Courtesy of Jeffrey A. Sonnenfeld

AdvanceCT, a nonprofit organization that focuses on economic development within the state of Connecticut, announced two weeks ago that Senior Associate Dean for Leadership Studies of the Yale School of Management Jeffrey Sonnenfeld will be taking over as one of the organization’s co-chairs. 

Sonnenfeld will co-chair the organization alongside Margaret Keane, the executive chairwoman of the board of directors of Synchrony. The two will replace former PepsiCo CEO Indira Nooyi SOM ’80 and former Webster Bank CEO James Smith as heads of AdvanceCT.  Sonnenfeld became involved with AdvanceCT in early 2017 after General Electric, or GE, moved its headquarters from Connecticut to Boston. The organization aims to stimulate economic development within Connecticut by encouraging companies to relocate to the state as well as by helping retain and expand existing companies within the state.

“The CEO of GE pulled the company out, and moved to Boston,” Sonnenfeld said. “People thought it was a big blow, and there had already been a downcast spirit in the state. Prior governors and mayors had gone to prison for misconduct, and there was a flight of major businesses from the state.”

Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont became involved with AdvanceCT around the same time as Sonnenfeld and has since played a large role in shaping the organization’s current form. 

Lamont and Sonnenfeld were both involved in a 2017 symposium at the School of Management that aimed to study the “downcast” spirit within Connecticut’s economy and why GE left the state. Sonnenfeld said the symposium brought together a diverse group of business leaders within the state, ranging from manufacturing to pharmaceutical industry leaders as well as political figures such as former Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy.

Business leaders at the symposium addressed a lack of political will within the state to address problems such as a $7 billion state deficit, inadequate investment into infrastructure and an overburdened state pension system, Sonnenfeld added.

“The largest reason GE gave for leaving Connecticut wasn’t any specific problem but rather a larger concern about the political ability of the state to move forward economically,” Sonnenfeld said. 

After this symposium, Sonnenfeld became involved with AdvanceCT, serving on the organization’s Board of Directors under then-co-chairs Nooyi and Webster. 

As part of its work, the organization directs people’s attention to the many positive aspects of Connecticut — namely, its highly-educated workforce, its central location between Boston and New York and its strong network of colleges, according to AdvanceCT President and CEO Peter Denious. He told the News that the organization has multiple goals and objectives.

“AdvanceCT has four major focus areas: marketing or showing the benefits of the state to businesses and people that aren’t here yet, business retention which essentially is ensuring that businesses here have all the resources they need to thrive, research and special projects which is a catchall part of the organization,” Denious said.

Denious added that the organization also works to simplify the process of moving to Connecticut for businesses by creating a centralized hub for all the forms and documentation required, while also actively working with companies to ensure a smooth transition.

AdvanceCT is also heavily involved in attracting businesses to the state, Sonnenfeld said. According to Sonnenfeld, the organization listens closely for rumors or information about companies wishing to move to the state and acts upon them to draw companies here. In the last few years, multiple Fortune-500 companies have moved their business to Connecticut. Moreover, General Electric appliances also made the decision to move some of its business back.

While drawing in businesses is an important part of the organization, Denious emphasized that AdvanceCT also prioritizes enhancing communication and interconnectedness between the 169 municipalities and towns within the state.

“AdvanceCT is unique in the sense that we are focused on economic development for all parts of the state, from small towns to major cities like Stamford or New Haven,” Denious said.

Denious added that AdvanceCT has played a large role in Elm City. The organization helped with the building process of 101 College Street by drawing businesses to the building, as well as to the larger New Haven area.

Thomas Cavaliere, business associate at AdvanceCT, said he was attracted to the organization because he was able to see the direct impact of his work on the state.

“I was looking for a job where I could have that impact, and have a relationship to it as well,” Cavaliere told the News. “And so I was looking at a lot of organizations in Connecticut, of which there are plenty, but it really stood out as an organization I could work for, where my skills would be applied in value. And I would be able to see the direct consequence of my work.”

AdvanceCT was founded in 1993.

Yash Roy covered City Hall and State Politics for the News. He also served as a Production & Design editor, and Diversity, Equity & Inclusion chair for the News. Originally from Princeton, New Jersey, he is a '25 in Timothy Dwight College majoring in Global Affairs.