WESTON, Conn.—It took a global pandemic and a severe economic downturn to do what once seemed impossible: make the Connecticut suburbs cool again.

Connecticut stumbled in recent decades on a backfiring bet that people wanted to live in small towns. Instead, young families and professionals rushed to cities like nearby New York and Boston. Early this year, Connecticut found itself sliding into a new recession having never recovered from the last one. No state fared worse during the post-2009 economic expansion.

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