CT Next’s Innovation Places initiative sends a strong signal that Connecticut is serious about re-imagining its economic development strategy towards innovation.
Having lost GE Capital’s headquarters to Boston’s Seaport District and with Connecticut-based United Technology’s recent announcement that they will be locating their new digital accelerator in Brooklyn, the state is recognizing that the suburban office economy that defined its success in the 1980s and 1990s is no longer working.
Connecticut suffered serious job losses in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis and has not fully recovered from the Great Recession. While the total number of jobs in the state have more or less returned to pre-recession levels, the types of jobs that have come back are lower paying and are not generating the same income tax revenues as those jobs that were lost, reflected in continuing and deepening revenue shortfalls in Hartford.
CT Next Innovation Places program is intended to build on the successes of entrepreneurs and innovators in Connecticut and support their work to grow the state’s innovation economy. CT Next is part of Connecticut Innovations, a quasi-public entity that provides financing and support for Connecticut’s innovative, growing companies. In Summer 2016, the group announced a statewide competitive grant program to encourage cities to plan for and implement innovation districts.
Norwalk’s Innovation Places plan, prepared by Regional Plan Association in collaboration with Kevin Dwarka LLC Land Use and Economic Consulting, has been selected as a finalist in CT Next’s Innovation Places funding competition. Norwalk’s vision for its future includes the development of entrepreneurs, business start-ups, job training programs and creative projects in the food and beverage, digital marketing, media production, making and light manufacturing industries.
In other cities across the state, communities are proposing similar visions for a home-grown innovation economy bolstered by proximity to transit, higher density and walkability. The program’s finalists, which include Norwalk, Stamford, New Haven, Hartford/East Hartford, Danbury, Thames River and Central CT, are anxiously competing for millions of dollars in state funding over three years to fuel local and regional innovation economies.
Connecticut is waking up to the reality that that new, higher-paying jobs are being created in walkable environments with vibrant (sub)urban character that foster innovation and entrepreneurship. If the state is going to be able to compete for jobs and workforce in this changed landscape, it needs to shift its thinking and its land use regulations to allow for more dynamic, mixed-use, mixed-income places near transit. In this time of budget crisis and economic challenge, Connecticut can’t afford not to. CT Next’s Innovation Places program seems like a good place to start.
Map: Impact area of the Norwalk Innovation Places plan