In spite of recession, chamber ‘flying high’

Despite the national recession, an initiation of a new board vice-chairman and a petition in support of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport construction, it was same old, same old for the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce at its annual meeting Thursday morning.

At the two-hour meeting, held over breakfast at the Omni Hotel and keynoted by Wall Street Journal economics editor David Wessel, members of the Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors praised what he called the positive state of New Haven’s economy, despite a national downturn. In his speech, Wessel explained how rampant foreclosures and a weakening national credit line contributed to the current U.S. recession. He later emphasized the need to improve the quality of education in New Haven public schools in order to provide for a better economic future.

According to board officials, the Chamber’s 214th year went swimmingly.

“Your chamber is flying high,” chamber Chairman Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93 proclaimed at the beginning of his speech. Morand is also Yale’s associate vice president for New Haven and State Affairs.

Morand said that despite the national economic downturn, the budget of the New Haven chamber is “in good fiscal shape” this year. The chamber maintains its budget through investments and membership fees. Later in the meeting, chamber President Tony Rescigno confirmed that the Chamber made a positive net income and had passed expectations this year.

After an introduction of new members to the chamber, Washington, D.C., resident Wessel took the stage in his hometown of New Haven and discussed the current state of the national economy.

“There is no question we are in a recession,” Wessel added. “But the risk of a really, really bad depression outcome has been minimized.”

Through a “complete failure of regulation,” he said, questionable loan practices led to a national foreclosure crisis, which subsequently forced all major private credit companies to cease lending out money.

Between 1,500 and 3,000 New Haven residents are at risk of losing their homes, Robin Golden, a member of New Haven Mayor John Destefano Jr.’s task force studying New Haven’s foreclosure situation, told the News earlier this month. The number of annual foreclosures in New Haven has increased more than 75 percent since 2005, she continued.

In order to address the problems, Wessel suggested, the lending companies should continue loaning money in order to push money into the economy and drive it forward.

After providing an update on the nation’s economy, Wessel pushed for an increased focus on New Haven education. Although he said he noticed the construction and renovation of public schools in the area, he said there is still more to be done.

“I’m really happy to see the physical construction,” he said. “But what really matters is not the look of the classroom but what goes on in the classrooms.”

Earlier in the meeting — following a small pitch for a petition in support of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport expansion inserted in every meeting program — Dennis Regan, a partner in the accounting firm McGladrey & Pullen, L.L.P., was introduced as vice chairman of the chamber board of directors. He was unanimously voted in by the rest of the board, board officials said at the meeting.

Also at the meeting, Morand announced he would give the Youth @ Work program $10,000 on behalf of the University.

“This is a substantial contribution,” he said after the meeting.

Youth @ Work is a 27-year-old youth development program that provides internship opportunities for New Haven high-school students.

Morand added that University officials “have been regular officials both in hiring and providing financial support to the program.”

During the meeting, chamber officials awarded the Corporate Heritage Award — given to a business that has worked in the Greater New Haven area for at least 100 years — to SARGENT Manufacturing Company, an 1857 door hardware company that has had a New Haven branch since 1864.

The Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce — which includes over 2,000 businesses — is a federal, state and local pro-business lobbyist organization that helps some of its business partners in planning.

Comments