Connecticut, its companies, universities and people are all about the thinking. It is not so much a manufacturing location, but it is definitely a place associated with breaking the mould. Catherine Smith is the Commissioner of the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development. She says that the state’s tagline – “still revolutionary” – is as relevant today as it ever was: ie, it is a wonderful place for strategic thinking and invention.
The helicopter, bicycle and sewing machine are all the brainchildren of the State of Connecticut. This is the land of invention where great ideas take shape, are nurtured and brought on. Getting those ideas into mass production is not really what this state is all about; Connecticut is very much about the intellectual rather than the manual.
And what great credentials it has for doing this. Yale University and the University of Connecticut, as well as a host of other academic institutions, are sparking, incubating and accelerating ideas along with the R&D efforts of the corporate sector and the support of state institutions. This is a nurturing environment backed up by influence and investment.
It is fair to say that most new jobs associated with FDI stem from the advanced manufacturing sector, including aerospace. Germany, the UK and the Netherlands, along with a host of other European foreign direct investors, are visibly active in Connecticut. While aerospace is a key draw, other industries – such as med tech with the mighty Medtronic in particular – are active members of Connecticut’s advanced manufacturing sector.
When it comes to targeting Connecticut’s advanced manufacturing FDI efforts, Catherine says: “Europe is a great target for us regarding advanced manufacturing. We are an attractive location in the middle of the East Coast economy; but we are a lot less expensive than the obvious metropolitan areas.”
Nothing FDI-related happens by accident in Connecticut. Acknowledging that investment in talent is a key driver of the local economy, the State of Connecticut, as well as the Federal Government, has made huge investments in the education system. From universities to community colleges and high schools, they have all been beneficiaries of this strategy. In fact, the University of Connecticut has an engineering school that has seen a 70% increase in capacity thanks to investment to support the demand for engineering talent from local businesses.
In terms of aerospace alone, three sector giants stride across this state. UTC with its famous Pratt & Whitney brand, Electric Boat – part of General Dynamics – and Lockheed Martin’s Sikorsky all draw on this talent base. “Not only are these manufacturing giants all present in the state, but they also operate local supply-chains which enables them to collaborate on R&D,” says Catherine.
On top of that, the Manufacturing Innovation Fund has been launched to provide financial assistance to Connecticut manufacturers to help them undertake innovative projects that significantly improve productivity, efficiency and competitiveness. Financial assistance is provided in the form of a matching grant; between $5,000 and $100,000 can be awarded.
Economic development in the State of Connecticut is not only about the usual FDI imperatives – jobs and capital expenditure – but it is also about building communities and making sure they gel. “We have a very large number of German companies here,” says Catherine, “and they have a community organisation.” There are also lots of start-ups from Israel that have landed in Connecticut, especially in the bio-sciences space. “We have a familiar and friendly community that speaks their language – both literally and figuratively,” she says, “it helps us to focus on FDI.”
Bio-sciences is, along with advanced manufacturing, a vital strand of the Connecticut economy. Much of the action revolves around Yale university and the University of Connecticut. Companies like Pfizer, Boerhinger Ingelheim and Jackson Laboratory are all driving R&D excellence and now Connecticut is 6th in the US for technology and science capacity (according to the Milken Institute, 2016 State Tech and Science Index). Connecticut ranks 4th in the nation for bio-science patents per 1,000 people (according to Batelle/BIO State Bioscience Jobs, Investments and Innovation, 2014), it generated $8.2 billion in economic output in 2014 (according to PhRMA, May 2016), and employs over 24,000 workers (says Batelle/BIO State Bioscience Jobs, Investments and Innovation 2014).
The bio-sciences also have a local innovation fund – the Connecticut Bioscience Innovation Fund – which is a $200 million, 10-year fund that provides up to $500,000 to speed up bio-science breakthroughs. Investments include grants, equity and loans.
“In particular we are focused in Connecticut on genomics, personalised medicine and cancer research/immunology,” says Catherine. “And we do a lot to drive collaboration.”
Of course, technology, in its wider sense, is heavily incubated in Connecticut too. “The more dynamic the sub-sector, the better the FDI operation,” says Catherine. “For example, we are focused on cyber security, fintech, insurance, financial services and hedge funds.”
She returns to the theme of community and the fact that over and above business nurturing, investment and collaboration, “Connecticut is a lovely state to live in. We have cities but they are not condensed,” she says.
In terms of the day to day, the State of Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development pursues the usual FDI activities: the tour of sector-specific trade shows and events, accompanied by exporting companies and interacting with companies from geographical locations that represent the best fit with Connecticut. “We are primarily interested in jobs and investment,” Catherine reiterates, “but we are always leading edge.”
There is no inkling that the State of Connecticut is interested in being a follower in the FDI stakes. It is very much concerned with fresh ideas, nurturing young talent and being the mother of invention.