One year ago, I wrote in the Hartford Business Journal that “Hartford stands at a tipping point: Bankruptcy? Revival? Or both?” And I focused on how common negative perceptions must be rebutted. David Griggs, the new President of the MetroHartford Alliance, observed recently in his debut presentation before 400 business and community leaders that “a community’s positive self-image is key to advancing economic revitalization.”
In tours of Hartford that I lead regularly for Leadership Greater Hartford, we see so much positive change in the last year that the city’s future looks brighter than in decades. The dramatic transformation underway makes Aetna’s departure announcement last year seem like a bad dream. CVS, Aetna’s expected new parent, understands Hartford’s strength as an insurance “center of excellence” where Aetna will thrive. The threat of the city’s bankruptcy is now history, and the state and major insurers are ready to bolster Hartford’s fiscal position.
In a fascinating twist, today’s rapidly expanding entrepreneurial spirit strongly recalls 19th-century Hartford. Historians today call Hartford the innovation epicenter, the “Silicon Valley,” of 19th-century American industrialization. Between the birth of the U.S. patent system in 1790 and 1930, Connecticut residents were awarded more patents per capita than anywhere else in the United States.
Today, numerous new “incubator/accelerator” launching pads build upon Hartford’s traditional strengths in insurance, financial services, and advanced manufacturing and production. The University of Connecticut and the University of Hartford have collaborated with business leaders on the Downtown InsurTech program that launched the StartupBootcamp accelerator. Working with Techstars, Stanley Black & Decker’s Advanced Manufacturing Center of Excellence in Downtown will accelerate its global Industry 4.0 “smart factory” initiative, and UTC has opened a state-of-the-art manufacturing innovation center at its Pratt & Whitney campus in East Hartford.
Upward Hartford and reSET Social Enterprise Trust exemplify the think tanks that assist entrepreneurs, large and small, in launching new cutting-edge products. Their rich menu of services includes funding sources, mentoring, periodic competitions and public recognition. reSET is unique in stimulating new enterprises that serve the common good.
National publicity about Connecticut’s highly skilled and educated workforce, Hartford in particular, is reinforcing the city’s momentum. Connecticut boasts New England’s highest percent (72%) of advanced manufacturing jobs. Fortune magazine reported that the Hartford metro area has America’s fourth highest number of digital tech-related jobs. And with more than 50% college-educated millennials, the Hartford area ranks sixth in the nation. It is understandable why Infosys announced plans for a major tech/innovation hub in Hartford that will create 1000 high tech jobs by 2022.
Job training, strategically focused on present/future workforce needs, is fast complementing Hartford’s many corporate and pubic internship programs. Goodwin College exemplifies institutions with specialized degree programs in manufacturing technology and other jobs in highest demand. The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving has announced major grants to boost employment among Hartford residents and an innovation grant to the Hartford Public Library’s “Crossroads to Connectivity Project” that narrows the city’s “digital divide.” These kinds of efforts reach down to the Hartford Boys & Girls Clubs, which initiated a new program to promote college/career readiness.
The vitality of Hartford as a place to live, work and play continues to unfold in highly visible ways. CIL’s renovation of the historic Capewell Lofts, their housing/retail plans at the Main/Park street entrance to Park Street’s vibrant Hispanic commercial area, and Spectra Boutique Apartment’s unique amenities (including a theater) that will be replicated in the apartments being created at Pearl and Trumbull streets are transforming housing in the city.
Complete new multi-purpose neighborhoods are on the drawing boards adjacent to the Dunkin’ Donuts Stadium and along Capitol Avenue. New residents and the 3,000+ members of the new Downtown UConn Hartford campus community are generating more “feet on the street.”
Merchants and Downtown institutions are responding; TheaterWorks plans a $ 2.5 million renovation, and free admissions are available to the Wadsworth Atheneum and to Hartford Stage in partnership with Hartford Public Library. Infinity Music Hall and Sea Tea Improv Comedy Theater are huge draws, and new restaurants like The Republic, Sorella, and Spectra Café are three of many.
This dynamic transformation is strong fodder for revamping our historic self-image. And that strong and proud belief in who we are will be the foundation for more ambitious and comprehensive goals than ever before.
About the Author
Greg Andrews is the Program Director for Leadership Greater Hartford’s Executive Orientation Program and Hartford Encounter Tours.