fuss & O’Neill Inc. in Manchester
- Lisa Morgan, SVP and president, construction, energy and marine, Travelers Cos. in Hartford
- Michael Kennedy, VP, tax and treasury, Barnes Group Inc. in Bristol
- Rinal Patel, executive director of operations, RSCC Wire & Cable LLC in East Granby
- Matthew Luxton, VP facilities and general counsel, General Dynamics Electric Boat Corp. in Groton
- Rachel Stansel, president, Environics Inc. in Tolland
- Brian Montanari, president and CEO, HABCO Industries LLC in Glastonbury
- William Tommins, market executive global commercial banking, Bank of America in Stamford
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