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Jobs and Transportation discussed at econ summit – Willimantic Chronicle

October 3, 2014
In The News

WILLIMANTIC — In 2010, the unemployment rate in Connecticut was 9.4 percent.

Since then, the unemployment rate has dropped to 6.2 percent, what U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney, D-2nd District, feels is a sign of progress.

“ I’m an optimist,” he said during a regional economic development summit at Eastern Connecticut State University Thursday afternoon. “I feel like we’re really starting to see some positive signs.”

Courtney was one of 10 speakers during the summit, which was organized by the Chamber of Commerce, Windham Re gion, and sponsored by ECSU, Connecticut Light & Power and Meritas Law Firms worldwide. 

Though there has been improvement in the state unemployment rate, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman feels it is “still too high for our state.” 

Over the years, state officials have emphasized the value of students staying in Connecticut for college. 

Therefore, they said, it is important to make the cost of a college education in Connecticut affordable. One way to do that is by expanding the number of college classes available to high school students, Wyman said. 

The Windham school district is currently researching ways to expand its partnerships with local colleges, including Quinebaug Valley Community College, Eastern and the University of Connecticut. 

Through such partnerships, high school students can obtain high school and college credit simultaneously, saving them money. 

Many of the high school students involved in those cooperative programs will stay in the state for college. 

ECSU Director of Alumni Affairs Michael Stenko said 95 percent of Eastern students are from Connecticut and many of the jobs in the state are held by Eastern alumni. 

Stenko said there are more than 30,000 Eastern alumni, 90 percent of whom live, work and have families in Connecticut. 

Many Connecticut residents work in the tourism industry. 

Ed Dombroskas, executive director for the Eastern Region Tourism District, said tourism continues to grow in the state. 

“In the last eight of 10 quarters, tourism is the only industry that has shown growth consistently in the state of Connecticut,” he said. 

According to Wyman, when she and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy took office, there was only $1 in the budget for tourism. 

Money was invested in tourism under Malloy’s direction. 

“We’ve invested money in tourism because that brings a lot of money to the state,” Wyman said. 

Transportation is another important industry that was discussed during the event. 

Last month, the state was awarded an $8.2 million federal grant through the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery program to upgrade the Connecticut portion of the New England Central Rail line, which runs from New London, through Willimantic, to the Vermont-Canada border. 

The work involves installing more than 15,000 new ties and 15,000 tons of ballast through the Connecticut route. 

Charles Hunter, Genesee & Wyoming Rail Road Services Inc. vice president of government affairs, thanked Courtney for his work getting the grant. 

“I spoke with (the Connecticut Department of Transportation) last night and they’re working internally on a plan for who’s going to administer the program,” said Hunter, referring to the grant. 

He said the project would take several years. 

Courtney advocated for several years for the TIGER grant on behalf of the state. 

There were 797 applications seeking a total of $9.5 billion. 

“I mean, you can’t get more intense than that in terms of competition,” said Courtney. 

The railroad system is vital to the operation of the airports, where Kevin Dillon, executive director of the Connecticut Airport Authority, said there are more than 18,000 jobs. 

The Connecticut Airport Authority was established in 2011 to develop, improve and operate Bradley International Airport and the state’s five general aviation airports in Danielson, Groton-New London, Hartford-Brainard, Waterbury- Oxford and Windham. 

One of the primary goals of the Connecticut Airport Authority is to expand international service at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks. 

“Again, while I don’t think we are going to be able to have an international service in 2015, I think it’s likely we will be able to have it in 2016,” he said. 

Dillon noted there are plans to demolish Terminal B at Bradley International airport, a project that could take more than a year. 

“I’m pleased to say we led a contract about a month ago to begin that demolition,” he said.