Yale economist to help CT cement pandemic gains

Yale University economist Jeff Sonnenfeld is quick to credit Indra Nooyi and James Smith for their oversight of the AdvanceCT, created on the eve of the COVID-19 pandemic and swiftly pivoting to address the myriad challenges that in supporting nonprofits and helping businesses reopen.

But Sonnenfeld also expresses enthusiasm at the opportunity for he and Margaret Keane to inherit the roles of Nooyi and Smith, as AdvanceCT sets out to lay a new foundation for Connecticut’s economic growth coming out of the pandemic.

Gov. Ned Lamont announced his choices last week of Keane and Sonnenfeld as co-chairs of AdvanceCT, which works alongside state agencies and municipalities to steer businesses to incentives and potential sites for expansion in Connecticut, and promote workforce development initiatives.

Economist Jeffrey Sonnenfeld of the Yale School of Management, who is senior dean for leadership studies. (Photo courtesy Jeffrey Sonnenfeld)

Led on Monday by Wilton resident Peter Denious, AdvanceCT was reconstituted in 2020 from the former Connecticut Economic Resource Center. Lamont wanted a “market-facing” organization that could work in better coordination with state Department of Economic and Community Development and municipalities in assisting expansion-minded employers.

Keane is the executive chair of the board of directors for Synchrony Financial, having led the retail finance giant since its 2011 inception in Stamford as a spinoff of General Electric. He stepped down as CEO this past April. Sonnenfeld is an economist at the Yale School of Management, holding the role of senior dean for leadership studies.

On Monday, Sonnenfeld said that Connecticut has re-emerged as a “destination” for companies considering expansion. He noted the pandemic prompted thousands of families to relocate from New York City and the choice by companies like Philip Morris International and Haier to establish new offices in the state.

“Because of the pandemic, it’s put a spotlight on some great qualities that were somehow lost in the national buzz of other parts of the country,” Sonnenfeld said. “We are seeing a big ripple effect, an influx of businesses coming in and bringing in jobs.”

He said that is creating new tax revenue for Lamont and the Connecticut General Assembly to put to work, whether providing ongoing pandemic assistance along with federal funds, or chipping away at existing problems like the state’s massive debt obligations.

Indra Nooyi speaks in January 2019 in Greenwich, Conn.

Indra Nooyi speaks in January 2019 in Greenwich, Conn.

Tyler Sizemore / Hearst Connecticut Media

Nooyi lives in Greenwich and was the longtime CEO of PepsiCo based in Purchase, N.Y. Smith led Webster Financial, which has begun the process of moving its headquarters to Stamford from Waterbury.

At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lamont appointed Nooyi to lead the formation of the state’s “Reopen Connecticut” rules alongside Yale epidemiologist Albert Ko, to which businesses establishments had to adhere with regard to safeguards they implemented to limit any spread of the virus.