The Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce hosted a Legislative Breakfast on Wednesday, Feb. 21, to allow state legislators to comment on transportation infrastructure, comprehensive workforce development, childcare incentives, spending reforms, and regionalization and collaboration.
Legislators present were state Representative Whit Betts (R-78), Representative Mike Demicco (D-21), Representative and House Republican Leader Themis Klarides (R-114), Representative Cara Pavalock-D’Amato (R-77), Representative Dr. William Petit JR (R-22), Representative John Piscopo (R-76), Representative Christopher Ziogas (D-79), State Senator Joe Markley (R-16), and Senator Henri Martin (R-31).
One of the overarching themes of the breakfast is the fact that Connecticut is a state that does have jobs, but it is looking for a workforce to fill those jobs, said Paul Lavoie, general manager of Carey Manufacturing and chairman of the CCCC Regional Legislative Action Committee.
“Our focus this year is around jobs; jobs, and job creation,” said Lavoie. “We have a need for a skilled workforce. As a business community, we need a skilled workforce and we need creative solutions to meet the expectations of today’s young employees.”
“We need to change the perception of Connecticut,” said Betts, “so that people will stay here and not move out.”
Betts said a lot of money has been lost, specifically between 2015 and 2016.
“The net loss of money has amounted to almost $3 billion, and that’s been going on for a number of years,” said Betts. “If we don’t stop that, we are going to be looking at a much different state. We are getting really close to being broke; we have to address that.”
“How do we fix Connecticut?” is question Martin said is always on his mind. Martin believes that the economy can and should be jumpstarted at the school level.
“I think we all should go to college. I believe that education should be at the top of everyone’s mind,” said Martin. “However, not everyone is made to go to college. They’re made to work with their hands, they’re creating with their hands, they are very productive with their hands and we have 13,000 current jobs in the manufacturing sector that we can fill today, but we do not have the individuals to go into that field, and going forward about a five-year period, that number may increase to 28,000 jobs.”
Martin said that he would like to encourage various boards of education to “help us jumpstart our economy by encouraging and developing programs within the school system” and even by talking with parents, to encourage students to pursue careers in the trades and manufacturing sectors.
Petit agreed, saying that it’s important to expose middle school and high school aged students to the trades, because as Martin said, there are so many job opportunities in that field.
“But also think of the other end,” said Petit of some different manufacturing opportunities. “We have very highly skilled folks migrating into Connecticut to take jobs.”
Ziogas discussed how the Board of Education and the City of Bristol are working together to cut costs. Ziogas sits on the Commerce Committee and serves as the vice chair to the Committee of Higher Education, and he said both are working towards collaboration between the local community colleges and local high schools in order to help students on a track towards a degree or certification.
“My priorities have always been my district and my town, my city; Bristol,” said Ziogas.
Demicco discussed the efforts to “align education” with “the needs of the business community”.
“I know that we’re going to continue to do that,” said Demico. “As a legislator, we need to continue to make sure that those two things mesh in order to keep our economic vitality going.”
“Chambers are made of people who own businesses and run businesses,” said Klarides. “So you understand, particularly, what it takes, and you understand that small business is the driver of our economy, and whether you’re the GE’s of the world or you own the coffee shop on the corner with one employee, you are all affected in a proportionate way by the policies a legislator or a governor puts forward.”
Pavalock-D’Amato spoke about the bills going to committee right now, saying the best way to enact changes that will affect how businesses run and operate is by telling legislators something specific.
“I think for a lot of businesses, what helps is to focus on one specific change for your industry or business that would help you do business better,” said Pavalock-D’Amato.