OP-ED | Who Needs Illinois? Connecticut Should Channel Oregon
When it comes to leaving Connecticut, there’s data and then there’s data. Since we live in a place that is obviously in some stage of decline, we’ve all suspected that people are moving out of the state in droves, even as census numbers suggested we were pretty much holding our own until a few years ago.
But now we have a different set of numbers that, while unscientific, nonetheless show what many of us have suspected for years: there aren’t many people who want to move here.
United Van Lines, the nation’s largest “relocation service” in terms of volume and market share, recently released its annual national mover’s study. The results, while not shocking, are hardly encouraging. Connecticut ranked fourth on the list of states with more people moving out than moving in. Not surprisingly, financial basket case Illinois leads the pack (thank goodness for the Land of Lincoln).
The overall trend is that Americans are continuing to move west and south. With the notable exception of Vermont, the top six net-inbound states were in the west. Leading the western pack was Oregon. Fortunately, United Van Lines asks its customers why they’re moving. Almost half of those moving to Oregon said it was for a new job or company transfer, while nearly 25 percent said it was for proximity to family. Now imagine those kinds of percentages here in Connecticut. Given the current state of affairs, it’s unthinkable, really.
It’s easy to see why entrepreneurs would want to start businesses in Oregon or companies would want to relocate there. A 2016 study by Bloomberg found that Oregon had the nation’s best-performing economy.
With about 4 million people, Oregon, the nation’s 27th largest state, has about the same population as Connecticut. But there the similarity ends. According to Bloomberg, Oregon “had the best-performing economy in the nation measured by employment, home prices, personal income, tax revenues, mortgage delinquency and the publicly traded equity of its companies.”
In the nine months that ended on Sept. 30, average personal incomes in Oregon rose 4.35 percent, home prices went up more than 9 percent, while tax revenues went up an astonishing 11 percent.
And get this: “While the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index lost 7.9 percent since the start of 2015, companies domiciled in Oregon outperformed their S&P 500 peers with a 3.02 percent total return (income and appreciation). Only four states showed overall company equity growth over the same period,” according to Bloomberg data.
Of course, it helps to have the top producing timber industry in the lower 48 states — something that would be impossible in tiny Connecticut. But Oregon is wisely becoming less reliant on cutting down trees to power its economy and embracing the technology sector. Both Tektronix and Intel have expanded their operations in the state as part of the so-called Silicon Forest, a cluster of tech companies in metropolitan Portland. An alternative energy sector is thriving as well.
And it’s not that Oregon is a capitalist paradise or a miserable low-wage state with little or no environmental regulations. Five of six members of Congress are Democrats. Both houses of the state legislature and the governor’s mansion are controlled by Democrats. Oregon hasn’t voted for a Republican presidential candidate since 1984, when Walter Mondale lost to Ronald Reagan in a 49-state landslide.
Oregon is said to be progressive and environmentally conscious and has a relatively strong state environmental agency, though, like many such agencies, its effectiveness is threatened by the Trump administration’s cutbacks at the EPA.
Meanwhile here in embattled Connecticut, we can’t figure out a way to grow revenues beyond increasing taxes on “the rich” — a strategy that has been dismissed by just about everyone except for labor unions and the Working Families Party. Heck, even the left-of-center Hartford Courant editorial page acknowledged recently that there is “strong evidence that taxing residents at high rates is becoming counterproductive” and that doing so will surely mean “Goodbye, rich people.” Not that it hasn’t already happened, mind you.
We hear all the time about those who are in denial, insisting that Connecticut’s weather and lack of a large city are the roots of its problems in a competitive business environment. Well, in case you hadn’t noticed, it rains a lot in Oregon and the eastern two thirds of the state has cold, snowy winters. And Vermont, which leads the Van Line study in the area of in-migration, is even colder than Connecticut.
As for the big urban centers that attract hipster millennials, it hasn’t helped Illinois, which is home to Chicago, the third largest city in the country and one of the hippest, most-vibrant urban centers in the nation.
Like Illinois, Connecticut is a poorly run state and has been for decades. Combine that with relatively high taxes, no new net job growth over the last 30 years, a burdensome regulatory regime, and an inability to recover in a meaningful way from the Great Recession of 2008-09, and you have the perception — and perhaps even the reality — of a lack of opportunity.
Can a Republican governor and a Republican legislature, if elected this fall, do any better? I hope so, but based on the past performance of John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, I’m not holding my breath. After all, they’re the ones who helped give Connecticut the highest unfunded pension liability in the nation according to an ALEC study, recently surpassing — you guessed it — Illinois.
Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is managing editor of The Berkshire Edge in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.
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