Hartford is seeing early indicators of how the shift in quality of place may support the growth of its existing industries and the recruitment of new sectors. On this episode of the Economic Development podcast, David Griggs, President & CEO of the Metro Hartford Alliance, discusses the aerospace and defense sectors, the pandemic’s impact on targeted industries, and how his community is rising to the occasion.

In a pre-COVID world, Hartford was losing talent to those two larger metros to the northeast (Boston) and southwest (Manhattan). In a post-COVID world quality of place will matter ever more important than a dead even pre-COVID.

Episode Highlights:

  • 01:19 – Hartford’s dominance as an insurance and aerospace hub presents unique opportunities in the shift to remote work.
  • 02:16 – The pandemic’s impact to quality of place is creating opportunities for shadow markets to flourish from a value proposition of affordability, space, and quality of life.
  • 03:02 – The pandemic has helped reposition Hartford as a demand product because of the lifestyle and talent that it offers.
  • 05:22 – Quality of place is becoming increasingly more important in a post-COVID world.
  • 06:23 – The prediction of how shadow markets will be more attractive to talent.
  • 11:09 – David shares the importance of sharing and learning from best practices across communities.

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Episode Transcript:

David Griggs  00:00
Hartford, geographically, is an hour and a half from downtown Boston or about two hours from Manhattan. So, in a pre-COVID world, there was a lot of hand wringing, of losing talent to those two larger metros to the northeast and southwest. But now in a post-COVID world, we find that who we are as a community is now a demand product. You know, we don’t want to say that the pandemic is good for us but the pandemic has caused people to look at the value of who we are and it has put us in a different light. In a post-COVID world quality of place will matter ever more important than a dead even pre-COVID.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  01:07
So just briefly tell us what is the scene look like in Hartford, industry wise? What are some changes that you’re making in your economic development initiatives?

David Griggs  01:19
So as you probably are well aware, Hartford is the insurance capital of the world. So our industries are primarily insurance, and insurance related industries, as well as Aerospace. We’re very much an Aerospace and defense industries hub. We’ve got Pratt and Whitney, which makes engines, jet engines and then of course, electric boat on the coast, which is a submarine manufacturer. So our economy is interesting in a way that we’ve got leading industries and both white collar and blue collar  jobs that you can do at home and jobs that you can’t do at home. It’s really difficult to build a submarine at home. So, it’s a it’s a very interesting time here.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  02:16
Well, with that said, everyone’s looking to see what the trends will say about how remote work changes industry dynamics, even where people want to live and work. There are some who are in smaller markets or, you know, markets that compete against larger metros who probably were overshadowed by those metros that had the typical amenities – live-work-play type amenities, that urban downtown feel that now are rising to the top just because they provide space, affordability, and everything that now comes in this new norm that we’re in.

So where do you think Hartford stands in that space and where does it stand to gain from that type of shift if the trends continue to move as they are?

David Griggs  03:02
Well, you just ran our playbook. So Hartford geographically we’re an hour and a half from downtown Boston or about two hours from Manhattan. So in a pre-COVID world, there was a lot of hand wringing of losing talent to those two larger metros to the northeast and southwest. But now in a post-COVID world, we find that who we are as a community – for those who don’t know – Connecticut is actually a very hilly state. We call them mountains, and these river valleys and hills have a way of socially distancing our communities. So what you end up with here in Hartford is a strong urban core, but a lot of suburban areas that are in and of themselves, small towns.

Who Hartford is, is now a demand product. You know, we don’t want to say that the pandemic is good for us, but the pandemic has caused people to look at the value of who we are as Hartford in a different light.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  04:19
I always like to see the silver lining in things. Obviously, this pandemic has caused a lot of devastation, but there are, some silver linings in it. And so as you just mentioned, in terms of how your product is now rising to the occasion to meet this new norm, are you seeing some new innovations in your traditional industries?

Logistics has long been one of those growing industries where they like to concentrate around talent. And so with with Hartford being the aerospace capital of the world, what are some initiatives or investments or even some movements that you’re either seeing from your companies and industries or even as an organization that you guys are now considering shifting towards to start to attract those types of aerospace tech companies and other types of innovative companies that can help to continue to meet some of these demands?

David Griggs  05:22
Well, you mentioned logistics and being, again, where we are in relation to both Boston and New York, creates an opportunity for Hartford to become our logistics hub. And we are seeing more and more investments in our logistics sector. The work from home opportunities that are in front of us, this wonderful opportunity for communities and I think communities around the country are likely doing a lot of what Hartford is doing, and that’s really taking a look at our quality of place.

