Author Archives: Dan Haar

Should Hartford Have a Triple-A Team Instead Of Double-A Rock Cats?

by Categorized: Economic Development, Entertainment/Tourism Date:

My first thought on hearing that the Double-A Rock Cats’ owners agreed to move to a new stadium in Hartford was, why isn’t Triple-A the main goal?

This was the dream of the late Mayor Mike Peters, famously, and on the surface it seems to make the most sense.  Central Connecticut is not a viable major-league region in any of the four big American sports — sorry, Whalers fan club — but its population, wealth, location, history and aspirations place metro Hartford perfectly in the Triple-A International League, right below the majors.

Ranked by population, metro Hartford — comprising Hartford, Tolland and Middlesex counties — is larger than all but 13 of the 28 Triple-A markets that do not also have a major league franchise.  And ranked by economic size, or share of gross domestic product, this region is larger than all but 10 of those 28 markets.

Click here for a database of all minor league baseball teams.

And yet, there’s been barely a mention of Triple-A in all the talk about this deal. The $60 million outlay would give the capital city one of the finer double-A stadiums, with 6,600 seats and room for 9,000 fans in all, including outfield berms, luxury boxes and cafe seating. It would be a bit small by triple-A standards, which tend to hold at least 10,000 people.

In double-A, metro Hartford — which includes New Britain under the federal designation of metropolitan statistical areas — is one of the largest markets.  Among the 28 double-A locations that are not also in a major league franchise market, metro Hartford ranks fourth in population and second in economic size, after San Antonio, which leads in both categories.

The February report by the city of Hartford’s consulting firm, Brailsford & Dunlavey, defines double-A markets as a half-hour drive from the stadium. In that ranking, Hartford compares well with a list of double-A markets, but not at the very top because teams such as the Trenton Thunder and Bowie Baysox include much of Philadelphia and Baltimore, respectively, in their half-hour-drive radius.

But if the capital city were to build a stadium, why shouldn’t it consider paying a bit more for a triple-A-ready palace? That would keep alive the hope of  luring, say, the Las Vegas 51’s, who might like to be much closer to their New York Mets major league affiliate.

As it turns out, double-A might just suit Hartford perfectly because of the economics of the capital region and the way minor league baseball has evolved. Triple-A could be great but there’s no compelling need to sweat out the difference at higher cost, and higher risk.

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Frontier, AT&T Union Reach Deal, Ending Feud As Hearings Start

by Categorized: Labor, Telecommunications Date:

Less than two months ago, the situation was dire between Frontier Communications and the Connecticut union representing 2,200 AT&T workers who would join Frontier after a proposed merger.

On May 2, negotiators for the Communications Workers of America, Local 1298, ended meetings with Frontier amid angry accusations as the union believed the company would cut more than 1,000 jobs even though Frontier said it would maintain the workforce. CWA vowed to block Frontier’s attempt to buy AT&T’s wireline business in the state for $2 billion.

But Wednesday, the two sides reached a peaceful deal — one day before state regulators begin hearings on the AT&T-Frontier sale.

Under the deal, Frontier, based in Stamford, would:

  • add 85 new union jobs.
  • guarantee job security and workforce size.
  • give priority routing to Connecticut call centers.
  • open a new service center for dispatch and U-verse tech support.
  • move to a system in which technicians for U-verse and other services will be unified in order to speed and improve installations and repairs.
  • give all union members 100 shares of Frontier stock, which were worth $5.70 each after Wednesday’s close on the Nasdaq market.
  • extend the existing contract by two years to 2018.

The union members include customer service reps, line workers, engineers, splicers, installers, reviewers and support staff. CWA has shown a willingness to fight long and hard, most recently holding out for 13 months under an expired contract before signing a new agreement with AT&T – making it the last of the company’s U.S. bargaining units to do so after a 2012 contract expiration.

“After several months of complex negotiations, we are very pleased with the agreement reached today with Frontier,” said Bill Henderson, president of CWA Local 1298, in a joint statement issued by the union and the company. “We believe it is in the best interests of Connecticut’s telecommunications workers and consumers.”

