When Barry Silbert, chief executive officer of a fast-growing cryptocurrency company, told his 300 employees in Manhattan about moving his headquarters to Connecticut, the reaction was less than enthusiastic.
“The common reaction was: Connecticut? Why?’’ Silbert told a crowd of nearly 400 business and political leaders at an economic summit in Hartford
Silbert, though, predicted that his industry-leading firm, Digital Currency Group, will prompt other companies to move, as well. After living and working in Manhattan for the past 20 years, Silbert, 45, decided to start a search that eventually turned down other spots in New York City and Westchester County, among others.
For years, politicians have complained about Connecticut’s slow job and personal income growth, along with lamenting the high-profile departures of the headquarters of corporate giants like General Electric and United Technologies. Connecticut, for example, is still struggling to replace all of the jobs wiped out by the pandemic.
But Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont and the business leaders who gathered for the state-sponsored session at the Bushnell in Hartford struck a more optimistic tone about Connecticut’s future.
One of the key reasons for choosing Connecticut, Silbert said, was the direct cooperation of Lamont and his economic development chief, David Lehman, who crafted a package that will award the company a $5 million grant in return for creating 300 full time jobs here. The company was offered little help from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio or former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“There is a tremendous, tremendous opportunity to create the epicenter of a number of industries,’’ Silbert said on the stage of The Bushnell. “I know my industry — fintech and crypto — we are going to turn Stamford into the crypto capital of the world. No doubt whatsoever.’’
The transaction has generated controversy because a company fund operated by Lamont’s wife, Annie, was an early investor in Digital Currency Group. Gov. Lamont said the interest was sold in April when Digital was searching for a new home — more than six months before the deal was announced with Connecticut.
Created by Silbert in 2015, Digital serves as the parent company for seven subsidiaries and has invested in more than 200 blockchain companies. One of its subsidiaries, known as Grayscale Investments, ranks as the world’s largest digital currency asset manager with more than $50 billion in assets under management. Along with Grayscale, an institutional trading subsidiary that is known as TradeBlock will move to Stamford.
After years of growth, the company now has about 1,000 employees worldwide and has a value of $10 billion.
Blockchain technology provides a record of transactions made in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency that is monitored via a network of computers that are linked in a network.
Lamont describes Digital as “new finance,’’ and the former UBS building in downtown Stamford as “old finance.’’
In an earlier speech to kick off the economic summit, Lamont said he spent 30 years as an entrepreneur in lower Fairfield County and often wondered what state officials were actually doing at the Capitol.
“Sometimes we just couldn’t figure out what was going on in Planet Hartford. That was a long way away‚’’ Lamont told the crowd. “It wasn’t that there was not a positive relationship. It’s not that it was a negative relationship. It was almost that there was no relationship.’’
That problem was among the reasons that GE eventually abandoned its longtime Fairfield headquarters under then-chief executive officer Jeffrey Immelt, who had succeeded Jack Welch.
“When Immelt pulled up roots and GE left, and when they said what was it, he said, ‘We just didn’t really have a relationship with the state,’ ‘‘ Lamont told the business leaders. “That’s what David [Lehman] and DECD and myself have tried to change.’’
Christopher Keating can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org