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Bill Field Can the ‘Dream Team’ strategy work in Connecticut?

February 13, 2019

The 1992 U.S. Men’s Olympic basketball team set the benchmark for assembling a group of all-stars and blowing the doors off competition. O.J. Simpson fared equally well with his high-priced, ego-driven team of brand name defense lawyers. Utilizing a “dream team” strategy gained traction in the ’90s and hasn’t subsided in either sports or business. Look no further than the success of the TV show “Shark Tank.” Why not bring together the best and brightest talents to form a business team?

This is the strategic playbook that new Gov. Ned Lamont tapped into to energize Connecticut’s new economic development efforts. It’s certainly needed on many levels. The question is, will it work?

At face value, the “Dream Team” approach is bold and new. It signals that Connecticut is trying to become a state that thinks like a business. It’s a big promise that’s going to be hard to deliver.

The credentials of David Lehman, a partner at Goldman Sachs, are impeccable. You don’t rise to global head of real estate finance with Goldman Sachs by just turning up. While being named the new commissioner of the Department of Economic and Community Development is a start, it’s his role as the senior economic adviser to Lamont that raises eyebrows and expectations. It could be that economic development now has a true voice at the table.

Bringing former PepsiCo Chairman and CEO Indra Nooyi on board provides gravitas that previous economic development efforts have lacked. Take a look at the PepsiCo stock gains during her tenure to measure her effectiveness as a business leader. Former Webster Bank Chief Executive Jim Smith has also joined the team. He’s tirelessly worked on championing the never-ending concerns of business owners about the difficulty of operating a business in Connecticut. They’ll both be new chairs of the existing nonprofit Connecticut Economic Resource Center, which is now part of the DECD. It’s part of a grand plan of more economic development alphabet soup — PACT (Partnership to Advance the Connecticut of Tomorrow).

The question is, how engaged and committed are they? For a Dream Team strategy to work, they have to be all in. Indra Nooyi’s brand halo is far reaching. Same holds true for David Lehman. It opens doors and starts conversations. It elevates the state of Connecticut in the economic development conversation and consideration set. That’s the brand awareness part of the equation. The task is to move beyond awareness to brand recognition and equity. Businesses need a reason to believe in the state of Connecticut as a place to start and grow a business.

The industries that they’ll be recruiting to the Nutmeg State are those industries we’ve heard mentioned countless times before ?’ precision manufacturing, especially defense, financial technology, digital media, insurance, bioscience, especially genetics. They all fit the profile of what the state offers best — a high-quality, educated workforce.

Can the Dream Team seal the deal? Dannel Malloy’s ill-fated “First Five” program was nothing more than a corporate incentive program. More than ever, economic development is connected to financial incentives. It is a zero-sum game. It is expected. It is purely and simply the price of admission to be considered in a company’s relocation search efforts.

This newly assembled economic dream team are the “hunters.” It remains to be seen whether the “farmers” or “gatherers” in DECD, CERC and at the Capitol can pay off on the hunting efforts with tangible changes. The state of Connecticut needs to exhibit tangible behavior that exudes the understanding that it thinks more like a business and truly grasps what businesses need. That’s what business people want to hear and see in real and meaningful actions. For them — that’s their dream. If this new team can deliver on it, the state of Connecticut will be much better off.

Bill Field is principal at FieldActivate marketing agency.

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