“We are very pleased the CWA acknowledges the transaction’s benefit to the public,” said Daniel J. McCarthy, president and chief operating officer of Frontier, in the joint statement.  “Our discussions with the CWA about the Connecticut acquisition have been open, honest and ongoing.  We look forward to a strong partnership.”

McCarthy had said on Dec. 17, when the acquisition was announced, that the company could save $200 million a year in operating costs, though he also said the union would keep the same number of members. Frontier appears to have met some of the union’s demands, and in part, the union’s anger appears to have been based on a misunderstanding of what Frontier would do — after years in which AT&T has cut or downgraded thousands of jobs in the state.

The deal is expected to close in the last quarter of this year, pending approval by the Federal Communications Commission and by the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority, which opens its hearings Thursday at its offices in New Britain.

 

Connecticut Income Gains Outpace Nation in First Quarter

by Categorized: Economy Date:

Connecticut residents, though not necessarily the bulk of us, saw accelerating income growth in the first three months of 2014, outgaining the nation as a whole for only the second quarter since the start of 2013.

Personal income grew by 0.9 percent in the state in the winter quarter to an annual rate of $221.5 billion, placing Connecticut as the No. 16 state in growth, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis.  The nation grew by 0.8 percent in the quarter, to an annual rate of $14.4 trillion.

Despite trailing the nation in recent quarters, Connecticut’s lead in per-capita income remains secure, at $60,847 for 2013, the BEA reported previously. The No. 2 state was North Dakota at $57,084 on the strength of its oil boom, but that state was the biggest decliner in the first three months of 2014, losing a colossal 2.9 percent of its income amid declining crop prices and oil price volatility.

Washington state saw the fastest growth in income, at 1.4 percent in the winter quarter.

None of this says much about how typical families are faring. Personal income is a measure of all income before taxes, and Connecticut is largely driven by Gold Coast wealth, combined with the relative lack of vast populations in poverty.

Back9Network Signs Deal With DirectTV, Hiring Aggressively

by Categorized: Entertainment/Tourism, Media, Telecommunications Date:

Back9Network, the startup golf lifestyle TV and online programmer, said Monday it signed a multi-year deal for a channel on DirecTV, its first television contract.

The deal means Back9 will immediately hire between 30 and 40 additional employees in downtown Hartford, adding to its existing staff of about 50, company president Carlos Silva said. The hiring has already begun.

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford. Courtesy of Back9Network

Artist rendering of the Back9Network studio on Constitution Plaza in downtown Hartford.
Courtesy of Back9Network

Back9, with offices in the Phoenix building and a studio under construction across Constitution Plaza,, also said it will open the studio in August, in time to launch the DirecTV shows in September.  Founder and CEO Jamie Bosworth had told me earlier this year that work was progressing on the $7.5 million studio at the site of the former Spris restaurant, but many people were skeptical it could thrive without a national TV contract.

Back9 has raised about $30 million including a controversial state package of $5 million, and has hired some big names, notably Ahmad Rashad as executive producer and host. Although Bosworth and others at the media company had said they could make it work with an online audience only, a national TV contract was widely seen as the sole route to success.

Rashad will host The Ahmad Rashad Show, a “behind the scenes” look at the world of golf, as one of three, half-hour shows at the core of the Back9Network programming.

Rashad, center, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.  John Woike/The Hartford Courant

Rashad, center left, with Bill Murray, left, and Scott Burrell at far right at the 2012 Travelers Pro-Am in Cromwell.
John Woike/The Hartford Courant

The others are “Ball Hogs, “inside the never-before-seen world of the men and women who risk their lives diving for ‘white gold’ in ponds and lakes; and Golf Treasures, which will “follow prominent golf collectors Ryan Carey and Bob Zafian, owners of Green Jacket Auctions, as they travel the globe on a mission to hunt down and acquire the world’s rarest and most sought after golf memorabilia.”

In all, Back9 will produce about 1,100 hours of original programming in its first year, including ten original prime time series and live shows three times a day.

