Don’t emphasize new changes.


Don’t tout efforts to attract businesses.


And definitely, for anyone trying to promote the state of Connecticut to tourists, don’t describe its residents as smart.


“Intellectually enriching,” maybe. But not “smart.”


Those and other findings were uncovered through a marketing study commissioned by the state to learn how best to create a Connecticut brand that will attract throngs of tourists. To help “sell” the state to potential visitors, the state’s Department of Economic & Community Development engaged a team consisting of New York marketing firms Chowder Inc., and Fleishman-Hillard, Media Storm of South Norwalk, as well as Waterbury’s Harrison Group.


In addition to assembling out-of-state focus groups and conducting and analyzing research, the marketers have been charged with helping to create effective advertising, developing media strategies, keeping abreast of exploitable goings-on and trends in the state, engaging consumers through social media and other communications channels, producing newsletters, and conducting information sessions with stakeholders.


Over the next two years the marketers will work with a $27 million budget to convince vacationers that Connecticut is the place to be in the summer, and during the rest of the year as well, for any discretionary excursions they plan on taking. Providing the funds are a priority for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s administration, which recognizes tourism as a crucial element in the state’s economic recovery. Malloy also made sure Connecticut came up with $100,000 in dues to renew its lapsed membership in the multi-state tourism marketing collaborative Discover New England, which particularly tries to attract visitors from the United Kingdom, Ireland and Germany. 


It’s a far cry from the $1 budgeted for tourism during the tenure of former governor M. Jodi Rell.


“That was scandalous. The dollar was an insult,” says Christopher Barstein, general manager of Water’s Edge Resort & Spa in Westbrook. What Rell failed to realize, says Barstein, is that “The money the state spends on tourism is just an investment.”


The current governor agrees. In a press release from Malloy’s office that cites 2011 statistics, Connecticut tourism is said to generate $11.5 billion in annual spending and $1.15 billion in state and local revenue from taxes.


Among findings in the state’s 2012 “Connecticut Tourism: What’s New” research report is that focus groups saw Connecticut as a drive-through state rather than a vacation destination. Many of the respondents — a total of ten groups based in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas — were unfamiliar with Connecticut’s rich cultural, recreational and historic attractions. Some respondents even had a negative view of Connecticut, describing it as lacking both urban attractions and beaches, non-stimulating, “horrific” in terms of roads and traffic, expensive, catering only to the affluent and generally unappealing.


Taking that information, the report suggested conceptual minefields to avoid when seeking to attract tourists. Calling Connecticut residents “smart” or the “best educated,” for example, might be construed as an insult to non-residents. According to the study, concepts and images that would be more tourist-friendly include the state’s beaches and other leisure destinations, its gaming industry, family-oriented attractions such as Mystic Aquarium, scenic streams and lakes, and theaters, museums and other artistic and cultural activities.


Focus-group responses, along with thoughts from Connecticut residents about their favorite aspects of the state, helped shape the marketing campaign designed to draw in tourists. The theme of that campaign, unveiled last month, is: “Connecticut: Still Revolutionary.” The point is to inspire and invoke the state’s rallying spirit, according to a press release from the governor’s office.


“I kind of liked it. It’s catchy,” says Barstein, adding that the slogan piques the interest of those unfamiliar with the state. “Any time you’re doing branding like that, where the phrase is not obvious, it makes people think.”


And, he and others hope, want to come to Connecticut to find out more.

 UConn: State’s future ‘bleak’ for new job creation



STORRS — Well, at least it wasn’t Labor Day.

Just in time for Memorial Day, the University of Connecticut’s Center for Economic Analysis is Connecticut Economic Outlook report for May. And the news is pretty bleak.

Connecticut’s prospect for economic growth over the next two years is “weak,” the report says, and the state’s demographic trajectory is “bleak.” That’s in part because the state has failed to create any net new jobs in more than two decades, laving it unable to retain young adults or attract any significant new population.

That leaves a population that is aging rapidly — the 65-and-older age cohort has doubled, the working-age population shrinking and the “dependency ratio” (the ratio of the working age population to those under 18 and over 64) is soaring.

The alter its demographic destiny, according to the report, “The challenge is not just to replace all 120,000 jobs lost since 2008, but to drive creation of substantially more — at least 50,000 net new — to retain and attract new workers.”

