Warning: Be Wary of State Economic Development Rankings, Study Finds

New analysis from a national research organization is casting considerable doubt on the validity of the steady stream of state economic development rankings that routinely appear in the media.  State economic rankings cannot be taken at face value, according to an article published online by the Journal of Applied Research in Economic Development.

"How Can I Create My Favorite State Ranking?" points out that such rankings typically are subjective and often offer little meaningful information, despite their pervasiveness in the media, government and among economic analysts.

"Often, these ranstateskings are plagued by lack of clarity about what is being measured or whether the ranking accurately assesses what it claims to measure," said Yasuyuki Motoyama, Ph.D., senior scholar at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, who wrote the article with Jared Konczal, a senior analyst. "Further, the connection between these indexes and actual economic growth and performance at the state level is ambiguous, at best."

The proliferation of state rankings, the authors point out, can lead policymakers and economic development consultants to misuse them, either celebrating a conveniently positive ranking or initiating efforts to address a poor ranking, when neither action may be based on valid economic indicators.  The Kauffman Foundation website points out that the authors conducted a series of exercises to demonstrate how such rankings can be manipulated, using eight state-level indicators:

  • Self-employment rate
  • Kauffman Index of Entrepreneurial Activity
  • Business startup rate
  • Ratio of science and engineering bachelor degree holders to the total population
  • Patents per science and engineering workforce
  • Venture capital investment over Gross State Product
  • Research and development expenditures
  • Number of high-growth Inc. 500 firms  

The indicators were chosen because they typically are used to measure entrepreneurship and innovation, two vital indicators for every state's economic health. The subjectivity and limitations of state economic rankings led to four observations, according to the article:

  1. Policymakers should not rely on a single indicator to gauge economic conditions.
  2. Aggregating indicators does not provide solutions because indicators are highly variable.
  3. Policymakers should not focus on improving their states' rankings because the rankings lack meaning.
  4. Rather, they should employ a scorecard approach, which does not create a normative, quantified measure, but descriptively assesses various conditions of each state.  

Demonstrating that rankings can be developed in ways that favor any given state, the Kauffman researchers created a simulation analysis with randomly generatedkauffman-details-logo weights, which revealed that, among 1,000 different scenarios, five states were eligible to be No. 1, 16 were eligible for the Top Five and 22 could be ranked in the Top 10.

Depending upon how a range of variables were weighted, Connecticut placed in the top 10 in 41 of the scenarios, 17th overall among the states.  (Just ahead of Texas; just behind Maine).  The full report can be viewed on Journal of Applied Research in Economic Development. website.

Increasing International Exports is Key to State's Economic Development Plan

A recent update on Connecticut’s Economic Development Strategy includes a strong focus on international economic development, including upcoming efforts to extend business in Israel, Canada and France as part of broader plans to strengthen Connecticut’s brand in the global markets and grow the state’s trade footprint abroad.

As described by Beatriz Gutierrez, director of international business development efforts at the state Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD), the department’s vision is “to position Connecticut as the destination of choice for companies looking to establish North American presence with preference to those in the areas of bioscience, precision manufacturing, fuel cells and renewable, and those looking to establish North American headquarters.”

The primary geographic targets for the state are China (which Gov. Malloy visited last year and Secretary of the State Denise Merrill visited last month), Germany and Western Europe (including the Paris Air Show this month), Israel (a CT-Israel Tech Summit will be held in Connecticut on June 12), and Brazil.  Goals include developing an international brand for the state, building an “opportunity pipeline,” and strengthening the relationship management process.

Meetings have been held with more than 50 companies and cluster associations in key industry segments, and a “concierge” program has been introduced in Europe.  During fiscal year 2012, DECD assisted in business exports to 39 countries for 62 state coCT boothmpanies, according to the DECD update.  The total assisted value of $548.6 million would equate to 2,785 jobs, according to DECD.  The department’s presentation added that unreported dollar amounts could account for “another 300 to 400 jobs, or more.”

The state has also been working closely with the U.S. Small Business Administration on international business growth, including the State Trade and Export Promotion (STEP) program.  Among the initiatives in Connecticut are a SBA pilot-grant to help small businesses increase exports, and efforts to assist businesses with participation in regional and industry focused export opportunities and international business development opportunities. Connecticut received grant awards of $546,822 in the first year and $339,319 in the second year, supporting 178 Connecticut companies with partial reimbursements for international business initiatives.

At a trade show in Hannover, Germany in April, for example, the state’s booth featured five Connecticut hydrogen and fuel cell companies, which officials say produced strong leads from both Germany and Canada. Later this month, Connecticut will have a presence at the Hydrogen + Fuel Cells Conference in Vancouver, with three state companies on hand, and at the Paris Air Show in Le Bourget, with 13 companies slated to be present at Connecticut’s booth.  It is the state’s eighth consecutive year at the air show, and $162 million in new business has been reported by the companies who exhibit under the Connecticut display umbrella.

