Lamont: foster high-tech companies

September 21, 2018

NEW HAVEN — A cheer went up from about 100 tech entrepreneurs on Friday, when Ned Lamont said that if elected governor, he’ll bring ultra-fast 5G Internet service to this city.

In what turned out to be a hybrid political event in a 21st Century business incubator called District, in the inner-city Fair Haven neighborhood, the Democratic candidate took advantage of deep Silicon Valley connections to stage a 45-minute discussion, complete with lapel microphones and high chairs on a stage.

It was even easier for him to attract the crowd, when longtime friend Ruth Porat, chief financial office of Google and Alphabet, accompanied Lamont, for added star power and maximum high-tech credibility.

“Let’s make New Haven the first 5G city in the Northeast,” Lamont said during the event, adding that many Connecticut towns still don’t even have free WiFi zones in their downtowns because communications companies haven’t been prompted, the way he plans to do if elected.

Lamont’s statement was in response to a question from Charles O’Connell, founder and CEO of Fitscript, located in the Science Park area a few exits down Interstate-95 that has developed a breakthrough in treating Type II diabetes.

Half the attendants were among the 200 or so who work for various startups and in co-working spaces in the sprawling venture, training and innovation campus adjacent to Interstate-91. Others came from the neighborhood and nearby universities and small businesses.

David Salinas, the founder and CEO of District Ventures who moderated a 45-minute discussion on the state’s tech future, first gave Lamont and Porat a tour of the facility. Tagging along was Lamont’s wife Annie Lamont, herself a heavy-hitting investor in health care and financial technology, who has been close friends with Porat since their were Stanford undergraduates.

The four of them had just finished an unpublicized meeting a few blocks away with corporate executives, as part of Lamont’s statewide effort to reach out to the business community for ideas and, coincidentally, political networking during the heart of Lamont’s campaign against Republican Bob Stefanowski.

In reaction to the event, Kendall Marr, Stefanowski’s spokesman said that Lamont’s criticism of the Republican’s proposal to cut taxes “shows a complete lack of understanding about what is needed to turn around our state’s failing economy” and that Lamont would essentially be a third term of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

“Stefanowski’s plan would immediately remove that incentive to leave by eliminating the income tax, stopping the exodus of jobs and people and jump-starting economic growth.”

The state’s tech industry contributed more than $16 billion to the economy in 2017, with about 140,600 employed in what amounts to more than 7.5 percent of the state workforce. Salinas estimated that there are 7,500 open tech jobs right now, but “our pipeline is weak” and universities have only provided 500 tech-related graduates in the last year.

“My job as governor is to focus 100-percent on jobs,” Lamont said, recalling 35 years back when his small cable-TV provider company got its first contract. “I would just tell you that the joy of being your own boss is immeasurable. My job as governor, I hope, would be to get the business community more involved here, so that they can see what you’re providing and learning, and the skills that you have to make them learn from you, because we have a lot of old companies in this state. They need a little entrepreneurial zip. We really want to keep you here in Connecticut.”

Porat said that when planning for the future, it would help the industry and state officials to consider the kind of talent they want to attract. “How do you tap into universities in and around the area?” she asked. “How do we create a living and working environment that is what people want in their lives? Talent is the lifeblood of innovation.”

While attendees were met inside the main entrance by campaign staffers with “Ned” T-shirts and tables displaying signs for the candidate, Salinas stressed that there was no fund-raising, nor was Stefanowski’s name even mentioned on the stage. Tickets were made available to other small businesses and nearby Yale University.

Porat, who deferred to Lamont as “governor” more than once, was given a low-key star treatment among the several 20-and-30-something participants who approached her after the event. She stressed that she was only representing herself and the appearance was in no way corporate-related.

“This whole building is about what’s possible in Connecticut,” Lamont said during the tour with Salinas, including shared work spaces, a gymnasium and tiny offices that feature photo art of the neighborhood. During the discussion, Lamont said that 100 years ago, Connecticut manufacturing was the equivalent of the Silicon Valley. “We’ve lost our brand a little bit,” he said.

O’Connell, wearing a “Glucosezone” T-shirt to market his diabetes protocol, said in an interview that the key to fostering a tech culture in Connecticut, and training the workers for it, is to get the Internet infrastructure including the faster data, better conductivity and lower costs that 5G, the fifth generation of mobile cellular communications, can offer.

“5G would be a huge competitive advantage to the companies that are going to need the infrastructure,” O’Connell said after the event. “We need New Haven to have 100 times the digital capacity that Boston and New York have.”

kdixon@ctpost.com Twitter: @KenDixonCT

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