Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s campaign platform on jobs and economic development was on full display Thursday during a Hartford business forum.
Leading a panel discussion with high-tech, small business entrepreneurs, Malloy touted his efforts to expand job growth incentives for firms of all sizes.
The governor, who took office three-and-a-half years ago as Connecticut struggled to climb out of The Great Recession, also took a few shots at his Republican predecessors and critics, arguing they left the Nutmeg State in dire economic straits.
The Democratic governor, seeking a second term, said more than 1,600 companies have received state assistance – economic or otherwise – since his administration began. For nearly a decade before that, under Republican governors, the state had interacted with fewer than 120 businesses.
“That’s a stark difference,” Malloy told a crowd of about 100 gathered Wednesday morning at the Mark Twain Museum Center. “We’re going to stay at this and we’re going to keep working at it.”
The forum was hosted by Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public, state-funded economic development agency.
The governor has taken heat as Connecticut’s job market recovery has lagged the nation’s since the recession – a trend common after most economic slumps. The state unemployment rate finally dropped below 7 percent last month.
Republicans have attacked much of the corporate assistance proposed and secured by the Malloy administration, calling it a ploy to foster more contributions for the governor’s campaign.
“It’s a little bizarre,” he said. “We should all be for job creation. We should all be for stepping in.”
The governor led a panel discussion with leaders of three small businesses that grew over the last three years with crucial state assistance:
Ned Gannon, CEO of eBrevia Inc. of Stamford, whose firm developed a cutting-edge artificial intelligence to help law firms, investment companies and other research operations extract information from legal documents;
Jeremy Hamel, co-founder of Umbie DentalCare of Middletown, which has grown from two employees to 13 since 2011;
and Bryant Guffey, CEO of ZetrOZ Inc. of Trumbull, a small company with 25 employees that develops small ultrasound devices for treatment and recovery of tissue.
And while these business leaders praised Malloy for the investments made in recent years, the governor said he inherited an administration afraid to take risks – even smart, calculated measures – to improve the business climate.
“I inherited a bureaucracy that’s afraid to be entrepreneurial,” he said, calling it “a hangover” from the corruption of former Gov. John G. Rowland’s administration, which ran from 1995 through mid-2004. “We’ve bred into the system this fear of making mistakes.”
Malloy also criticized his fellow Democrats, who have controlled both chambers in the legislature for nearly all of the last three years, suggesting they overreacted when setting accountability standards in the wake of the Rowland scandal.
“The legislature went hog wild writing legislation that makes it very difficult to adapt quickly” when providing assistance to businesses, Malloy said.
Rowland had pleaded guilty in federal court to accepting more than $100,000 in gifts and assistance from subordinates and from businesses that contract with the state.
Greenwich businessman Tom Foley, a Republican who narrowly lost the 2010 race to Malloy and who won the GOP State Convention endorsement earlier this month, said Wednesday that the governor is trying to put the best face possible on an administration that is driving businesses out of Connecticut.
“He’s just using taxpayer money to bribe companies to keep jobs here,” Foley said. “And it’s a very expensive, heavy-handed policy that serves him well, but shortchanges Connecticut’s future, because those jobs are not going to stay here long-term.”
Foley said the $1.5 billion state tax hike Malloy signed in 2011, coupled with mandatory paid sick leave, rising tuition costs at public colleges and universities and a slow agency permitting process are driving businesses and workers out of Connecticut.
Though the governor notes that the state has created about 52,000 private-sector jobs since he took office, that number ignores losses in the public sector, and among farm workers and the self-employed.
“He’s cherry picking the best number he can come up with and it’s still abysmal,” Foley said.