Attracting companies to Connecticut and helping already established businesses grow are essential to getting the state's financial house in order, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told 180 people Wednesday at the Business Council of Fairfield County's Winter Luncheon at the Stamford Sheraton.
Through various state programs, financial assistance has been provided to 550 companies in the first two years of the Malloy administration, he said, compared with the last six years of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration, when 200 businesses received assistance.
"Some of the biggest investments are in this area," Malloy said. "I get criticized upstate for that, but we have to build on our strengths."
The "First 15" program, focusing on attracting large companies from out of state, has led to $2 billion in private investment, matched by $180 million in state assistance, said Malloy, who started the effort as the First 5 program.
He touted the Innovation Ecosystem program, an effort to help entrepreneurs find investors. The Stamford Innovation Center is a player in the program.
"We can't afford to have a great idea coming out of a great student at Yale and let it move to California," Malloy said. "Economic development is at the forefront of everything we're doing."
Connecticut is emphasizing increasing the bioscience industry, Malloy said, pointing to the state's success in luring Jackson Laboratories to Farmington, where a 189,000-square-foot lab building is being constructed. The industry is growing at an 11 percent rate across the nation, and the governor insisted that the state will be a major participant.
He proposed this month that the state spend $200 million over 10 years to attract and invest in additional bioscience firms.
The proposal comes as Connecticut confronts a budget shortfall of at least $415 million.
But Malloy, who in late November announced a $170 million cut in allocations to state agencies, reminded the audience that he reduced the government payroll by 1,200 employees after taking office.
"And we didn't pay people to retire," said Malloy, who spent 14 years as mayor of Stamford.
Malloy, who said he wants to avoid raising taxes, expects to introduce a new state budget on Feb. 6.
"We've got to live within our means," he said. "It will be a tough budget. We'll have a lot of complaints."
Malloy's stance on growing business in the state left attendee John Hannigan encouraged.
"The key point is to drive the unemployment rate down," said Hannigan, a principal in Stamford-based Choyce Peterson, a search firm for corporate office space. "The Department of Economic and Community Development is much more proactive that in the previous administration."
The state's Fast 15 program is working, said Jodi Gutierrez, vice president of property management for George Comfort & Sons, commenting that an energized private sector is crucial as the state struggles with its budget woes.
He used the occasion to announce that the state Department of Labor and the DECD will study factors that contribute to the gender wage gap in Connecticut's workforce and recommend actions to eliminate the inequity.
WBDC Chief Executive Officer Fran Pastore welcomed the study.
"Women are paid 75.8 cents for every dollar made by their male counterparts," she said. "This is another way our governor is being proactive and progressive."