AdvanceCT, formerly the Connecticut Economic Resource Center, is a private non-profit organisation focused on economic development in the state of Connecticut. After a rebrand in 2020, and now galvanised by the movement of both people and businesses away from big city centres, it hopes to attract investment in industry 4.0, insurance, tech and life sciences. 

Peter Denious, chief executive and president of AdvanceCT, tells fDi why businesses have been eyeing the Connecticut suburbia, explains the state’s value proposition and outlines its plan is to attract further investment.

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Q: How did AdvanceCT come about?

A: The organisation, which has been around for two decades, relaunched in 2020. This process started when our current governor, Ned Lamont, came to office. His aim was to tap the energy in the private sector and get them involved in getting the state going in the right direction. 

I joined in late 2019, after 25 years in the investment industry. Then, in 2020, the pandemic put all our plans on hold. As companies began to think about their post-pandemic model, we went into full gear because — to get to the punchline — we are bullish on Connecticut. We think Connecticut has all kinds of strengths and advantages, and great assets that make it an ideal place to do business.

Q: fDi Markets tracked an estimated $1.4bn in both foreign and interstate investments into Connecticut last year, up from $561m in 2019. What caused this increase?

A: This is a reflection of a couple of things. First of all, we’re paying attention in Connecticut a lot more than we used to. We are aggressively courting companies and making sure that they understand what we have to offer. 

Companies have started to think about whether they need to be paying $100 a square foot for all that real estate when maybe they can open a satellite office in Connecticut, particularly given that maybe a quarter or a third of their employees live here.

Q: People in the state have long enjoyed a high quality of life, but what is the business case for Connecticut?

A: It really is talent. I know every state says that, but look at what’s in Connecticut: Yale University, University of Connecticut and 40 other colleges and universities. We’re a tiny state — we’re 3 million people — but we’ve got world-class institutions here which leads to our strength in the knowledge economy. Connecticut was ranked as the fourth most innovative state in Bloomberg’s latest annual State Innovation Index, and came second to California in terms of patents.

Q: Which sectors are you targeting?

A: The simple way to think about it is we have five sectors: manufacturing (industry 4.0), insurance, fintech, digital technology and life sciences. Connecticut has a real lead and advantage on the high-end manufacturing value chain. When you need a highly engineered precision piece of equipment to be developed and built, Connecticut is a fantastic option. 

We also have a long history of insurance. Hartford is known as the insurance capital of the world. Now, insurance has been disrupted and disintermediated in many ways, so this leads us to insurtech and other subsets of fintech, which is an important area for us. 

Q: How can Connecticut stay competitive with other states, such as New Jersey, which offer a similar alternative to New York City or San Francisco?

A: Pre-pandemic, AdvanceCT already built a plan to catalyse the kind of growth we’re looking for, in partnership with the governor’s office. We have approached this as an investor would: what is the return on investment? How many jobs can we create? The governor’s plan, which is now in front of the legislature and being debated, includes a whole set of transformational investments. 

The big thrust here is innovation. We’re talking about leveraging our strengths, and our main strength is that we’re a highly educated state. Aside from what I’ve already mentioned, we have an incredible life-sciences ecosystem, and we want to double down on artificial intelligence and data science. I’m cautiously optimistic that what you’ll see will be head-turning investments.

Peter Denious is the chief executive and president of AdvanceCT, the economic development agency of the US state of Connecticut.

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