MetroHartford Alliance President and CEO David Griggs, stands on Pratt Street in Hartford. (Photo credit: Allegra Anderson Photography)

David Griggs was named President and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance in February 2018. Since then, he’s been hard at work listening to the needs of the region and emphasizing the MetroHartford Alliance mission. Innovation Destination Hartford Website Curator Nan Price sat down with David to learn more about his efforts and vision for the organization and region.

NAN PRICE: You have an impressive history of fostering job creation and economic growth in your prior roles as Vice President, Business Investment and Research at the Greater Minneapolis St. Paul Regional Economic Development Partnership and Business Development Director with Buffalo Niagara Enterprise. How do you plan to bring those types of initiatives to Greater Hartford?

DAVID GRIGGS: I plan to follow a lot of the same processes used in both Buffalo and Minneapolis St. Paul, which were research-driven.

It starts with understanding our sales and value proposition to the industries we’re trying to attract. And then ground that in solid research and run it through a robust marketing campaign, which includes a lot of feet on the ground visits to companies where there are site selectors and corporate influencers.

The goal is to not only deliver a message, but get feedback about our message, which we can then refine and re-calibrate. Then we can continue to go out to the market with a message about why you should consider Hartford as a place that meets your business needs—whether that is early-stage or growth.

NAN: It’s interesting you used the word “message.” I read you’re on a mission to “globalize the region’s economic message.” What does that mean? What is Hartford’s message and how can we get the word out?

DAVID: In terms of what we do at the MetroHartford Alliance, we are developing a unique message that is relevant to the Hartford region. Again, we need the research. We know we’re great in the insurance and financial services, aerospace, and advanced manufacturing industries, but we don’t have enough data to support what exactly about each of those industries is great here.

For example, what part of the future of insurance will be done here? Regarding aerospace, we need to find holes in our supply chain. We can do to a lot of research to understand the opportunities and then effectively take those opportunities and deliver them to a global marketplace.

Our focus needs to be less convention and visitors bureau-type messaging about Hartford being a great place to live, work, or play. It needs to be more of a focused message to very specific industries about why they need to be in Hartford if they want to prosper in the U.S. marketplace in their industry.

NAN: How can Hartford attract global companies to the region?

DAVID: The startup scene becomes extremely important to Hartford as we look at delivering a global message and trying to attract global companies. Sometimes startups are acquisition targets. It’s no surprise companies will buy startups because they see an innovative approach to an issue they’re trying to resolve. Other times, companies will buy small startups and allow them to continue doing what they’re doing but with a larger war chest behind them.

Here in Hartford, you’re seeing a lot of the same activity. I’m starting to go through a process to begin to talk to everyone and catalog all the activities happening in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. The MetroHartford Alliance needs to be able to adequately speak about the activity in our region, pull it all together, and build a regional message we can push out to the world about all the activities going on—and there are a lot. Hartford is a hub for innovation and entrepreneurship, and we need to tell that story.

NAN: That’s the overall mission of the MetroHartford Alliance and Innovation Destination Hartford: Showcasing our resources and making people aware of everything that’s here in Hartford—and why this is a great place to not only start your business but to stay and grow your business.

DAVID: Absolutely agree. We need to catalog all of it. We also need to show we’re capable of helping companies grow, which is hopefully the next step for a lot of companies that go through these accelerator and incubator programs, to get to a point where they need to scale up. Some regions do really well helping companies scale up and some don’t. The ones that don’t lose all the momentum they’ve got with their startups because they will move to another city that can help them scale up.

Again, we need to have a complete ecosystem for companies to begin their journey and find all the help they need as they go through the beginning challenges of launching a startup to a point where they need help and expertise to scale up. We need to have those resources here in our community as well.

Hartford needs to have the complete ecosystem—and we can’t have the complete ecosystem for every possible company in every possible industry. We need to figure out what we’re really great at and make it greater. Not necessarily put all our eggs in one basket, but maybe have five eggs we’re incubating as opposed to trying to incubate hundreds of possible companies.

NAN: With regard to higher education, how can we retain students and encourage them to become a part of the community here in Greater Hartford?

DAVID: The generation coming out of school now wants to feel they’re part of something bigger, that they are helping to make change, and that what they’re doing actually matters.

Hartford is a great place for people with those types of focus because a little bit can go a long way here. And when people feel they are part of something bigger than themselves they will stay.