Earlier this year, DECD reported that Connecticut is home to “691 foreign affiliates” employing 106,500 in the state.  At the time, exports were said to exceed $16 billion annually. More recent data indicate that exports dropped about two percent between FY 2011 and FY2012, from $16.21 billion to $15.86 billion.  Next steps outlined by the state in the May 22, 2013 update include implementing a statewide international activity scorecard, monitoring global trends and identifying potential “sweet spots,” and strengthening strategic partnerships.

State Grant Backs Transforming UConn Research into Start-Up Companies

UConn Ventures and the University of Connecticut’s Office of Economic Development (OED) have been selected to receive a state grant to provide technical assistance and training for small and medium sized businesses.  The $220,000 grant was awarded by the Department of Economic and Community Development as part of the state agency’s Economic Development Grants Program. UConn Ventures will apply the state funding in support of its mission to seek out university-based research innovations, assess their commercial potential, and provide resources to address the management, market, and technology associated with launching a new venture.UV.Final2.notag

The initiative aims to help migrate technologies developed in UConn’s research labs, including the UConn Health Center, to support early-stage companies and small business expansion.  UConn Ventures will work with research faculty in providing technical assessments and direct support that result in product development, testing and creation as well as fundable plans to launch either a new business or a new product or process.   UConn Ventures will focus use of the grant funds on efforts to:

  • support work to develop data, prototypes and test both technical and market relevancy in order to deploy new technologies and processes,
  • expose academic scientists to industry processes, experts and needs, thus impacting the course of future research in ways that will support industry and the economy,
  • engage Connecticut entrepreneurs and industry members from small business who may be potential investors, owners, licensees, CEO’s, or champions,
  • establish and further relationships that will support and advance a culture of innovation in Connecticut.

Plans call for two levels of financial support to fledgling companies under the program: 1) to assess and mitigate technical and market risks of a technology, and 2) to commercialize projects that have established proof of concept and identified a commercialization path.

“Our work is all about innovation, entrepreneurship, and scale,” said R. Mark Van Allen, President of UConn Ventures.  “We seek out university-based research innovations, assess their commercial potential, and provide resources to address the management, market, and technology risks associated with new venture formation.  We appreciate the state’s support of our work, and the reinvigorated commitment of the University and the Department of Economic and Community Development to help us to accelerate business creation and development.”

UConn Ventures, aligned with the University’s Office of Economic Development, creates business start-ups by guiding the development process, soliciting funding and recruiting management based on technologies invented by UConn students, faculty and staff.  It is a subsidiary of the UConn Foundation.  Financial benefits accrue to the individuals whose research innovation is at the core of the start-up business, and UConn.

“The Office of Economic Development is committed to applying resources in ways that will better support technology transfer and industry partnership,” said Mary Holz-Clause, UConn Vice President for Economic Development.  “UConn Ventures offers precisely the expertise and experience that is essential to successfully commercialize great research and great ideas, and their organization will play a pivotal role in building future successes.”

More information about UConn Ventures and the Office of Economic Development is available at www.uconnventures.com.

CT Receives Recognition for Economic Development

The Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development has received national recognition from a top site selector organization for its economic development efforts.  DECD was selected to receive the 2013 Site Selectors Guild Award for its work with Tronox Inc., a chemical company that announced in 2012 that it would be locating its world headquarters in Stamford.  The Site Sectors Guild is a professional association that includes some of the worlds most respected site consultants. The most recent recognition underscores ongoing efforts of DECD, which include highlighting Connecticut's strong position to attract and grow businesses.  Some of the noteworthy stats:

  • Connecticut is a leader in patents, ranking 8th in the nation.
  • Connecticut is a leader in business research and development, ranking #1 per capita.
  • Connecticut is a global competitor, ranking #6 in world GDP per capita.
  • Connecticut’s workers are among the most productive in the nation, ranking fourth among states.
  • Connecticut is a leader in venture capital deals, which are key to the development of small business, ranking #7.
  • The state ranks 9th in the nation as a leader in the New Economy.
  • Connecticut is a leader in finance and insurance, ranking #2 in total employment.
  • Connecticut is a leading exporter ranking tenth in per capita exports.
  • Connecticut has a highly educated workforce ranking third with an adult population with advanced degrees.
  • Connecticut ranks 6th in the number of scientists & engineers per 100,000 employees.

The data, provided by CL&P's Connecticut Economic Review 2013 and The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, reflects a mix of widely known and virtually unknown stats about Connecticut workforce and global position in a range of industries.

