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College Town, Entrepreneurial Ecosystem

Trinity College President Joanne Berger-Sweeney

Joanne Berger-Sweeney
Photo by Al Ferreira

Recent headlines about Hartford have shared some great news:

“Indian Tech Firm to Hire 1,000 at Planned $21M Hartford Hub”
“Stanley Black & Decker Bringing New Facility to Hartford”
“Hartford Ranks Sixth in Percentage of Millennials with College Degrees”

As they say throughout our city, Hartford Has It! Trinity College has always been in Hartford, of course—its first campus was on land where the state Capitol now stands. Today we aim to be even more meaningfully of Hartford, to connect the classroom and the community more deeply and productively, providing a truly distinctive liberal arts education in one of the most socioeconomically, culturally, and ethnically diverse cities in the country and serving as an engine of innovation and creativity in the region.

At the heart of those efforts are two of Trinity’s most appealing qualities: our history of innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit. These qualities are found in abundance in our alumni, many of whom are making us proud by making a difference right here in Hartford. Restaurateur Jamie “Bear” McDonald IDP’00 and his wife, Cheryl, have one of the fastest-growing restaurant businesses in the state and were honored recently with Leadership Greater Hartford’s Polaris Award for their dedication to the community. Jose Ramirez ’09 is working to develop a long-vacant space on Asylum Street into downtown’s first new condos in more than a decade. And Jamie Calabrese Brätt ’05 is the city’s director of planning and economic development and a key member (along with Trinity College and our very own Jason Rojas M’12) of the Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Places Planning Team that won a share of $30 million in state funding to spark economic development and investment in innovation.

There are many others like them throughout Hartford and Connecticut, who contribute enormously to the increasing vitality of the region. As one of 11 institutions of higher education in the Greater Hartford area, Trinity contributes a great deal, too. Personally, I’m honored to serve on the boards of the MetroHartford Alliance, Hartford HealthCare, our region’s chamber of commerce, and the Capital Region Development Authority, which has been leading the redevelopment efforts downtown and throughout the city. I was especially delighted to serve as co-chair of the Connecticut Higher Education Innovation and Entrepreneurship Working Group with Mark E. Ojakian, president of the Connecticut State Colleges and Universities system.

Among the most visible and exciting manifestations of our engagement with Hartford and our entrepreneurial spirit is our new presence at Constitution Plaza, which is helping to spur a resurgence downtown and to cultivate Hartford as a vibrant college town. The new Liberal Arts Action Lab that began operating there in January is a partnership with nearby Capital Community College in which students and faculty from both schools work with community members to research and help find solutions to local challenges. It’s an innovative educational undertaking—and a terrific experiential learning opportunity for our students—that’s sparking social innovation and positive press in the city.

Meanwhile, UConn’s new downtown campus—a $140-million investment to create a “neighborhood campus”—is steps away, and an advanced manufacturing, training, and research center from Stanley Black & Decker is moving into One Constitution Plaza, near the Liberal Arts Action Lab, later this year. Today, Hartford has twice as many residents living downtown as there were when I arrived in 2014 and a slew of restaurant, arts, and entertainment offerings.

These and other recent developments are helping to retain more talented Trinity graduates in Hartford and to attract other highly educated, highly skilled residents. According to a recent Brookings Institution report, the Hartford metro region ranks sixth in the country for highest percentage of millennials who are college graduates. Fifty percent of millennials in our region have college degrees, ranking us ahead of such powerhouse metros as New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Philadelphia.

And as educated millennials flock (or stay) here—attracted by the city’s diversity, creativity, walkability, and livability—employers are noticing. In March, Infosys, an Indian information technology and consulting firm that had $10 billion in revenue last year, announced it would establish one of four U.S. hubs in Hartford, promising 1,000 high-paying tech jobs by 2022. I joined several local higher education leaders and partners in industry and government in making the pitch to Infosys to come to Hartford, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the outcome. In making the announcement, Infosys President Ravi Kumar said he was impressed by the network of businesses united in the effort and noted that local colleges and universities would be important in the recruitment of local employees. “The talent is here,” he said. And I agree!