March 19, 2018
Economic Development

Hartford region crafting new economic development strategy

John Shemo, Vice President of Entrepreneurial Ecosystems, MetroHartford Alliance
Lyle Wray, President, Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG)

In Hartford, 2018 is turning out to be a planning year.

While the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth has created a buzz at the state Capitol around Connecticut's path forward, several regional groups have begun to examine what strategies would best propel Greater Hartford's economy.

The so-called Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS), which involves the MetroHartford Alliance, 38-town Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG), Hartford Foundation and others, is backed by federal dollars.

The CEDS plans have been created every six years since the 1990s, said John Shemo, the MetroHartford Alliance's vice president of entrepreneurial ecosystems.

Past strategy recommendations have included creating: a dedicated busway (CTfastrak); the Capital Region Development Authority and Hartford Parking Authority; the Hartford-to-Springfield rail service; a construction jobs program; and an internship program that helped the MetroHartford Alliance conceive its now popular HYPE group for young professionals, Shemo said.

"I think we've come miles and we've got miles to go," Shemo said.

CRCOG President Lyle Wray said that while previous CEDS plans have had some influence, the 2018 plan aims to drive the largest possible impact for the region.

"It's not going to just be a wish list of projects," Wray said. "This is not just 'here we go with another CEDS.' "

CRCOG has a $175,000 budget for the effort, compared to $50,000 in 2012. The Alliance and Hartford Foundation kicked in some financial aid and the group recently hired Pittsburgh-based Fourth Economy as an economic consultant.

Wray said Fourth Economy will help the regional partners — including an advisory committee of business, education, government and nonprofit leaders — identify a handful of core strategies and figure out ways to stick with them over the next five to 20 years.

"The problem is not a clever plan, it's what you do with the report," Wray said.

One idea Wray supports, though it's not guaranteed to be in the final CEDS, is creating a large-scale apprenticeship program for high school students that would get them an industry credential for one of the state's key industries, including manufacturing.

Wray said Colorado's "CareerWise" program could serve as a potential model. It received charitable corporate donations of $9.5 million and aims to serve 20,000 students within 10 years.

Wray said he expects the CEDS plan to be complete before the end of the year.

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