While many people have said it many times over the last few years, one of the most pressing issues facing the state of Connecticut is job creation. Business growth in our state has been stagnant for the past 20 years, yet it's become an even larger issue in the wake of the nationwide recession its accompanying widespread unemployment rates.

In one of his highest-profile appointments of his new administration, Governor Dannel Malloy this month named an astute businessperson -- Ms. Catherine Smith, chief executive officer of ING U.S. Retirement Services -- to serve at the helm of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, or DECD.

No matter what the economic climate may be, this is a difficult post. I applaud the governor for his choice to lead this important agency.

DECD is the state's lead agency for development and implementation of policies, strategies and programs designed to enhance Connecticut's communities, businesses and housing environments. The agency is focused on strengthening Connecticut's competitive position in a changing economy and solidifying the state's reputation as a high-tech leader in innovation and productivity.

However, DECD has become far too insular over the years, and the fractured structure of economic groups in the state has done little to welcome potential businesses who might wish to locate or expand here. The governor has recommended significant mergers to bring our economic development groups under DECD's roof -- a task that I believe Commissioner Smith will be well-equipped to undertake.

Commissioner Smith has served in her CEO position since 2008, where she has helped the insurance giant to weather the recession and retain customers despite tough times. She managed 3,000 employees and had oversight over a diverse group of company functions, including sales, marketing, operations, customer service, product development, risk management and finance.

Prior to her elevation to CEO, Commissioner Smith worked in other capacities within the company, and while she was the chief operating officer and executive vice president, she merged several customer service line operations into once -- consolidating 14 service centers into four, reducing operating unit costs by 30 percent over three years and improving customer satisfaction.

Before her 10-year career with ING, Commissioner Smith worked for Aetna in a variety of areas from 1983 to 2000, including investment management, corporate planning, health plans, investor relations and financial services. She has been recognized by the Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame and is a member of several civic organizations.

More Information

Fact box

I believe that Commissioner Smith's vast experience and resume will be a huge asset for the state and the DECD. I also believe that it sends a strong signal to the business community that this administration will not sit on its heels and watch as opportunities for growth and development pass us by. While the task is immense, I believe her appointment is a wise one.

I look forward to working with Commissioner Smith and to seeing what new ideas she will bring to revive business in Connecticut.