State chamber, NJBIA to head Affordability Summit later this month

Michele Siekerka is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association. – New Jersey Business & Industry Association

Michele Siekerka acknowledges that affordability means different things to different people.

“For someone contemplating retirement, it’s about what you’re going to tax on my retirement income,” she said. “For a small business owner, it’s about what you need to pay to run your business.

“For a millennial, it’s about being able to live here and get a job here as well as being able to afford higher education.”

Everyone, she said, acknowledges the state has an affordability crisis.

That’s why Siekerka, the CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, and Tom Bracken, the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, are coming together to co-chair the Affordability Summit on Monday, Sept. 18, at the First Baptist Church in Lincoln Gardens in Somerset.

The event, organized by OpportunityNJ, aims to organize the priorities and concerns of New Jersey’s business community to help shape what it is calling an “Affordability Agenda” for the next governor and next Legislature.

Simply put, Siekerka said, it’s time to make affordability the basis of everything the state does.

“The affordability agenda says, every policy we’re going to contemplate in the state of New Jersey has to go through the filter of regional competitiveness; that is, how do we stack up against policies in Pennsylvania and New York?” she said. “We better make sure we’re as competitive, if not better. We can really move forward if we focus on that.”

Top gubernatorial candidates Kim Guadagno and Phil Murphy have been invited to the event, as have all members of the New Jersey State Legislature. They will hear plenty.

The event will feature a keynote address by former New Jersey Secretary of State the Rev. DeForest Soaries, as well as presentations from Steve Van Kuiken (senior partner at McKinsey & Co.); James W. Hughes (professor and former dean of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University) and Tom Byrne (founder and managing director of Byrne Asset Management).

Following the presentations, attendees will participate in breakout sessions for brainstorming discussions centered on tax reform, workforce development and jobs, regulation reform and infrastructure.

News media panels involving several New Jersey reporters, including ROI-NJ’s Anjalee Khemlani, also will be part of the program.

Bracken said the event is another step toward making New Jersey a better place to do business.

“We anticipate some very dynamic and interactive dialogue, with the mission of making New Jersey more affordable,” he said.

“We realize we can’t solve every problem overnight, but this business forum will mark a comprehensive start to making progress on these critical issues.”

Bracken said the event is a follow-up to the well-attended and well-received Business Summit, held in Atlantic City two years ago.

Many of the organizations involved in that event formed OpportunityNJ, which its founders describe as a nonpartisan, grassroots coalition dedicated to promoting action to make New Jersey more competitive and affordable for everyone.

According to its members, because it has no direct ties to political parties or government, ONJ feels it serves as an independent voice to provide data-based education about New Jersey policy actions — and to support policies that encourage job growth, affordability and prosperity in the state.

Siekerka calls the coalition of more than a dozen business organizations an “unprecedented” coordination in the state. But, she notes, the event is meant for more than just business leaders.

“A total diversity of opinion is needed,” she said. “We want our business leaders of all size to be there, but we need our taxpayers and residents there, too, because we need to understand from their vantage point what they need to stay here.

“This is all about stopping the outmigration of residents in New Jersey, and we can’t do that without hearing directly from them and thoughts they have on solutions.”

Note: To attend the Affordability Summit on Monday, Sept. 18, register online at To help offset the cost of the event, there is a $50 registration fee. Registration will begin at 8 a.m. on the day of the event, with the summit beginning promptly at 9 a.m.