Terms of the DirecTV deal were not disclosed.Under the deal, as is typical in cable or satellite TV “carriage” contracts, both Back9Network and DirecTV will sell advertising for the shows. Ad sales staff is part of the current hiring, which mostly comprises production employees, Silva said.

“We’ll be evaluating more staffing as we move through the fall,” Silva said.

The company could also be eligible for additional state aid through the film and digital production tax credit program. That state assistance is not available for live shows, but much of the content on Back9 will be recorded productions.

Some productions will be done as a partnership with other companies and some will be exclusively created by Back9.  Rashad will be in Hartford, Silva said, because of his broader role as executive producer.

Among the names on Back9Network’s talent roster, Jennifer Bosworth, the wife of Jamie Bosworth and a former reporter on FOX CT, is no longer with the company, Silva said. The Courant reported previously that the Bosworths are divorcing after three years of marriage.

It remains to be seen whether this deal leads to a cable deal with one of the major carriers, including Comcast, which owns the Golf Network.  Bosworth, who testified earlier this year in Congress about the dangers of the proposed, $45 billion Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger, said Comcast was initially negative about signing on Back9, while Time Warner was warm to the idea — until the merger was announced.

DirecTV is seeking federal approval for its own merger with AT&T, a $49 billion deal that would catapult AT&T into a major position as a TV provider.  It’s unclear whether AT&T would pick up Back9 on its U-verse TV package if the merger were to go forward.

Bosworth had also said that the satellite providers, including DISH Network and DirecTV, did not typically roll out their own new programming. But that picture is changing as everyone from Amazon to Netflix is producing or buying exclusive content.

DirecTV will place Back9 on channel 262, near other lifestyle channels, Back9 said.

“This long-term agreement provides us with a strong initial television distribution-base and sends a clear message to the marketplace of our goal of becoming a fully-distributed lifestyle network,” Bosworth said in a written release.

Why Metro Hartford Tops “American Dream Cities” List

by Categorized: Economic Development, Economy Date:

Metro Hartford often fares well in surveys that measure quality of life, but this one is a real surprise. The capital region came out No. 1 in the newly released “American Dream Cities 2013″ ranking of the largest U.S. metro areas, by Xavier University in Cincinnati and an Ohio marketing firm.

Metro Hartford is not just on top — it’s far and away ahead of the No. 2 metro, Jacksonville.

How can this be? Despite rosy predictions by a national real estate firm, the Hartford area housing market remains ho-hum. Job growth throughout the state was subpar last year, income gains have been spotty, the core city has an ex-mayor fighting a jail term and the governor is facing a tough battle after raising taxes three years ago.

We might think this is another of the many idiotic lists based on nothing that pollute the webosphere, but no, it’s based on scientific polling of random populations.

“The folks that live there feel really good about the lives they have,” said Greg Smith, a Xavier professor of information systems and director of the American Dream survey.

Okay then. It’s a broad look at social, personal and civic measures, not just economic. And it’s about how people feel, not just how well they’re doing by measurable standards such as income or home values.

Far from just owning a home and holding a middle-class job, the “American dream,” Smith said, “is all these things from having freedoms to having economic prosperity to having a clean physical environment and on and on.”

American-Dream-Cities-Report-2013-2In a series of monthly national surveys of about 1,000 people responding to 139 statements, Hartford came out on top in several sub-categories including “economic conditions,” “diversity,” “freedom of expression,” “support of friends,” “fruits of my labor,” “leisure activities” and “social status.”

And we aced my own personal favorite, “support of someone special.”

It’s a good thing that having a dysfunctional core city didn’t matter.

The ranking calls itself a measure of cities, but it’s not that at all. It looked at the 52 metro areas with at least 1 million people; Metro Hartford, with 1.2 million residents in 2012, the latest year with available Census data, is the nation’s 46th largest metro.

Here’s the ranking of the top seven and the bottom six in the American Dream ranking, produced by Xavier and the Burghard Group, a “place-branding” firm in Ohio. Index values are shown for each.