In a post-COVID world quality of place will matter ever more important than a did even pre-COVID. Because the place where you live is very likely to be where you vacation and where you spend the majority of your time. So quality of place is very important, and attracting talent that much more so. Again, that silver lining for us is really doubling down on the aspects that have traditionally made Hartford,

Fabiola Fleuranvil  06:23
You know we’re in an interesting time because prior to COVID – it’s interesting that we have to say pre-COVID and post-COVID, but pre-COVID, talent really wanted to live where work was. And now the shift is indicating that talent wants to be where the place is quality, as you mentioned. So where can they get the most bang for their buck, and that’s where we’re going to see competition really start to take shape among communities that probably, you know, historically haven’t been rising to the top in comparison to the larger Metro. So, I like to call those shadow cities. So those shadow cities and shadow markets, I predict will start to rise to the occasion.

David Griggs  07:41
I couldn’t agree more. And, you know, the term shadow city couldn’t be any more appropriate for a community like Hartford that has been in the shadows of both New York and Boston for quite some time. So, I hope you’re right.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  08:01
It’s obviously still to be told, and you know, all of the leaders in this industry are monitoring trends. I’m seeing reports all over the place of how things are starting to shift. I don’t think we’re going to ever go back to how things were. You know, that’s one thing that COVID is telling us, even if we don’t make so many gains moving forward in terms of industry shifts, I doubt things ever look the same on before, I think we’re looking at value from a different lens these days. So I think that your community has a lot to gain from that.

David Griggs  08:37
I completely agree, and as a regional economic development group, like any other economic development group, we are in constant contact with our largest employers, and through our Chamber of Commerce, we’re able to talk to our smallest employer so we get a really nice cross section of information about the things that matter and the plans that are being developed.

In some regard, one of the really important things that we do as both a chamber and an economic development agency is understanding what are the plans of our big employers, So many of them are in our downtown core, and a lot of the service industry depends on those tens of thousands of people that show up every day. What happens when only a third of them show up or half of them at some point show up? How does the restaurant or  bodega plan for that level of activity in a way that allows them to keep their doors open as well? This is uncharted territory. I think for everybody in America, and communication is key.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  10:08
Absolutely. There’s a lot to learn and a lot to be learned. And you’re absolutely right, communication is key, communication amongst each other, which is the reason why we’re doing this podcast – to hear and learn from other leaders in the industry. I think that there’s a lot of best practices that are being put on the table. So I think there’s still a lot to learn. So it’s been great talking to you learning about what your community is doing and what you stand to gain.

David Griggs  10:35
Thank you. Like you mentioned, learning from our peers and others is the best way to go about it. I’m fond of saying that plagiarism only counts in college, or else it’s called best practice. We’re all about bringing best practice.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  10:55
So speaking of that, have you notice any particular community around the country that you think is closer to figuring it out?

David Griggs  11:09
I think there are a lot of communities doing really good work. I have conversations with many of them on a weekly basis through different organizations. But I don’t think anybody has really totally figured it out. I think we’re all watching the communities that are implementing new policies or implementing new ideas to see how they work, to see if they have a desired effect. But it’s really tough, and there’s so much going on. There are so many challenges that’s really tapped with your arms around all of it. So most communities are trying to tackle what’s most pressing to their community.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  11:56
So do you think that there’s a general consensus that, let’s see how one particular communities take the risk and experiment, and we’ll see if that works? And if it does, then, you know, we’ll kind of make an assumption that is a safe bet for other communities as well.

David Griggs  12:13
Yes, absolutely. You know, because it takes time, effort and money to implement any new policy or program. So, you really want to be well thought out. You want to have as much data supporting whatever you’re going to do before you do it. How do we not have that second wave hit, such as what we saw with the Spanish flu. The opening of economy in being safe, and getting whatever our new normal is going to be is key and following the best practices from around the country or around the world, that’s just smart.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  13:28
It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks again for sharing your perspective.

David Griggs  13:34
Thank you appreciate the opportunity.

Fabiola Fleuranvil  13:37
Thanks again for tuning in to the economic development podcast presented by Blueprint Creative Group. There’s more episodes featuring economic development leaders throughout the country. And we thank all of the participants for sharing their perspectives. Check out all of the episodes in this series at blueprintcreativegroup.com/economicdevelopment.

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