Though Connecticut continues to struggle with the big fiscal challenges of our underfunded pension liability and continued subservience of the majority party to the state employee union leaders —which is of course at the expense of common sense and respect for the hardworking citizens of our state —there are bright spots ahead.

With some recent legislation passed to support our job creators, the revitalization of Connecticut’s Economic Resource Council (CERC), and an innovative leader signing on as president of the University of Connecticut (UConn), we have numerous reasons to keep our hope and faith alive for the future of Connecticut.

I feel that it is important to remain focused on our positive attributes while we work to resolve our fiscal problems. During difficult times it can be easy to lose sight of what you’re fighting for; but I look forward, with hope, to seeing our state make an extraordinary recovery.

Supporting job creators and environmental innovation

I was delighted to make a recent visit to Oakridge Dairy Farm in Ellington - a fifth-generation, family-owned operation, and Connecticut’s largest dairy farm. With over 2,500 Holsteins, they provide more than 50% of our state’s milk. I was impressed to see how their cows are bred, sustainably raised and humanely cared for throughout their lives.

Oakridge Dairy is currently looking to improve operations by building an anaerobic digestion plant. Anaerobic digestion is a series of biological processes that, in the absence of oxygen, allows microorganisms to break down biodegradable material. It is a great benefit to dairy farming as it creates environmentally-friendly compost from manure and food waste that would otherwise be stuffed into landfills. Furthermore, when combusted, the biogas end product generates heat and electricity that can be further processed into renewable natural gas and transportation fuels.

Anaerobic digestion would reduce Oakridge’s costs of transporting waste to landfills and provide them with enough energy to fuel their operations - and an additional 300 homes in the local area - for an entire year. Their current electricity bills average around $35,000 a month!

Fortunately, we passed legislation this year that allows farms to apply for facility permits to install anaerobic digestion plants. I look forward to supporting this effort in hopes that the Department of Environment and Energy Protection (DEEP) swiftly approves Oakridge Dairy’s application.

Revitalizing CERC

I am pleased that Governor Lamont re-energized CERC this year, a Council that works in concert with the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) to drive economic development in Connecticut by providing research-based data, planning and implementation strategies to foster business formation, recruitment and growth. This is an incredible relief as Connecticut has lost 16 of its Fortune 500 companies (only 14 remain) in the last decade, and remains the only state not to regain all its jobs lost in the 2008 recession.

Peter Denious, a successful private equity and venture capital professional, has been tapped to lead CERC. He brings solid experience and seasoned relationships that will help him be proactive in changing Connecticut’s current paradigm. He remarked to the press recently that, “the sense of urgency is real and we are putting ourselves on schedule to deliver some value relatively quickly.” This will be an effort to watch with optimism, but I am confident that the Council is in good hands.

Indra Nooyi, a retired Pepsi CEO, and Jim Smith, a retired Webster Bank CEO, have been appointed to serve as co-chairs alongside Denious.

Creating new opportunities at UConn

As a member of the Legislative Committee on Higher Education, I’ve had the pleasure of personally getting to know Dr. Thomas Katsouleas, the new president of UConn.

His expertise has been highly-sought after by several nationally accredited schools, including the University of Southern California (USC), where he served as Head of Faculty; Duke, where he served as Dean of the Engineering School; and the University of Virginia (UVA), where he served as Provost and Vice-President.

What impresses me most, however, is the scope of his humanity. He listens well, is open to a variety of perspectives, embraces the right to freedom of speech on campus and supports a threefold partnership between UConn, state government and private business.

His goal is to align UConn’s programs and trainings with the specific needs of businesses in our state, such as bio-tech and digital sciences. To facilitate this idea, he plans to collaborate closely with Connecticut Innovations and Jackson Labs.

Please let me know your thoughts on these, or other topics related to state government. You can contact me via email at terrie.wood@cga.ct.gov, or over the phone at 860-240-8737.