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Keeping it in the family

General Electric Co., headquartered in Fairfield, built the engines that power more than 900 Embraer E-series jets currently in service around the world.

When the Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer rolls out its second-generation E-series jets starting in 2018, the engines will have been built not by GE but by its neighbor to the north, Pratt & Whitney, as announced by the East Hartford-based aerospace company last week.

Bet you didn’t know that JetBlue airliner you flew on last week wouldn’t have gotten off the ground if not for a Connecticut-based company.

Or maybe you drove instead of flying.

Those EZPass plazas across New England and the tristate region that allow you to breeze through tolls – to find out who is responsible, look no farther than Norwalk-based Xerox Corp., which, as Chief Strategy Officer Uta Werner said at a recent event sponsored by the Association for Corporate Growth, is doing far more than document management these days.

Companies are looking for homegrown talent and homegrown ideas to invest in for their futures.

Fairfield County is bookended by some of the world’s most prominent research institutions in Yale University in New Haven and Columbia, New York University, Cornell and others in New York City.

But that fact alone is no reason not to further develop what resources exist here within the county.

That 2012 was an unusually strong year for global equities markets has masked the fact that financial services companies, long the lifeblood of the Fairfield County economy, are struggling.

Across the county, proposed commercial and mixed-use developments that might have been no-brainers before the recession struck have yet to get off the ground. Developers and real estate brokers have near-unanimously pointed to a lack of expansion on the part of Fairfield County’s financial services tenants as the primary culprit for the slowdown.

The state’s and county’s job markets have yet to take off like much of the U.S. as a whole has in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis.

The answer, though, is staring us in the face: STEM, short for science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

If southwest Connecticut seeks to stay competitive, it is vital for the county’s universities and business development programs – with the help of private investors and government – to continue to place emphasis on developing the STEM fields.

Between the likes of GE, Pratt & Whitney parent United Technologies Corp. and Xerox Corp., just to name a few, Connecticut is home to some of the most technologically advanced manufacturers and service providers in the world.

And it’s not just Fortune 500’s that are getting into the action.

A small Stamford nonprofit, Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, has awarded more than three-dozen grants for $23 million over the past decade to researchers seeking an edge against various types of cancer.

One such grant went to a University of Pennsylvania research team studying the viability of genetic engineering to treat leukemia.

In the corresponding clinical trial that was made possible by the ACGT seed funding, nine of 12 participants who had been suffering from acute forms of leukemia are currently in remission, prompting international drug company Novartis to invest $20 million in the expansion of the study.

In another example, last week, the Stamford Innovation Center unveiled a new business accelerator, Lean Launch Ventures. LLV seeks to have participants develop a product — even a very rough prototype – before, rather than after, pitching to investors, with the thought that doing so reinforces to potential investors that the product is viable.

Included among the program requirements is a stipulation that at least one team member must be trained in a high-tech field.

Sense a theme here?

Bridgeport University dean, researcher and professor Tarek Sobh told the Business Journal that the STEM fields hold tremendous opportunity for students and for businesses.

“When you look at STEM education — by any economic indicator — it’s what matters, especially in this day and age,” Sobh said.

He went on to say, “STEM focuses on what is needed (for) the growth of the economy. … Finance, technology, science, math and engineering build growth and strength for years to come.”

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