Getting undergraduates from the University of Connecticut, Trinity, the University of Hartford, and other schools entrenched in the future of our region by getting them involved with our companies and our nonprofits is in some regard key to us being able to retain them after graduation, which is what we want to do.

Exporting all our knowledge is not a good plan for the future. Figuring out how we’ll retain the talent coming out of the universities and colleges is important. That is our future.

And it’s no different than what we need to do to attract companies. We need to find out what they want. We need to find out if our region can support what they want. And we need to promote it. If it’s people we’re trying to attract, we need to understand what they want in their community and what will entice them to stay here and contribute to our community.

With both companies and people, we need to understand what they’re looking for. Do we have it? Can we develop it? If so, how do we market and sell it? And, how do we present it to them in a form they can consume? Because everyone consumes information differently. Some people read the newspaper. Some people get their news from social media. So, we need to know how our target market consumes data and then provide them with a message they’re looking for in those mediums.

NAN: As far as attracting people, why did Hartford choose you, and why did you choose Hartford?

DAVID: I think coming from a market like Minneapolis-St. Paul, the similarities between our two markets are there. We both have globally leading industries. We both had marketing campaigns that weren’t necessarily being run by us within our region. With Minneapolis-St. Paul, the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, South Dakota, Iowa and others were telling our story to business prospects, because Minneapolis-St. Paul wasn’t out aggressively and actively telling their story. Minnesota was. Minneapolis-St. Paul wasn’t.

It’s very similar to what we have here, where the state of Connecticut is telling the story, but Hartford as a region hasn’t been. So, we have been relying on others to tell our story the same way Minneapolis-St. Paul was allowing others to tell theirs.

I would imagine that had something to do with why Hartford chose me.

When I was working in Minneapolis-St. Paul within six years, we took the market from zero to arguably being one of the leading economic development organizations in the country. In that time, we attracted a good number of jobs to the market and increased the awareness and perception of the market. The same game plan can be done here in Hartford. Economic development is a team sport, and it is vital that we partner with our business community to attract talent here and retain what we have in this market.

I can’t guarantee the thousands of jobs we were able to attract in Minneapolis-St. Paul, it’s a smaller market and the opportunities scale accordingly. But, the activities and the process would remain the same and the expected outcomes should be fully and measurably the same.

NAN: And the other side of the question—what drew you to Hartford?

DAVID: For all the same reasons I was attracted to Minnesota. Professionally, I want a challenge. I want to show my value and, in a market like Minneapolis-St. Paul, I was able to show my value.

I truly believe that here in Hartford the wave has already formed. And this is what you want, isn’t it? As the wave has formed and you can see it, you want to get on top of it, but to do that you’ve got to be in a spot where maybe nobody else saw it. But I see it. We have all the assets in place to make Hartford one of the most viable business communities in the country.

The things we have going on in Hartford are all the right things a region needs to do to create a wave and to reinvent itself—or at least reposition itself. That’s where we are here in Hartford, and I am proud to be a part of that vision.

So, why would I be attracted here? Well, why wouldn’t you be attracted to Hartford? When you do the proper analysis and you see the potential, you want to be a part of it.

NAN: In terms of leadership and developing a company culture, any advice for others?

DAVID: I’m in a position to take not give.

We’ve got great people who work at the MetroHartford Alliance. They want to do great things—and they’re certainly capable of it. My job is to simply empower them to do great things and give them the resources, so they can be all they want to be and do all the things they want to do for our region.

If I’m successful, it won’t be because of me. It will be because of all the people who work here, who partner with us, who we work with, and who we follow. The MetroHartford Alliance doesn’t always have to be a leader. We can also support and partner on initiatives that further grow the Hartford Region. We need to play our role, and that role can evolve. We can and will evolve as an organization.

I’m trying to do a lot of listening and then pull what I’ve learned back into the organization, because there’s not a cookie-cutter solution. We can’t just take what we had in Minneapolis-St. Paul and put it in Hartford. What this is will be a uniquely Hartford solution. It will take a uniquely Hartford approach.

It will take us a little time to make those evolutions. It’s not even as much an evolution as it is shifting our focus a little bit from what we were doing a year ago to what we could be doing a year from now. It will take small course corrections as opposed to a complete reversal.

Our mission hasn’t changed. The MetroHartford Alliance is still out trying to attract jobs, talent, and capital to our region. The approach we’ll take to accomplish those goals will shift a little bit. But the mission hasn’t. I think that’s important to note.

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