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Mark A. Shiffrin and Avi Silberschatz Connecticut needs a moonshot

November 26, 2018

After three close gubernatorial elections since 2010, each one following a bitter contest between the major parties, Connecticut needs a moonshot that would give us an opportunity to move our state forward in a transformational way, boldly redefining the way in which we live for generations to come.

An earlier generation of Connecticut leaders did that in developing the Merritt Parkway in the Thirties and the Connecticut Turnpike in the Fifties, just as leaders in Washington implemented the literal moonshot in the Sixties.

Our inherent advantages as a state stem from being the home of the economic and technology powerhouse of Yale University and our location adjacent to the economic and social strength of New York City and Long Island. Exploiting these advantages can jump-start this state in ways that entrepreneurs and governmental leaders will expand on for many decades beyond our moment. That is the moonshot required for a state that has lost its vision and sense of prospect, and become mired in debates over how to raise revenue rather than how to seize its future.

We should start by recognizing that Connecticut’s economic vitality is tied to Yale as a singular economic driver, what Harvard is to Massachusetts, and that this power should be extended through Fairfield County in the way the development of Route 128 radiates from Boston and Cambridge.

Connecticut’s economic development requires creating an urban nexus readily accessible to the capital and social resources of New York City, something close to the economic and social center that attracts the world’s most privileged young achievers. That will also drive business and entrepreneurship to Connecticut.

If we can leverage New Haven’s proximity to New York City so it can offer suburban accessibility to the greatest urban center of the Northeast, Yale’s economic and social development potential helps to redefine Connecticut’s future.

This includes three major pieces of transportation infrastructure — committing resources to overcome the bridge and track issues to create one-hour train times between New Haven and New York; bridging the moat between Connecticut and Long Island so we expand our practically accessible economic market to Long Island, including the burgeoning tech hubs of Long Island City and Roosevelt Island; and developing a regional air hub at Sikorsky Airport in Stratford that can conveniently attract passengers from both New Haven and Fairfield counties.

Talented young people have options vote with their feet — and so do the businesses that look to attract them as a human resource and as customers. Young graduates are choosing the amenities of convenience, accessibility, and the presence of others in a privileged generation who can also go where they please.

Visit Yale and ask the most gifted, empowered students in America where they plan to be after graduation. Connecticut has not just lost established corporate players like GE and Edible Arrangements, but we have lost these students, the next generation of entrepreneurs, after we have had a chance to develop that connection during their residence at Yale. After experiencing living in Connecticut, they choose to dump our state for more attractive suitors, unlike their peers in Boston. If we give them reasons to stay, that helps give Connecticut a future, and developing an attractive research and lifestyle corridor radiating through Fairfield County to New York is a start.

There is vast potential for economic development between New Haven and New York City, including corporate headquarters and enhanced lifestyle opportunities for generations to come, fostered by the connection to Yale and its global capital network.

This also would help drive economic development in other parts of the state, following the transportation spines radiating from New Haven to other economic centers in Hartford and in Eastern Connecticut, but it first requires successfully exploiting the Yale connection as an economic and social catalyst.

After eight years of stalemated government and preoccupation with fights that divide rather than unite, we cannot afford four more years of stalemate centered on the petty political fights of the moment. And we cannot afford a view that prosperity emanates from Hartford or government jobs.

What smart local leaders learn on boards of selectmen across our state is that we may have different politics, but when it comes to the moonshots that redefine our communities, we come together as civic boosters with the same interests. Now, with a former selectman in the governorship, perhaps this concept can take root in state government and redefine the community that is Connecticut.

The courage to take a moonshot can redefine Connecticut’s potential as something more than our tax rate and regulatory climate. It can give Connecticut a future.

Mark A. Shiffrin, a New Haven lawyer, was Connecticut’s Consumer Protection Commissioner and a member of the Presidential Transition staff of George H.W. Bush; Avi Silberschatz is the Sidney J. Weinberg Professor of Computer Science at Yale University.

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