Small Business Development Center is Re-launched At UConn Campuses, Chambers of Commerce

The Connecticut Small Business Development Center (CTSBDC), a collaborative initiative of the federal Small Business Administration (SBA), State of Connecticut and University of Connecticut, is being rebooted, redesigned and re-launched in an effort to be more responsive to the state’s small and newly-forming businesses. CTSBDC is a five-year, $11.6 million program to provide financial and technical assistance to businesses with 500 or fewer employees – which accounts for roughly 93 percent of Connecticut employers.

The initiative was announced by UConn’s Vice President for Economic Development Mary Holz-Clause and state Commissioner of Economic and Community Development Catherine Smith during Connecticut Business Day at the State Capitol.  They were joined by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, President and CEO of the Business Council of Fairfield County Chris Bruhl, UConn Board Chair and Middlesex Chamber of Commerce President Larry McHugh and business leaders from across the state.

“The new SBDC is designed to focus more like a private sector business: close to its customers, interconnected, efficiently using scarce resources, and offering a slate of innovative new services,” Bruhl said. “With a statewide network of 11 local SBDC offices, the Center strives to build the local ecosystem, recognizing that small business begins at the local level.”

The program will fund 16 full-time positions and two part-time positions, with individuals located at each of the 11 service centers, including seven local Chambers of Commerce and four regional UConn campuses, as well as the UConn cSBDCampus in Storrs, and the Department of Commerce Export Assistance Center in Middletown.

During the news conference, Holz-Clause pointed out that the University is an ideal home for the SBDC, as the power of UConn’s network of more than 100,000 alumni can be tapped to serve as both mentors and connectors for small businesses to ensure they are successful. In addition, the six regional campuses provide the SBDC with an established network of satellite sites that are already engaged in local, state, and national business development efforts. She also noted the work of organizations such as UConn Ventures, which are helping to launch new businesses based on research and innovation at UConn.

“UConn is really focused on growing Connecticut’s economy from the ground up,” said Holz-Clause. “That’s why this partnership is such a perfect fit for us. It builds on some of our existing strengths and gives us a front-row seat for truly exciting developments in the state’s business community.”

Governor Malloy pointed out that “The reinvigorated Small Business Development Center takes our economic development strategy to a new level, combining the academic strength and resources of our flagship university with the knowledge and reach of our chambers of commerce, to bring technical and financial assistance to the sector responsible for the overwhelming majority of our jobs: small businesses.”

The Small Business Development Center program, administered by the federal government’s Small Business Administration, has been providing service to small businesses for more than 30 years and is one of the largest professional small business management and technical assistance networks in the nation with over 900 locations across the country.  In Connecticut, it had been based at Central Connecticut State University and the Connecticut State University System in recent years.  Previously, UConn had hosted the program.

For more information regarding the SBDC and its programs, please visit the newly designed  website at  www.ctsbdc.org. To learn more about UConn’s Office of Economic Development, please visit www.innovation.uconn.edu.



State's Small Business Program Targets Jobs, Economic Growth

When a survey of family owned businesses last year found almost two-thirds of respondents projecting sales and revenue growth in 2013, it appeared that optimism was on the upswing. This weeks’ news from Connecticut’s Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) on the progress of the state’s Small Business Express Program, launched a year ago, may be a contributing factor. The Small Business Express Program (SBEP) supports the retention and growth of small business in Connecticut through a combination of loans and grants. SBEP incorporates a stream-lined process that provides financial assistance in the form of revolving loan funds, job creation incentives; and matching grants. The program is designed to provide small business with access to capital, support job creation, increase skill development and encourage private investment. SBEP loans and grants are intended to have a positive impact on the growth of the companies receiving the funds, and decd-logo-spelled-out-centeredcorrespondingly on Connecticut’s overall economy.

Slightly more than 1,607 businesses with 100 or fewer employees applied for loans or matching grants in the program's first year, according to state officials. DECD approved just over half of the applications, and the program is currently helping about 500 small businesses retain 4,616 jobs and to create another 1,738.

The DECD authorized $67.2 million in financing to 494 companies through Dec. 31 -- $27.5 million in loans and $39.7 million in grants. It has already received $412,130 in principal and interest payments. State officials are reviewing applications from another 271 businesses, for an additional $38.3 million.

Components of the program include:

  • Small Business Express Revolving Loan Fund - Loans are available at a minimum of $10,000 to a maximum of $100,000 to assist small businesses with capital and operational needs.
  • Small Business Job Creation Incentive Program - Deferred Loans are available at a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $250,000 to assist small businesses to spur growth. DECD may forgive all or part of loan based on the attainment of job creation goals.
  • Small Business Creation Matching Grant Program - Grants are available at a minimum of $10,000 and a maximum of $100,000 to provide a dollar-for-dollar matching grant for specific job creation, capital investment and working capital goals.

The SBEP program assistance has leveraged approximately $40 million in private investment, according to DECD figures. Some participating business owners have noted that banks became more willing to lend once the business is accepted into the program.