March 18, 2011
QUESTIONS FOR ECONOMIC AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT COMMISSIONER NOMINEE
By: John Rappa, Chief Analyst
COMMISSIONER OF ECONOMIC AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT (CGS § 32-1b)
The commissioner manages the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), which develops and implements the state's housing, community development, and economic development policies and programs. The commissioner also serves as an exofficio member of the boards of the quasi-public Connecticut Development Authority, Connecticut Innovations, Inc., and Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
● The housing development policies include financing elderly and low-and moderate-income housing.
● The community development policies include dispersing federal and state dollars to small towns and nonprofit developers for rehabilitating homes and apartments, improving roads and sidewalks, constructing community facilities, funding regional revolving loan funds, and developing industrial and office parks.
● The economic development policies include providing different types of financing and tax incentives to businesses for constructing or expanding facilities, acquiring machinery and equipment, and cleaning up and redeveloping polluted properties.
MANAGING A GOVERNMENT AGENCY
1. You're leaving a private sector job where you managed 3,000 people for a public sector one where you'll manage about 100. Is managing a government organization different than managing a business one?
2. At the press conference announcing your nomination, the governor said that you will be “fully empowered to create a new organization with a new approach, calling on the best tools on a national level that can be applied in Connecticut.”
● In you career, have you created a new organization or restructured an existing one?
● Have you worked in an organization that is, to quote the governor, “too insular and not welcoming enough” to its customers? Why do organizations turn out that way? How do you turn them around?
Coping with a Changing Economy
1. “The economy” refers to (1) what we do and (2) how we do the things we do. How has the Connecticut economy changed over the last 20 years? What were our major industries then, what are they now, and what will they be 10 years from now?
2. What are the things that keep businesses from growing and expanding here?
3. The lenses we use to analyze the economy predetermine our policies and programs. How should the state analyze the economy? For example, should it analyze our major industries, such as insurance and manufacturing; small businesses; the status of our physical infrastructure; or the innovation process?
1. President Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensible.” Can the same be said for economic development plans?
2. There seems to be a lot of planning going on in Connecticut. State agencies, regional planning organizations, local planning commissions, utilities, businesses, and nonprofit organizations plan. Is this a problem? Are all these agencies on the same page? Do they have to be?
3. What are the goals and objectives of the state's five-year strategic economic development plan? Do they address the state's major economic challenges? Does the plan inform or guide DECD's decisions? Is it consistent with the five-year State Plan of Conservation and Development?
1. Why did Connecticut lose almost 120,000 jobs between 2008 and 2010? Which sectors suffered the most losses? Did public policies cause or contribute to these losses?
2. Under what conditions do businesses create jobs? Can public policies stimulate those conditions?
Attracting and Retaining Businesses
1. Why do businesses move from one place to another? Do taxes and regulations drive these moves? Have property tax exemptions and corporation business tax credits, for example, lured businesses to enterprise zones?
2. Should the state limit the amount of financial assistance it gives to businesses relocating within Connecticut?
3. Should it help businesses relocate from one Connecticut town to another?
4. Should the state concentrate on (1) helping new, start up businesses, (2) retaining established businesses, or (3) attracting businesses from other states and nations?
Community Development and Housing
1. What is the difference between “community development” and “economic development”?
2. What is DECD's role in community development?
3. Does the state have a housing problem? If yes, define the problem and identify its causes. How does the problem affect businesses?
4. What is DECD's role in addressing the housing problem? How does that role complement those of other public and private agencies, including local planning and zoning commissions, private and nonprofit developers, local housing authorities, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority, and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development?
1. What is innovation? How does it happen? What gets in its way?
2. What are the characteristics of an innovative organization? Should the state invest only in these organizations?
3. Do most businesses use state-of-the-art technologies and techniques? Does the state need to do more to help businesses adopt these technologies and techniques?
1. Based on your experience, do tax credits encourage businesses to do something they would not otherwise do or simply pay them for something they would have done anyway?
2. Should the legislature budget tax credits just as it budgets other expenses?
1. Based on your work with Outward Bound, are schools doing a good job preparing students for today's workplace?
2. How does a skilled workforce rank among the things businesses need to remain competitive?
3. Does the state do a good job aligning worker training programs with the skills businesses need? Do you think DECD should have a role in this process?
1. Finding foreign markets for goods and services could help businesses weather economic downturns. Are Connecticut's small and medium-size businesses exploiting foreign markets? If not, why? What are the obstacles and what should DECD do to help these businesses overcome them?
1. Why isn't the state cleaning up and redeveloping brownfields at a faster rate? What's holding it back?
2. Several federal, state, and local agencies run brownfield clean up programs. Are these agencies working collaboratively? Is it easy for developers to identify and access their services?
Culture and Tourism
1. DECD is no stranger to culture and tourism. It ran an historic assets program in the 1980s and statewide tourism promotion until 2003, when the legislature transferred all cultural, tourism, and arts functions to the new commission it created. Now, the governor proposes moving culture and tourism back to DECD.
● How does culture and tourism fit into DECD's mission and daily operations?
● How would you organize the state for promoting the arts, history, culture, and tourism? What is DECD's role in these activities?
DECD AND OTHER ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AGENCIES
1. Consider the universe of economic development organizations: federal, state, and local government public and quasi-public agencies; nonprofit developers and business associations; and private consultants, to name a few.
● How does this constellation of agencies look to businesses? Is it easy or hard for them to identify and access the services they need?
● What is DECD's role vis-à-vis these organizations? What should that role be?
● Massachusetts recently established a regional system through which businesses can access state economic development resources. Is such an approach suitable for Connecticut?
● If you could wipe the organizational slate clean, how would you organize Connecticut for economic development?
2. The governor proposes designating by law the DECD commissioner as chairperson of the boards governing the Connecticut Development Authority (CDA) and Connecticut Innovations, Inc. (CII)
● What purpose would this serve?
● Will you have the time and resources to run DECD and oversee two quasi-public agencies?
● Can DECD, CDA, and CII consolidate their operations without consolidating their structures? Could they deliver services more effectively by forming an interagency unit to market programs and develop applications?
3. The governor proposes folding the Office of Workforce Competitiveness and the Commission on Culture and Tourism in DECD and the Commission on Enhancing Agency Outcomes proposes consolidating DECD, CDA, CII, and the state's quasi-public housing agency—the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
● Given your experience, what are the opportunities and pitfalls when several organizations merge?
● What lessons can the state learn from business mergers and consolidations? For example, do they save money and improve services?
● Do you know of any businesses that revamp their structures and operations to better serve customers? Did they succeed?
4. Other agencies besides DECD affect whether people and businesses prosper in Connecticut. How would you improve the extent to which DECD coordinates its plans and actions with the transportation, environmental protection, labor, and higher education departments, to name a few?