Two days after Aetna said it was looking elsewhere for a headquarters, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy hailed the ongoing expansion of United Technologies Corp.’s East Hartford campus Friday.
Dozens of UTC employees and others greeted Malloy with a standing ovation as he took the stage to celebrate completion of the company’s new “Innovation Hub,” the nickname for a newly renovated and expanded United Technologies Research Center.
“I just thought you deserved a better home,” Malloy said with a smile as he stepped up to the microphone.
The state approved a $400 million tax-relief package for UTC in 2014 and, in exchange, the company pledged to spend $500 million on four major capital projects, which included $60 million for the 185,000-square-foot research center. It also included the construction of a new, 425,000-square-foot world headquarters and engineering facility for subsidiary Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford.
UTC also used Friday’s ceremony to announce two additional East Hartford projects worth a combined $115 million. The company plans to build a $75-million additive manufacturing research center and a $40-million engine compressor testing and research facility.
UTC, a core element of Connecticut’s aerospace and advanced manufacturing industry, designs and builds airplane engines, HVAC systems, elevators, escalators and moving walkways, among other products. The research center employs more than 500 people in Connecticut, including 350 with PhDs, said Greg Hayes, UTC’s chief executive officer.
“In many ways, this may be a dream come true for some of you,” Malloy said. “For me, it’s a dream come true: Finding a way for a government and great corporations to work together to invest and reinvest in one another to create a new future not just for ourselves – but through the products that you will create and perfect, make a better world.”
The ceremonial ribbon-cutting at the research center became a celebration of UTC’s contributions to East Hartford – dating back 88 years to the founding of Pratt & Whitney, now a division of the company.
The celebration – and the announcement of additional expansion – were welcome in the wake of Aetna’s announcement. While Aetna said it would keep most of its employees in Hartford, its pending decision to relocate the company’s headquarters dealt the region a significant blow.
Corporate leaders and elected officials used the UTC event to thank Malloy for crafting the deal that led to the company’s expansion. Hayes said Malloy’s leadership made the expansion possible and called the dramatically expanded research center “an embodiment” of the partnership among UTC, the state and East Harford.
“This is a great example of why Connecticut is a great place to do business,” Hayes said. “A tribute to why we think Connecticut is the right place to be for the future.”
Hayes hasn’t always felt that way. When he was first approached three years ago about the idea of significantly expanding the company’s footprint, he “wasn’t convinced” Connecticut was the right place to do it, he said.
“You proved that you were right,” said Hayes, looking at David Parekh and J. Michael McQuade, two of the company’s senior vice presidents. “You proved that I was wrong.”
Malloy said he believes Hayes’s turnaround is a product of the positive working relationship he and Hayes have had.
“I think he understands what we can get done in Connecticut,” Malloy said, adding that the upfront cost of doing business in Connecticut pays off in the long run. “Listen, we are expensive. That’s the reality. But if you look at the expense versus output, we outperform every other state.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said “something big” like UTC’s expansion only happens when a leader has “the courage, the temerity and the capability to see the future.”
“There’s an old saying from one of my favorite movies, ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’” Larson said. “Gov. Malloy had vision when the rest of the world was wearing bifocals.”
Larson, an East Hartford native, said both of his parents worked at Pratt & Whitney – a point of personal pride for him. He said UTC makes Connecticut “proud” and “prosperous.”
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., called the company “the face of Connecticut’s future.”
“What’s going to be done here is new, but really, it’s part of your DNA and culture,” Blumenthal said. “This facility is part of Connecticut’s culture.”
That culture – which Blumenthal described as being driven by “smart, talented, productive people” – runs deep in East Hartford, something that Mayor Marcia Leclerc stressed during an emotional speech. She said she has been “humbled” by the contributions of employees to the community.
“At the heart of East Hartford, we know that you are so much more than what we see out there,” Leclerc said. “You are bigger than anything this world has to offer.”
Parekh, the senior vice president who oversees the research center, said the Hartford region has a “draw” for prospective employees.
“They love being here,” Parekh said. “They put their roots in the community, and they enjoy working together. And they themselves are the ones recruiting other people to come and work. They say, ‘We love it here. Come join us and be part of the innovation that’s happening at UTC.’”
The state’s tax-relief package for UTC expires in 2028. As part of the deal, the company must complete its new world headquarters for Pratt & Whitney in East Hartford by 2018, and keep it there for the next 15 years.
The deal also requires the construction of a new, 500,000-square-foot customer training center and engineering lab at the UTC Aerospace Systems facility in Windsor Locks.