La­mont takes a lis­ten­ing tour

The Norwalk Hour - - NEWS/FROM THE FRONT PAGE - By Keith M. Pha­neuf

NEW LON­DON — Gov.-elect Ned La­mont launched a se­ries of strate­gic eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment tours Fri­day with a visit to Con­necti­cut’s south­east­ern cor­ner, say­ing the re­gion ex­em­pli­fies the state’s po­ten­tial for growth.

La­mont and Lt. Gov.-elect Su­san Bysiewicz, along with the re­gion’s state leg­isla­tive del­e­ga­tion, met with busi­ness, la­bor, ed­u­ca­tion and mu­nic­i­pal lead­ers, as well as rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the tribal casi­nos and re­gional eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment boards.

South­east­ern Con­necti­cut has been dom­i­nat­ing the state’s eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment head­lines with a ma­jor job ex­pan­sion planned at the Elec­tric Boat Ship­yard in Gro­ton, a surg­ing pub­lic-pri­vate man­u­fac­tur­ing train­ing and job place­ment pro­gram, and the na­tion’s largest off­shore wind farm un­der de­vel­op­ment 50 miles into the Atlantic.

But La­mont, who is plan­ning sev­eral eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment stops as part of his tran­si­tion into of­fice, said it wasn’t the re­gion’s re­cent suc­cesses that led him there first.

“It re­ally was a ques­tion of at­ti­tude as well,” La­mont told re­porters dur­ing a mid­day brief­ing at The Garde Arts Cen­ter in New Lon­don. “This state has so many ex­tra­or­di­nary ad­van­tages and we need peo­ple who talk about the strengths of our state.”

La­mont, whose cam­paign mes­sage was cen­tered on a pos­i­tive ap­proach to­ward Con­necti­cut’s fiscal chal­lenges, said he’s look­ing for part­ners ready to be en­thu­si­as­tic about the state’s eco­nomic fu­ture.

“I need peo­ple to stand up and be­lieve that we’ve got some great times ahead of us in this state. We’re go­ing to get through this fiscal thing,” he said, re­fer­ring to surg­ing pen­sion costs ex­pected to place ex­treme pressure on state fi­nances for the next decade and a half. “We’re go­ing to do it by work­ing to­gether and then go­ing for­ward we’re go­ing to make the in­vest­ments we need to get this state mov­ing again.”

Gov. Dan­nel P. Mal­loy an­nounced $85 mil­lion in state in­cen­tives in May to help Elec­tric Boat add 1,900 work­ers and ex­pand its sub­ma­rine-build­ing ship­yard over the bet­ter part of the next two decades.

The Gen­eral Assem­bly en­dorsed $50 mil­lion in bond­ing for a “man­u­fac­tur­ing pipe­line” ini­tia­tive that links state com­mu­nity col­leges and trade schools with EB and other ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ers. This job train­ing and place­ment pro­gram al­ready has found jobs for more than 1,000 par­tic­i­pants.

Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, one of the pro­gram’s most ar­dent sup­port­ers, said ef­forts con­tinue to ex­pand, even at the high school level. Over the past year, Nor­wich Free Academy has be­gun part­ner­ing with lo­cal trade busi­nesses to get train­ing and job ex­pe­ri­ence for stu­dents, she said.

“We’re not Sil­i­con Val­ley when it comes to com­puter sci­ence, but we are the Sil­i­con Val­ley of ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing,” La­mont said, adding that he would seek to build on th­ese ef­forts.

La­mont, who in­sisted he will try to de­po­lar­ize Con­necti­cut pol­i­tics, toured the re­gion with Repub­li­can law­mak­ers as well as fel­low Democrats.

Sen. Heather Somers, R-Gro­ton, said she be­lieves the gov­er­nor-elect’s out­reach was more than sym­bolic. “I felt that to­day,” she said. “I felt that our sug­ges­tions and ideas were taken se­ri­ously.”

The Long Is­land Power Author­ity gave the green light last year to the de­vel­op­ment of an off­shore wind farm stretch­ing from the eastern tip of Long Is­land to Martha’s Vine­yard — plac­ing New Lon­don right in the cen­ter.

Tony Sheri­dan, pres­i­dent of the Cham­ber of Com­merce of Eastern Con­necti­cut, said this project — and all of the re­gion’s surg­ing eco­nomic ac­tiv­ity — only un­der­scores the need to jump-start the state’s trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture re­build.

“We’re re­ally blos­som­ing in eastern Con­necti­cut with all of the var­i­ous pro­jects that are go­ing on,” he said, adding that if busi­nesses can­not move goods ef­fi­ciently and quickly, op­por­tu­ni­ties will be lost.

That im­per­a­tive ex­tends not only to the wind farm un­der de­vel­op­ment and ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing, but to an­other linch­pin of the south­east­ern cor­ner: tourism.

“If a fam­ily gets stuck for two hours on (In­ter­state) 95 on their way to visit Mys­tic Sea­port, they’re not go­ing to come back,” he said. “It’s as sim­ple as that.”

The re­gion’s trans­porta­tion needs ex­tend beyond high­ways, Sheri­dan said, adding Con­necti­cut needs to in­crease rail trips link­ing the re­gion both with New York and with Bos­ton.

The largest tourism draw — both for the re­gion and the state — are the Fox­woods Re­sorts Casino and the Mo­he­gan Sun casino. Both fa­cil­i­ties have seen their gaming rev­enues de­cline in re­cent years in the face of in­creased com­pe­ti­tion from new casi­nos in neigh­bor­ing states.

This also has dra­mat­i­cally re­duced gaming rev­enues in the state’s cof­fers. The tribes share 25 per­cent of video slot re­ceipts with Con­necti­cut in ex­change for exclusive rights to of­fer casino gam­bling.

La­mont de­clined to weigh in dur­ing the cam­paign as to whether Con­necti­cut should end that ar­range­ment and open the door for a new casino to be de­vel­oped in a ma­jor city, such as Bridge­port.

But while he didn’t of­fer many specifics, the gov­er­nor-elect said Fri­day that his eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment plans for the re­gion and the state ab­so­lutely in­clude the Mashan­tucket Pe­quot tribe — which owns and op­er­ates Fox­woods — and the Mo­he­gan tribe and its casino.

“The tribes have been amaz­ing part­ners for this state go­ing back a gen­er­a­tion,” he said. “Gaming is part of the en­tire hospi­tal­ity busi­ness. … This is part of what we are here in south­east­ern Con­necti­cut. We’re go­ing to be strong part­ners go­ing for­ward.”

One spe­cific La­mont did of­fer in­volves sports bet­ting.

Con­necti­cut has been “a lit­tle slow off the draw” re­spond­ing to a U.S. Supreme Court de­ci­sion this year that le­gal­ized sports bet­ting in all states, he said, adding that it’s time for the state to es­tab­lish reg­u­la­tions. This also would pro­vide a new source of rev­enue for the state, but Con­necti­cut couldn’t act uni­lat­er­ally as long as it par­tic­i­pates in its rev­enue-shar­ing deal with the tribes. La­mont agreed.

“I can’t do that,” he said, “un­less we have the tribes at the ta­ble.”

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