Innovation Ecosystems Require Collaboration

January 17, 2016 By Elliot Joseph

General Electric's departure from Connecticut has set off a general alarm about Connecticut's business tax environment. That's a good thing, because our state's tax-and-regulatory environment stifles job growth and economic activity.

But focusing only on taxes misses the point. GE isn't running away from its problems. It's moving toward its future.

Massachusetts and Boston offered incentives worth a reported $145 million. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said his please-stay-in-Connecticut offer was "highly competitive." I don't doubt it. I'm sure New York, Rhode Island and other locations also offered up appealing tax-and-incentive packages.

But the Greater Boston "package" transcends tax breaks. "We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspirations," said GE CEO Jeff Immelt, citing the area's many world-class universities and its tech-savvy workforce. "Massachusetts spends more on research and development than any other region in the world."

While we lick our wounds over GE's exit, we should ask ourselves whether we're doing all we can to create an innovation and entrepreneurial ecosystem that goes beyond being "between New York and Boston." We may not have MIT and Harvard in the same neighborhood, but the so-called "Knowledge Corridor" from New Haven to Springfield has world-class universities and colleges, sophisticated medical institutions and lots of business know-how. We are building the New Haven, Hartford and Springfield rail line to link these towns and cities, but are we linking our work, our ideas and our aspirations?

Health care is the world I know best. It's beyond just hospitals. It includes entities such as home care organizations, biomedical companies, health insurers and pharmaceutical firms. It accounts for 16 percent of the Connecticut workforce, so it's already major economic driver. But, as with other sectors of the economy, health care organizations work in silos and don't collaborate enough. Bioscience Connecticut, the state's nearly billion-dollar effort to aggregate investment in health care and biotechnology, is a good start. But we need to do far more. Americans are demanding better care at lower cost, and our region could pioneer advanced technologies, patient-care practices — even new ways to finance care.

Envision creative, cross-disciplinary teams working on the next wave of products and services in every major segment of the Connecticut economy, from aerospace and information technology to manufacturing and financial services. Picture public-private partnerships that support this kind of work. Imagine a stream of venture capital backing game-changing breakthroughs.

By all means, create a fair tax structure that pays the state's bills without bleeding our economy. But let's do more. Let's tap into our resources and talent to build a collaborative community of thinkers and risk-takers. Such an entrepreneurial ecosystem will create 21st-century jobs and help sustain a new era of prosperity for our towns and cities. And when companies go hunting for a place with vision, brains and backbone, we'll be on the short list.

Elliot Joseph is president and CEO of Hartford HealthCare.