BEST:

  • Hartford, 111
  • Jacksonville, 107
  • Riverside-San Bernardino, Cal., 106
  • Miami-Fort. Lauderdale, 106
  • Rochester, N.Y., 105
  • Columbus, Ohio, 105
  • Raleigh, N.C., 105

WORST:

  • Grand Rapids, Mich., 95
  • Pittsburgh, 94
  • Nashville, Tenn., 93
  • Sacramento, Cal., 93
  • Oklahoma City, 90
  • Birmingham, Ala., 90

The biggest metro areas tended to be in the middle of the pack. The list is a bit of a head-scratcher not because Hartford came out on top, but because places such as Oklahoma City and Pittsburgh have seen a renaissance in recent years that often shows up on quality-of-life surveys.

And Texas is the land of job and population growth. Before the survey, Smith said, “I’m thinking to myself, of course Texas is going to win.”

But growth is not the same as satisfaction, and it’s possible that some central cities are doing well while the metro areas around them are not.  Metro Hartford has a core city of just 10 percent of its population, so the city matters less in metro rankings than cities elsewhere.

Metro Hartford fared very well in how people feel about their jobs and their colleagues, but not so well in how they feel about their pay and benefits, and as we’d expect in a slow-growth state, not so well in job mobility.

Regardless, we will take the good with the bad. The report opens with a large photo of downtown Hartford in the winter when the Hartford 21 apartment tower was under construction, under the title, “American Dream Cities 2013.”

The obvious conclusion is that if metro Hartford is to upgrade its professional baseball franchise and make it work as a diamond asset for the region, it needs to do so as a region.

Months After Exiting Connecticut, Rifle-Maker Honors New State

by Categorized: Firearms, Manufacturing Date:
The PTR-91 South Carolina Commemorative Edition Courtesy of PTR Industries

The PTR-91 South Carolina Commemorative Edition
Courtesy of PTR Industries

When PTR Industries announced last year it would flee Connecticut for the firearms-friendly state of South Carolina, it made a public statement of defiance and political will.

The maker of military style, semi-automatic rifles was founded and grounded in Bristol  but on April 4, 2013, when the governor of its home state outlawed its only product in the fallout of the Sandy Hook tragedy, the time to move had come.

Underneath the public blustering lay a series of private decisions by employees, some wrenching and lonely. We don’t move easily in the Land of Steady Habits. By Dec. 10, the start of the month-long company trek to Aynor, S.C., 21 of 47 PTR managers and workers had committed to exit Connecticut.

“Some of them may have decided that this was not enough of a cause to relocate their entire life,” said John McNamara, the PTR vice president of sales and administration.

PTR engravingNow PTR is marking its public statement and the private decisions that supported it with the “South Carolina Commemorative Edition Rifle,” a black-and-brushed-nickel weapon that sports engraved palmetto tree and crescent moon insignias, complete with three 20-round magazines.

“This rifle symbolizes a long journey that we’ve taken in just over a year, selling our homes, moving our families, leaving our friends,” McNamara said. “What this rifle symbolizes is all the turmoil that we’ve been through to get where we are today.”

And the freedom that drove all that upheaval, a notion McNamara raises often.

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Clergy Group Presses Waterbury Hospital On Services

by Categorized: Health Care Date:

As Waterbury Hospital’s merger and for-profit conversion nears, the latest group to step up pressure to maintain services is an association of clergy members organized under the Naugatuck Valley Project.

The group, led by Bishop Lionel French of the Gospel Tabernacle Ministries, delivered a letter Wednesday signed by 48 area clergy to the hospital and its chairman, Carl Contadini, requesting a meeting “to discuss the importance of the community benefits that Waterbury Hospital has offered to the community for many years, and our concern that they be preserved in the event of the sale of the hospital to another entity.”

That “entity” is Tenet Healthcare Corp. of Texas, a for-profit, 77-hospital chain that is expected to receive state approval to take over Waterbury Hospital later this year. A bill passed by the state legislature this spring and signed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy this month clears the way for the transaction, under which Waterbury would lose its not-for-profit status.

