Steve Obsitnik: Crafting a vision for a Connecticut turnaround

I recently hosted a non-partisan conference of more than 75 business leaders representing over 30,000 jobs in Connecticut to exchange ideas on the impending people and financial crises. We all agreed that the loss of talented people from our workforce is the greatest risk. People continue to leave our state at an alarming rate. Over the last 10 years, 55 percent of all moves registered have been households moving out of the state of Connecticut. Many of the conference participants did not realize that the proposed budget leads back to deficits by 2017. Furthermore, Connecticut’s accumulated financial liabilities are approaching $100 billion, which is five times the current budget being negotiated in Hartford. Every adult or child in Connecticut bears the cost of almost $28,000 of debt. When Ernest Hemingway was asked how he went bankrupt, he answered, “Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

The group was almost unanimous in our desire to help fix Connecticut. To understand how different states have approached this problem, we accepted Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s outreach to speak to us. Many asked why we would do this. As business leaders we try to strengthen our businesses by searching for best practices and benchmarking the competition. We can learn from what has worked in Florida, New York, Texas and Massachusetts. Just like we can learn by what has not worked in Connecticut, Illinois and Maryland. Steve Jobs once said, “He who can’t change his ideas is a prisoner of his past.” Although we learned a lot from Gov. Scott, it was clear to me that his plan is not a solid fit for Connecticut.

What I heard from our conference is that the vast majority of people, like me, love Connecticut. We enjoy the richness of our culture, the balance of four seasons, the natural beauty of our mountains and sea shore and, most importantly, a strong work ethic. What I also heard is that we have four key areas to focus on: Balance our spending to live within our means, create better opportunities for employment, make sure people have a shot to achieve their dream and keep our communities safe. We can do this but it will take the leadership of government, unions and businesses partnering on solutions that enable the future we all desire.

For me, this is personal. My goal is for Connecticut to be a real option for our children to want to choose to stay here to earn a living and raise their families as we have done. To accomplish this, we must address our internal issues while aggressively competing against other states and nations. This should be the vision in front of us to enact a turnaround for Connecticut.

Steve Obsitnik of Westport is business leader, entrepreneur and educator.