The clout of Connecticut's technology sector has generally been small, like so many of its companies.
Technology executives had hoped to change that impression this year by landing public support - state tax breaks, incentives and economic development money - on a level not previously seen. But since Feb. 9, when Gov. M. Jodi Rell revealed her budget proposal for the next two fiscal years, the tech sector has found itself fighting just to keep what is has.
There are some signs of advancement, such as in the life sciences, where Connecticut bioscience officials have Rell's support for $20 million from state coffers for stem cell research in a multiyear deal.
The medical device manufacturers are also going to the legislature this year, seeking $50 million to $100 million to build the industry's presence in Connecticut.
But Rell also cut existing tax breaks benefiting technology companies by an amount equal to the amount of the stem cell funding. Lobbying continues on many fronts.
Still, it takes moxie to go after this kind of money in a year in which Rell faces a $1.2 billion budget gap and has proposed a combination of spending cuts and tax increases to close it - including some measures that would target technology firms.
Technology officials said that going after more state dollars is necessary if Connecticut wants to compete for new companies and the well-paying jobs that they bring, not to mention the hundreds of millions in venture capital that they attract every year.
"You gotta do it; other locations are doing the same thing," said Paul Pescatello, president of the bioscience industry group Connecticut United for Research Excellence, or CURE.
The $20 million sought for stem cell research is designed to lure or keep researchers working in Connecticut on the cutting edge of a promising but untested area of science.
High-profile industry members such as Yale and Pfizer, organized through CURE, lend monetary heft and political weight to such requests for state largesse, which can benefit everyone from the research universities and large pharmaceutical companies to the tiny biotechnology startups.
In stem cell research, it's not just about money, but opportunity. Advocates say that Connecticut lost a chance in 2004 to be among the first states to create a stem cell program when the legislature failed to adopt a bill affirming Connecticut's support.
There will only be so many of these centers, and they are forming now. If a state wants to have researchers in this cutting-edge field, it has to act quickly, they said. Under the policies of President Bush, federal funding cannot be used for stem cell research, with a few limited exceptions.
Rell supports the research with some funding, and this support is significant coming from a Republican governor in a budget year that is expected to be particularly tight.
Matthew Nemerson, chief executive of the Connecticut Technology Council, said that Rell's support for stem cell research is welcome, but hardly enough.
"There's no seed capital, there's no early-stage capital and there's no infrastructure in the state for an entrepreneur. Other states just really roll out the red carpet," Nemerson said.
On top of the stem cell funding, CURE seeks to have a portion of the income tax paid by new biotech employees returned to their employers to encourage new job creation. Officials also want to see corporate tax benefits extended to limited liability partnerships and limited liability companies, because research and development credits do not extend to these kinds of small firms.
Fail to provide stem cell funding in Connecticut, and neighboring New Jersey could easily lure coveted researchers from Yale or UConn, advocates for the funding say. The researchers take with them additional funding and the staff that they support, as well as any future potential for spinning off research into new companies.
The same goes for the medical device industry, which employs about 5,200 people in the region and could become a larger player in the state's economy. But that growth could easily stagnate if the region loses too many of its precision manufacturing workers, and if new companies aren't encouraged to form here.
That's why Joseph Bronzino, an engineering professor at Trinity College and president of BEACON, the Biomedical Engineering Alliance and Consortium, wants the state to act now.