Chamber members hear about economy

By TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER

STAFF WRITER

The Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce hosted its annual Economic Forecast Breakfast on Thursday, Jan 11. Economist Peter Gioia and President of Asnuntuck Community College and Tunxis Community College, Dr James Lombella, were the keynote speakers.

President and CEO of the chambers, Cindy Lombard, said that at the beginning of each year, they like to hear about what is going on, through an economist’s eyes. “It’s important for our business people to get a sense of what economists are predicting.”

Gioia, economist and vice president of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, explained that an economic forecast is like a crystal ball, looking at where the economy is and where it’s going. It’s then used, mostly by businesses and business executives, to monitor the growth and decline of industries, and to see what opportunities may be available.

“The U.S. economy will be doing great in 2018,” said Gioia. “That helps power Connecticut because our manufacturers and financial services companies sell outside of the state. Manufacturing is doing well, financial services is doing better in Connecticut.”

But, Gioia cautions that Connecticut currently has severe problems, some unique and some shared by other states. “One of the critical problems is filling available jobs; there’s probably 25 thousand plus good jobs that are not being filled.”

Gioia said that is partially due to older workers retiring faster than those positions can be filled, and because young professionals are heading out of state to find work.

Lombella said he hoped to rectify that problem. He said he plans to build a stronger connection between academic learning and the regional communities, “to cultivate relationships between businesses and industries and the academic programs” that are offered at Tunxis.

Gioia expressed simi-lar sentiments, saying that there needs to be a better alignment between the educational system and the job industry. Lombella said it was important that all students are able to gain hands-on experience, through internships, job shadowing opportunities and similar programs. Lombella said Tunxis is currently in the process of building an advanced manufacturing center on campus, which will offer advanced technologies to help better equip students for careers in the industry.

“With nearly two decades in the manufacturing industry myself,” said Lombella, “I bring a vision of increased advanced manufacturing education opportunities to our portfolio programs at Tunxis.” Lombella said the manufacturing industry has changed greatly across the years, saying it’s no longer “dark, damp and dirty like in the past,” it requires higher level math skills and what he referred to as ‘soft skills’.

Lombella said an article he read said there are five important soft skills needed in today’s career world: sense making, social intelligence, novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, and confrontational thinking. All of these skills, Lombella stressed, are best learned through hands-on experience and asked the assembled businesses to work with Tunxis to offer opportunities to students.

“Find a way to get involved,” Lombella said. “This can make a difference in student’s lives and career paths.”

Also present were the co-chairs of PYVOT, Professional Young Visionaries of Tomorrow. Co-Chair Mike Sweeney explained that PYVOT is a group within the chambers, working as an initiative to bring young professionals together so that they can network with businesses and professionals in the regional area.

“A big reason why PYVOT was formed is because this area does have a stigma,” said Sweeney. “The stigma is that there’s not much to do here, there’s jobs elsewhere, there’s just not much. But that really isn’t the case.”

Sweeney emphasised that in PYVOT’s three years, their memberships have grown, and they hope to change the stigma, letting other young professionals know that there are job opportunities in Connecticut.

Cindy Bombard, the CEO and president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, speaks at the chambers’ annual Economic Forecast Breakfast. (TAYLOR MURCHISON-GALLAGHER PHOTO)