In this edition of Business New Haven we look at the Elm City’s 375th birthday from a commercial perspective. It’s instructive to compare and contrast with the city’s previous milestone, popularly known then as “New Haven 350,” for which many if not most constituencies across the community came together to celebrate.
The differences between New Haven’s business landscape in 1988 and 2013 are striking, to say the least. Through the prism of banking and financial services alone, the landscape has cycled through completely. Connecticut Savings, Connecticut National Bank, Union Trust, New Haven Savings, Bank of New Haven, First Constitution Bank, Connecticut Bank & Trust — any of those names ring a bell? Even the one bank still extent today — People’s Bank — has a new name and a very different mission than a quarter century ago.
New Haven’s go-to corporation was arguably the operator of the nation’s first commercial switchboard: the Southern New England Telecommunications Corp. Gone with the wind.
Three other milestones mark 2013 in New Haven. The subject of this month’s ON THE RECORD interview is Mayor John DeStefano Jr., who is in the 20th and final year of his record-setting tenure as the city’s chief executive. In this interview Hizzoner demonstrates that he continues to look forward even when others might be tempted to look back.
The mayor’s partner in so many transformative community initiatives — Yale President Richard C. Levin — is likewise stepping down this June after 20 years in Woodbridge Hall. The pair have formed a remarkable leadership duopoly that have transformed the town-gown relationship as it has reshaped the city for there better. Levin’s visionary realization that the Blue Mother could no longer wall itself off from its urban surroundings resulted in a city-university partnership that has benefited both in so many ways.
With the dramatic shrinking of the city’s corporate base, Yale University and its associated hospital and medical school stand alone at the summit of the city’s economy — the so-called “Eds & Meds” model. Much of what remains of the “corporate community” are service businesses that provide lattes, chic clothing and Thai food to an increasingly international student body.
The question is: Is this a sustainable model for New Haven’s next mayor? Yale’s aggressive real-estate acquisitions of the last decade have taken many formerly commercial properties of the tax rolls, leaving a shrinking number of increasingly beleaguered homeowners holding the bag. Without a resurgent commercial tax base, this model doesn’t appear to offer long-term sustainability.
Bioscience (such as the return to the city of Alexion) and technology companies are touted as the hope of the future. But that hope has yet to come fully to fruition. New Haven’s next leader won’t be able to rely solely on “meds & eds” for the long-term vitality of the city’s economy.
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