Aetna has called Hartford home for more than 160 years, dating back to the years before the Civil War.
Its office along Interstate 84 a stone’s throw from the State Capitol, is a part of the city’s corporate and professional fabric.
For the better part of a year, Aetna executives haven’t denied that the company’s CEO and executives have been looking at a possible new location for its corporate headquarters, and with that information in hand, Shirley Leung, Business Editor and Columnist at the Boston Globe, pounced.
She wrote her Friday column in the form of a letter to Aetna executives and said bluntly, “It has been the worst kept secret in New England. You want to get the hell out of Hartford.”
Leung goes on to cite all of the reasons Aetna would find a great fit not just in Boston, but in Massachusetts as a whole: access to graduates and researchers at institutions like MIT and Harvard, being surrounded by established and emerging tech firms, a younger workforce, and the list goes on and on.
Leung describes Boston as the “capital of healthcare,” saying, “We discover drugs. We cure cancer. We incubate health care reform.”
But Leung’s column didn’t go unanswered. Dan Haar with the Hartford Courant penned his own letter, telling CEO Mark Bertolini and President Karen Lynch that Hartford is a good long-term bet. He acknowledges the state’s and city’s financial struggles, but maintains that in the end, Hartford isn’t a bad place to be.
“This area has always been a fantastic place to live and raise a family, and as Connecticut economist Patrick Flaherty likes to say, today's millennials are tomorrow's thirty-somethings,” Haar writes.
Haar points out Aetna’s commitment to provide the city of Hartford with funds to help it out of its fiscal malaise, how it has so much in common with UConn Health and Jackson Labs that are nearby, and how the tax climate in Massachusetts isn’t much better than the one in Connecticut.
The General Electric comparison is an apt one, because that company’s executives directly cited exactly what Leung points out in her column, as the rationale for leaving scenic Fairfield for the urban Boston. Jeff Immelt wanted talent, and a vibrant ecosystem for conducting business and research. Even Haar acknowledged that much in an interview with NBC Connecticut.
Haar said, “I think right now what these companies are looking at is what GE was looking at. Where are we going to get the hot college graduates, where do they want to be now? And right now that’s Brooklyn, that’s Boston, that’s Seattle, that’s Washington DC, that’s San Francisco, Hartford is starting is starting to get some of that, but it’s a long way to go.”
Joe Brennan, with the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, says the talk about General Electric leaving Connecticut is salt in the wound for the state’s economy.
“You still hear conversations about GE, why they left, even though GE still has thousands of employees here, but the fact that the headquarters left gets so much attention, but yeah, the more attention it gets the bigger they become sometimes,” Brennan said.
He thinks the state can get on a path where such columns don’t even get written.
“We’re trying to fight against that by making the hard choices we need to make in Connecticut so companies want to be here so when you get recruited by another state you say, ‘not interested.’”