Connecticut “For Sale” Signs…Truly a Sign of the Times

Shocked by the number of “For Sale” signs lining the streets to my home, a friend visiting from Denver recently asked, “What’s going on? What’s wrong with Connecticut?” He then went on to draw the stark comparison between Colorado and Connecticut: “In Denver, the houses sell in hours of being listed and the job market is so tight, companies hesitate to lay off sub par workers given the challenge of finding new help.” 

Like the majority of Connecticut residents, I immediately thought to myself, “The rest of the nation is booming; when are things going to turnaround here?” 

It is no secret that the Nutmeg state boasts crazy high taxes, lots of traffic, packed commuter rails, and fewer jobs than ever. Restaurants struggle to keep patrons, strip malls boast “vacancy” signs rather than weekly specials, and sadly, the state is so hurting for money that even our highway rest stops close after 3 p.m. everyday to keep costs down. Every sector of the Connecticut economy is failing and so, very few newcomers choose to put down roots and buy a home here. Connecticut’s housing inventory is high — the result of a dismal Connecticut economy.

Hartford, the state’s near bankrupt capital, is a ghost of its former self. Never making the news is the impact of foreign labor to white collar Connecticut professionals. According to the 2016 Census, over 150,000 tech workers were non U.S. citizens working in Connecticut in 2016.  The Freedom of Information Act made available the federal LCA statistics, which indicate that surprisingly, Connecticut was awarded over 50,000 certified H1Bs since 2016.

 If you choose to review the United States Department of Labor TAA (Trade Adjustment Assistance) website, you can get a good understanding of the magnitude of white collar professional layoffs affecting Connecticut’s economy. The insurance sector, Hartford’s flagship industry for a century, has replaced thousands upon thousands of Connecticut workers with foreign labor. At The Hartford Insurance Company, both technology employees and IBM contractors were required to train their Tata Consultancy India replacements. Mass Mutual Insurance in Enfield replaced its tech workforce with Cognizant H1B workers and India off shore labor. Connecticut General Life Insurance, The Prudential in Hartford, Prudential Annuities in Shelton, Aspen Insurance, Hartford Fire Insurance Company, The Travelers Insurance, and Chubb Insurance all laid off Connecticut white collar professionals and replaced them with workers in the Philippines and India.

The healthcare sector has fared no better. Hartford’s Cigna replaced CT workers with H1Bs employed by Accenture and Cognizant. Anthem, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Connecticut, according to TAA, laid off remote and in-office Connecticut employees responsible for enrollment, billing, provider data and pre-certifications with workers in Malaysia, the Philippines, and India. Over the last ten years, Quest Diagnostics, Naugatuck Valley Surgical Centers, and even the Central Connecticut Hospital has sent white collar professionals packing and replaced them with vendors all employing labor in foreign countries rather than Americans. United Health Care, America’s largest health insurance agency, and once one of Connecticut’s largest employers, has sent thousands of jobs to India. Connecticut workers have been laid off and required to train their foreign replacements time and time again at both UHC and at UHC’s Optum unit, both of which operate foreign technology workforces in India. With Aetna’s impeding merger with CVS, the potential for layoffs, in addition to jobs that have gone offshore, translates into another Hartford insurer expected to reduce its Connecticut presence.

If educated insurance professionals seek greener pastures within the state, they’ll be hard pressed to find them elsewhere. Not only are companies moving out of Connecticut, like the well publicized relocation of GE Headquarters from Fairfield to Boston, but virtually every industry in the Nutmeg state has been consistently laying off Connecticut white collar professionals.

Financial services companies UBS, Citibank, RBS, Citizen’s Bank, Voya, and Bank Mobile according to TAA filings have all laid off white collar professionals and replaced them with either off shore foreign employees or vendors including Cognizant, Infosys, and TCS who are employing a combination of H1B visa holders here in the U.S. with off shore foreign workers doing a bulk of the work “remotely” from countries across the globe.

Pfizer’s Connecticut location sent jobs to China. AT&T replaced Connecticut workers with those in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. Connecticut based technology companies like Check Free Pay and Atos IT Solutions have also replaced software engineers with India based software developers and software testers.

The New Haven Register newspaper replaced their publication’s graphic designers with remote foreign workers. Thomson-Reuters, Nielsen, and Unilever have all displaced Connecticut tech workers with foreign staff.  Even, Norwalk’s Pepperidge Farms and Milford’s Ann Taylor outsourced their accounting departments to India.

The scariest fact of all is that a contender for governor is campaigning on “increasing economic growth” for Connecticut. The marketing literature indicates: “He will grow our economy by investing in our workforce and attracting employers, like he did just this year when he helped bring a tech company and hundreds of jobs to Hartford.”

 That “tech company” the campaign flyer refers to is Infosys, the very same company that replaced Connecticut technology workers at Northeast Utilities with H1B visa holders from India. The “hundreds of jobs” being brought to Hartford have no guarantee of being filled by American citizens. To boot, Infosys is set to receive a $12 million dollar state grant for opening the Hartford location. 

 State and local governments often award contracts to vendors who rely heavily on visa holders. Today, there is no priority or incentive to hire American, let alone hire out of work Connecticut tax paying residents, regardless of their qualifications, ambitions, or experience.  With our own government agencies using taxpayer dollars to employ foreign labor, it’s no wonder our economy suffers.

Talk about job-retraining and re-tooling on the campaign trail is all well and good, but without any focus on improving labor participation within the state, and attracting businesses and corporations that will hire Americans, it is simply just that…“talk.” Today, Connecticut is failing, not only because so many corporations have left the state, but also because so many educated CT residents have been displaced by foreign labor.

 Manufacturing in the Nutmeg state has been the one bright spot in job creation over the past ten years. In order to transition Connecticut successfully into the 21st century economy, the state needs tech companies, tech jobs, and a solid technology vision. “New Collar” work, rather than blue collar work, where automation and robotics mingles with manufacturing is on the horizon. We need state and local government to focus on technology jobs that enable greater job creation in the industries where the state is succeeding and we need Connecticut residents to have a chance at landing those jobs.

Perhaps our new governor can negotiate with SouthWest or Delta airlines to create a non-stop shuttle so some of those Denver employers hunting for professionals can easily hire the skilled and experienced Connecticut residents who are so desperately looking for work. 

Whether it is Ned Lamont or Bob Stefanowski, true success will be measured in part by a strengthened real estate market where the number of “For Sale” signs in Connecticut yards begin to disappear.

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