2014 Connecticut Economic Outlook
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Another potential area identified by Klepper-Smith for employment growth is in the technology sector, which is already starting to happen at a small, grassroots level for several New Haven-based technology companies.
MEA Mobile makes apps for smartphones. The company moved to New Haven less than two years ago and is looking to add three new programmers to its staff of 10 employees. Its highest profile success to date is its Printicular app, which was launched last year and allows users to send photos taken with their mobile phones directly to any of 8,000 Walgreens stores across the country to be turned into prints. Printicular users don’t have to go to the nearest Walgreens to pick up the prints—they can now have them mailed to a location anywhere in the world. In December, Printicular also started offering prints in sizes up to 30-by-30 inches. MEA Mobile gets a percentage of each print Walgreens sells; since Printicular’s launch last year, tens of thousands of pictures have been printed by Walgreens.
Another New Haven tech company to watch is Continuity Control, which expects to double its 25-person workforce this year, according to Andy Greenwalt, the company’s chief executive officer and founder. While Klepper-Smith favors making government less costly and complex, Greenwalt’s business is based on helping small banks and credit unions comply with government regulations. When it comes to the creation of jobs, “state and city governments are part of the solution, but not the whole solution,” he says. “They can water the plant, but they can’t grow a new one.”
“We need to create an environment that will bring the best and the brightest here,” he adds. “They have lots of options.”
Nemerson says that while there is global competition for top talent in any field, Connecticut must improve upon its ability to train people in mid-level positions. He suggests that when companies leave Connecticut, it’s sometimes because they are able to find more people to fill jobs at those levels elsewhere.
Greenwalt believes another way to make technology workers aware of what the state has to offer would be to bring a world-class technology conference to New Haven on an annual basis, aimed specifically at the programmers and other types of technology workers in short supply in Connecticut right now.
New Haven Mayor John DeStefano, in his final few weeks in office, remarked that efforts to remake the city into a technology hub are a logical follow-up to the city’s past as a manufacturing center. “I’m reminded that we’re still a city that makes things; it’s just a different platform,” DeStefano said, adding that betting on the city’s future as a technology hub represents a smart idea for economic growth. “It’s less real estate-based and more idea-based.”
Nemerson says the state needs to be constantly vigilant in assessing itself against other states. “We’re beginning to be competitive, but we’re not where we need to be,” he says. “You have to be reality-based and do focus groups and research. When people leave, you have to do comprehensive exit interviews to find out why, and when they choose a Connecticut company, you need to ask why they did and what other companies they chose it over.”
Because major cities are considered to be dynamic places to work, Nemerson believes other parts of Connecticut must develop a connection with larger population centers. “Jackson Labs doesn’t seem to have any trouble finding people for a place like Farmington,” he says. “But when you’re talking about Storrs, now that UConn has reorganized its research operation, it has an added burden of trying to stay connected with New Haven, New York and Boston.”
Keeping it all connected will be just part of the overall challenge the state continues to face as it works to improve its economic picture.