Tenet also has agreements with Bristol, Rockville General and Manchester Memorial hospitals to take over those institutions, though those applications are not as far along. The deals have led to concern by community groups that the conversions would lead to lower levels of services.

The hospitals, including Waterbury, have all said they are satisfied that protections are in place to assure that all critical services are kept in place. But no one is able to make promises because even without the mergers, the hospitals are in some cases seeing cutbacks amid financial pressure.

Nationally, studies have shown no clear evidence that conversion of not-for-profit hospitals to for-profit chain ownership has led to cuts in patient offerings.

Saint Francis Hospital, Stop & Shop Teaming Up With Supermarket Clinics

by Categorized: Health Care, Retail Date:

It’s time to roll out the old one-liners about throat cultures in aisle 2, right next to the peanut butter. Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center said Tuesday it will open permanent clinics this fall in Stop & Shop supermarkets in Simsbury and Manchester — accelerating trends in both industries.

The clinics, branded Saint Francis FastCare, will open at the Stop & Shop locations on Bushy Hill Road in Simsbury in September and on Broad Street in Manchester in October. They’ll be staffed by advanced practice registered nurses, who are licensed to prescribe medications.

The clinics “will provide care for common, non-urgent illnesses and ailments such as cold and flu symptoms; administration of flu and shingles vaccines, or vaccinations for children going to summer camp or school; ear infections, insect bites, poison ivy, minor sunburn, sinus infection, and sore throat. On-site tests for rapid strep, urinalysis, urine pregnancy test, monospots and TB skin tests will also be available,” Saint Francis said in a written release that makes clear they are not for life-threatening situations.

The clinics, with extended hours to 8:30 p.m. on weekdays, will be the only primary care clinics in supermarkets in central Connecticut, Saint Francis said. They will take insurance and Saint Francis and Stop & Shop intend to open more locations in the future, hospital spokeswoman Fiona Phelan said.

Unlike larger, free-standing clinics, the supermarket locations do not need state approval. They are popular in some parts of the country, part of the supermarket industry’s effort to offer more services such as banking to attract customers, and the hospital industry’s effort to expand community-based offerings as a lower-cost, higher-profit option.

The two clinics would add ten full-time positions in total, employees working for Saint Francis Care, the hospital’s parent organization.

FastCare is a brand developed by a third partner, Bellin Health of Green Bay, Wis., in 2006. Around that time, health care providers in Connecticut and elsewhere announced partnerships with supermarkets. But the trend did not explode as some people predicted, perhaps because customers prefer to buy their food and treat their flu in separate places, and perhaps because of concerns by physicians that the clinics were not generally staffed by medical doctors.

“Immediate referrals will be made to a physician when symptoms exceed the clinic’s scope of services,” Saint Francis said Tuesday. “After each visit, a report will be sent to the patient’s primary care physician.”

Colorado Gov. Offers Marijuana Advice To Connecticut

by Categorized: Consumer, Government, Politics Date:

Forty years ago when he was graduating from Wesleyan University, John Hickenlooper couldn’t have imagined that he’d be back on campus giving advice to the state of Connecticut on how to run a vast marijuana retail network.

Or maybe he could imagine it.  As a full participant in that time and place, Hickenlooper, class of ’74, now says, “I’m way past any point of saying I didn’t inhale.”

Either way, he was back at Wesleyan in Middletown over the holiday weekend, breathing the cleaner air of an honored alumnus as governor of Colorado, which fully authorized pot sales for recreational use at the start of this year.

“So far we’ve rolled it out pretty well,” Hickenlooper said in a talk he gave about legalization Saturday — not, apparently, aware of his pun. “The industry so far recognizes, they’ve got to behave responsibly.”

Colorado, which previously sanctioned marijuana for medical use, now has 250 licensed retail locations, with 100 up and running, along with 61 heavily regulated “manufacturing” sites, mostly growers, and two testing facilities.  Connecticut legalized pot for medical use in 2012 and we expect to see some or all of the six licensed dispensaries open this summer.

