Gov. Ned Lamont created the Governor’s Workforce Council to lead efforts to grow and refine Connecticut’s workforce. Led by distinguished individuals, four committees foster a broad approach to workforce development. For example, UConn President Tom Katsouleas is an ex-officio member of the Career & Education Committee, while Jim Loree, CEO of Stanley Black & Decker, chairs the Business Leadership Committee. I serve as one of many collaborators in this effort.
One of Loree’s subcommittees is charged with retaining college graduates, leading me to review our success at UConn. Two encouraging statistics for the very challenged, pandemic class of 2020 are: 73% of employed UConn graduates who attended Connecticut high schools are working in state, and a substantial 22% of employed graduates from out-of-state have accepted employment in Connecticut. UConn has accepted responsibility as an economic engine for the state, and progress continues.
The Governor’s Council understands how complex the process is, and has working groups focused on high school education, technical education, counseling, advising, internships, co-ops, and more.
For UConn, the opportunities are many. We work closely with high schools, and programs like Hartford Promise, in informing guidance counselors and students about UConn. We welcome community college students and value the associate’s degrees they’ve earned. We collaborate with corporations to build relationships, support internships and co-ops, educate our students on career options, and refine our educational offerings as our students prepare to become successful employees.
All of these efforts support our graduates and our communities but ultimately the measure of our communities is their livability, their vibrancy, their culture. Alumnus Ed Satell, ’57, founder of the Satell Institute in Philadelphia, often notes that the measure of a community is whether more people are moving in than are moving out. Ed would say that people seek communities where children get good educations, the environment is healthy, and the citizenry enjoys livability, with vibrant evening and weekend opportunities.
Connecticut has been challenged on these measures for many years as we have lost population. The losses have been small, down 1,215 people from a population of 3.57 million in 2018. But our small decline occurred while some southern and western states were growing quickly. In Connecticut, only Windham and Fairfield counties are growing. Critics have focused on high taxes, difficult regulation, and the high cost of government. Some have observed that one source of population growth, immigration, has been stymied at the federal level. Fourteen percent of Connecticut residents were born outside the USA.
There are “green shoots” emerging in our state. In response to the pandemic and the work-from-home movement, there is evidence that people may reconsider the value of life in a large metropolitan area. Connecticut has 169 municipalities offering abundant examples of walk-able, smaller communities and lower taxes than in New York City. The abundant public services such as schools, hospitals, museums, and theaters in Connecticut offer promise in a post-COVID world.
People have noticed these Connecticut opportunities and a shift is in process. In the Hartford Courant, the Connecticut Post, the Wall Street Journal and beyond, evidence is growing that a trend is underway. The U.S. Postal Service tells us there were more than 16,000 changes of address to Connecticut from March to June 2020. Other data support the story, including: new registrations and inquiries for private school education; moving-company bookings to move households here; and leases by 10 financial companies of 75,000-square-feet of commercial space. Meanwhile, housing sales are thriving. In Hartford, Tolland, and Middlesex counties, home sales were recently reported to be up 33%, ranking Connecticut third in the nation.
At UConn, we are proud to be part of reversing a negative trend. We will help by attracting and educating another generation of great young professionals and dedicated citizens. By working with our corporate partners, we will continue to refine our offerings and serve the needs of students and employers well. As scholars, we will continue to define what makes great communities and how to support them, and we will continue to find ways to improve efficiency, whether in the supply chain for defense weapons or the distribution system for COVID-19 vaccines.
Connecticut is our home and it is by our collaborative action that we make it better, year by year.