Rebuilding Hartford on a Budget

I feel like most plans to revitalize our state capital involve lots of demolition and rebuilding. Sure, some crumbling city infrastructure has to go, but there is plenty of vacant space around the city. Why can’t a revitalization plan include some frugality instead of just big budgets and big dreams? Walking around downtown, I look into empty office after office and see “For Rent” or “available” signs. Some see that as a problem– I feel like it could be a big opportunity for our state.

I recently read an article from the Hartford Courant about the availability of small office spaces in the city. So, Hartford has plenty of vacant, low rent (compared to nearby Boston and New York) buildings near a nice if somewhat empty downtown area. People need a little encouragement to move in so here’s my unsolicited ideas—feel free to argue against it at any time. I’m no expert, I just have a few thoughts I’d like to pass on to people.

In case you don’t have much time, here’s a brief summary:

1. Create a discounted affordable health plan specifically for self-employed people. The kind of plan that might convince someone to move here—or stay here.

2. Subsidize office space for entrepreneurs—start a business here, get reimbursed for some of your rent if you rent in Hartford. Kind of like Section 8 for low income businesses (Why not? We do it for housing, why not for business?).

3. Provide free parking in state owned lots or offer validated parking if you work or shop in the city (to compete with surrounding free-parking suburbs—you know, the towns that people actually go to.)

4. Start programs in the State Universities to encourage and assist soon-to-be graduates with business ventures.

Connecticut has the right political climate, location, education level, and city in need of an identity (Hartford) to become a hotbed of entrepreneurial thinking and small businesses. We could effectively legislate incentives to encourage college graduates to form businesses in Connecticut and support them with subsidized office space and healthcare programs. As a so-called “Blue State,” we can leverage our existing policies and programs to create advantages for Hartford and the rest of this state. The support systems favored by democratic policies can and should be used to support willing and motivated entrepreneurs. There’s a definite return on the investment if successful entrepreneurs become successful employers in our state.

Not Hartford, CT...
Not Hartford, CT…

We have one of the better managed healthcare programs under Obamacare. Let’s refine it more and tailor it to take care of self-employed people. We can market a package: start a business in Connecticut and get healthcare at discounted rates. That would pique my interest if I was searching for a place to start a company.

One thing I find as a deterrent to Hartford is parking rates. Hartford doesn’t give us much more than any of its surrounding towns—not enough to make us pay to park there all the time. If we could provide free parking on state owned property and/or make deals with the parking companies to reimburse employees and business patrons—it might encourage people to leave West Hartford and Manchester to come to the city. There needs to be some incentive to go to Hartford because there’s not much there now. Some sort of parking validation/reimbursement program for shoppers and workers would work and could be scaled back after more businesses are established and life in the city picks up a bit.

New innovators in Connecticut can take advantage of the existing manufacturing base in this state. It’s been whittled down over the years to smaller companies, but these small specialty manufacturers are still scattered around Connecticut’s medium sized cities and towns. These places would make perfect partners for supporting the startup companies we could bring to Hartford.

Here’s an idea (or a rant, whichever you prefer) —stop funneling money to big companies so we can lure them to the state with tax breaks until the breaks run out and the company subsequently leaves. The tax break is the advantage for these companies, and once it expires, their incentive to stay isn’t very high. Why not support our recent graduates- people who already have ties to the state. We can support their new companies and innovation instead of propping up dying industries and shoveling money to fast moving international corporations.

The extra money we’d save when we stop trying to lure large firms to the state could be used to subsidize office space for the new companies. I picture state officials and teachers marketing this program to students graduating from our state schools: stay here, start a business, we’ll help you out with cheap healthcare and an office to work out of. I picture outreach offices at each state university campus where interested students can get information and guidance. Armed with an LLC and business accounts before graduating, students could plan their businesses well before they actually need to earn their first paycheck.

Connecticut needs an actual identity, not just a catchy slogan. I’d love to travel to other states and hear people talk about how our state is a hub of innovation and a great place to start a business or spread some ideas. We have all the tools, infrastructure, and money here to put these programs in place to jump start our economy at the grass-roots level. This could become a sustainable system for growing new businesses right here in Hartford.

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