“My advice to Connecticut would be to go slow on the recreational,” said Hickenlooper, 62, in response to a question I asked. “I tell all the governors to go slow. We don’t know what the implications are going to be for our kids.”

Now they’re finally worried about the kids? Hickenlooper, in fact, has been hesitant all along. He initially opposed legalization but now has the job of making it happen smoothly.

Full disclosure here, I’m on the advisory committee at Wesleyan that helps the administration organize on-campus seminars and discussions, though I wasn’t involved in Hickenlooper’s visit.

“You don’t realize until you’re trying to create a regulatory framework how complicated it is to make everything work,” he said.

That includes walking a line between marijuana advocates and the business community, making sure motorists aren’t driving stoned and working around the fact that possessing the drug is still a federal crime are all issues. The feds have told Colorado they’ll “find other things to prosecute” as long as the state keeps pot out of the hands of kids and organized crime.

The issues are endless. “Edibles have become a big deal,” he said, but what is a dose? One man who ate too much ended up killing his wife. As a result, the legislature passed a law requiring clear labeling right on the edible product itself — not just the packaging.

Full legalization is coming everywhere, sooner or later, so Connecticut clearly can’t stay put with its small handful of growers and stores. And since we’re a state that loves our sin taxes, it’s a way to pad the coffers.

Hickenlooper isn’t comfortable with that. “I don’t think state revenues should be dependent on something that’s not good for your citizens,” he said.

We ought to get past that guilt trip easily. To borrow the Colorado governor’s phrase, Connecticut is way past any point of saying we don’t tax vices and addictions.

Not-So-Easy Money On The Boughton Campaign Trail

by Categorized: Labor, Politics Date:

It might not do much to ease unemployment among Republicans, but Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton is offering what he says is a quick buck.

The Boughton campaign is advertising to hire petition circulators, at $2 per signature plus bonuses, in his effort to amass at least 8,190 signed names by June 10.

Boughton and his running mate for Lieutenant Governor, Shelton Mayor Mark Lauretti, need the signatures in order to appear on the Aug. 12 primary ballot.  Boughton qualified with more than 15 percent of delegates at the GOP state convention this month but Lauretti later joined him, so they need the signatures as a ticket.

“It is a great way to make money fast,” says a release from the Boughton campaign issued Tuesday.

It sounds easy, but a circulator would have to be smart and efficient to make real money. There aren’t a lot of densely populated neighborhoods with active Republicans teeming the streets, especially in the part of the state where Boughton’s name is familiar.

Oh, and the circulators must be registered Republicans, under state election laws.

With some already in hand, the campaign needs about 500 signatures a day for the next 15 days to reach the goal.

The $2-per-signature offer is neither a desperate measure nor highly unusual, Boughton’s campaign manager, Heath Fahle, said Tuesday just after issuing the call. We don’t see it very often in Connecticut in part because of the 15 percent threshold for statewide primaries, but, he said, in some states there are people who make their living on election petitions.

No, the Boughton campaign doesn’t have any itinerant, carpet-bagging circulators.  “There are more people volunteering to help than there are accepting payment,” Fahle reports. “The outpouring of support from our volunteers has really been terrific…The staff spent literally the entire Memorial Day weekend dropping off petition forms in at least 60 towns, probably more than that.”

The Boughton-Lauretti campaign must also raise at least $250,000 in increments of $5 to $100 in order to qualify for $1.36 million in the primary in an effort to beat Tom Foley, who won the convention nod, and Sen. John McKinney. “It’s chewing bubble gum and juggling at the same time,” Fahle said.

The campaign checked with the state Elections Enforcement Commission on paying circulators, but not with the state Department of Labor.

If the workers are considered employees, they need to receive at least the minimum wage for all hours they work. If they’re contractors, the arrangement must pass a so-called ABC test. Workers must be “free from direction and control,” for example, and they must be engaged in an “independently established trade.”

Nancy Steffens, a Labor Department spokeswoman, said it was impossible to tell from Boughton’s materials whether the arrangement would meet the standards.