Last Friday, Gov. Ned Lamont urged businesses in states that restrict access to abortion to consider relocating to Connecticut. On Tuesday, after the holiday weekend, Connecticut’s business development organization, AdvanceCT, was already showing renewed interest.
“We’ve had at least one inbound inquiry from a woman-owned company in Ohio who said, ‘We’re getting out of here,'” said Peter Denius, CEO of Advance CT. “The governor’s message was great and we want to learn more about Connecticut because we are seriously considering a move.”
Recent US Supreme Court decisions, including last month’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson, which struck down the constitutional right to abortion, have limited federal authority over issues from women’s health to environmental protections and vaccine requirements. State policies on these and other issues may soon vary widely across the country, turning what Denius calls “social capital issues” into bargaining chips for each state in its efforts to attract businesses and create economic opportunity for its residents.
When AdvanceCT talks to businesses about expanding or relocating, Denius said, his team focuses on industry sectors with a strong presence here, such as insurance, finance, technology and advanced manufacturing. In pitching to these companies, the organization often highlights things like Connecticut’s highly educated and productive workforce.
But increasingly, those conversations are getting into topics like diversity, equity and inclusion, and the state’s commitment to clean energy — issues that Connecticut has prioritized and that may align with the corporate goals of certain companies, Denius said.
“This most recent Supreme Court decision just gives us one more yardstick to add to that list of social capital issues that allow us to target,” he said.
Jamie Stevenson, a former first selectman in Darien and Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in Connecticut’s 4th district, expressed skepticism about the approach.
“Social policies and social justice issues have been so divisive in America as a whole over the past few years,” Stevenson said. “I really want the governor to be proud and able to boast about all the other amazing benefits that the state of Connecticut has to offer.”
Stevenson listed the state’s proximity to New York and Boston, numerous cities, the coast, higher education and health care.
“The one thing we can’t boast of is a tax system and a regulatory system that supports business growth,” Stevenson said.
Connecticut is often criticized for its high energy costs and higher labor costs than other states, as well as a stricter regulatory environment for many companies. And the state’s relatively high income taxes and higher cost of living are cited as reasons why some former residents choose to live elsewhere.
“I would like to see the governor and his leadership team really focus on these things because they are at the heart of decisions about where businesses want to be located,” Stevenson said.
Siting consultants, who help companies decide where to locate major operations and corporate offices, said a company’s perspectives on environmental, social and governance factors do play a role in their choice to do business.
“These social considerations are operationally and financially important for many reasons, including the impact on employee attraction and retention,” Greg Wassmansdorff, president of the Site Voters Guild, said in an emailed statement.
But the extent to which companies take these factors into account varies, he added.
“The importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion factors—including state policies on reproductive rights—varies significantly among site selection clients based on company size, industry sector, public or private ownership, brand sensitivity, national place of origin of the company and management philosophies.”
For the AdvanceCT team, “social capital issues” often go hand in hand with a company’s ability to be productive. Reproductive health care, child care, education, and other support services facilitate people’s ability to work and earn a living. Quality of life – which can include easy transportation, clean air and water, public safety – can determine whether people stay or leave.
“[CEOs] they need to make sure they’re consolidating in regions and states where their people are happy,” Denius said. “It’s about, ‘Where am I going to find the people?’ Because people are No. 1, every time in every study, whoever you talk to, it’s all about the people. Costs are number 2.”
When many jobs were displaced during the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of working people moved to communities that were more affordable, easier to get around, or more family-friendly. At the same time, workers at big-name companies (such as Disney and Spotify) began to put more pressure on their employers to take a public stance on many social issues.
Those combined trends could be good for Connecticut, Denius believes.
“The ripple effect of this is big,” he said.