The report cites a couple of hopeful signs — the creation of the Farmington campus of Jackson Laboratories is one — but emphasizes that No current policies or initiatives come close to reaching the goal in job creation that Connecticut must reach to address its demographic challenge.

During the first quarter of 2012, Connecticut’s seasonally adjusted employment rose to 1.63 million, 2,000 higher than the previous CCEA forecast. That modest positive news is balanced by the CCEA’s forecast of just 32,000 new jobs created by the first quarter of 2014, most stemming from projects already in the pipeline, such as the UConn Health Center’s new Biosciences Center.

One remedy the authors of the report advance: “that the state unleash existing stranded tax credits in a highly targeted program to drive economic growth.”

How exactly would that work?

“If the $2.5 billion in tax credits currently sitting unused and unusable on balance sheets could be redeemed ex post against the cost of major capital projects — effectively converting what is a now a liability against state tax revenue into an investment fund — this approach would create nearly ten million square feet of new advanced manufacturing, pharmaceutical, biomedical and other facilities, creating upwards of 100,000 new net jobs,” according to the CCEA report.

 Wallingford retail corridor buzzes with new activity



WALLINGFORD — With its high traffic count, Wallingford’s Rt. 5 retail corridor is bucking the regional trend and undergoing a transformation.

According to the Central Connecticut Alliance for Economic Development (CCAED), a number of automobile dealerships are investing millions of dollars in construction along Wallingford’s retail spine, significantly enhancing the commercial landscape.

In February, Executive Auto Group opened Fiat of Wallingford, spending close to $500,000 to renovate and expand a former Dodge dealership at the intersection of Rt. 5 and Orchard St. Besides the Fiat dealership, Executive Auto also renovated a former Saturn dealership also on Rt. 5 and converted it into a Kia dealership.

Valenti Auto Sales is also constructing a 16,888-square-foot, $2.2 million addition to its existing Chevrolet dealership at 399 North Colony Road. Like Executive, Valenti is also in the process of renovating & expanding its Porsche & Audi dealership on Rt. 5. Construction on both projects was performed by PDS Engineering & Construction.

In addition to the auto dealerships, there is an uptick in commercial construction along Rt. 5 as well. TD Bank is expanding its presence in Wallingford and constructing a $1.8 million branch bank at 928 North Colony Road (also a PDS project). This February, a newly constructed CVS pharmacy opened at 865 North Colony Road. Adding to the Rt. 5 transformation, the site will also include a 14,500-square-foot retail mall and a 6,800-square-foot car wash.

 SHELTON — First Niagara Financial Group has completed a $4.5 million commercial mortgage refinancing loan with the Sports Center of Connecticut, located on River Road in Shelton. The loan will be used to refinance existing debt and provide new working capital, allowing the owners to service their customer base and expand the complex into other areas of sports and entertainment.

Principally owned by Alan Phillips, the Sports Center is home to the Rinks at Shelton (formerly Bishop Rinks), the world’s only double-decker ice-skating arena, with two NHL-size rinks stacked one on top of the other.  It is also the official practice facility of the American Hockey League’s Bridgeport Sound Tigers.

The 15-acre facility also houses a golf center with a double-decker year-round golf driving range, putting green and 18-hole miniature golf course, bowling lanes, baseball/softball batting cages, Lazer Tag and a state of the art Game Zone video arcade. 

First Niagara saw the commercial mortgage loan as an opportunity to finance a special-purpose piece of real estate that draws more than 1.5 million visitors annually. 

“The success of the Sports Center has always been a direct result of the imagination and expertise of its owners,” said First Niagara New England Regional President David Ring. “They recognize the opportunity to provide the state with a truly unique sports and entertainment facility, and we’re excited to provide them with the financing needed to continue to grow their business.”

 Per capita personal income in Connecticut grew by 4.9 percent last year, faster than the nation as a whole, according to a preliminary estimate that shows the state remaining the wealthiest in the nation, well ahead of No. 2 Massachusetts.

If the total amount of income were divided equally between every man, woman and child living in Connecticut, each would have received $56,889 last year. Connecticut’s closest rival, Massachusetts, had a 2011 per-capita income of $53,621.