Choose New Jersey CEO Jose Lozano said the lack of tax incentive programs in the state is beginning to take a toll on the state’s ability to recruit companies. If the situation continues, Lozano said it could mean the loss of thousands of jobs — as well as untold reputational damage to the state.
“It is a bit of a reputational challenge, because we keep saying we are not only business-friendly, but we really want you here — but they’re seeing something else come out of New Jersey,” Lozano told ROI-NJ. “Folks like me have been telling companies we fully anticipate and expect something before the end of the calendar year. And here we are in the early part of January, and we don’t have anything.
“So, now I need to go back to a fairly long list of companies and say, ‘OK, what is your true deadline?’ And, unfortunately, I think there will be companies we will lose — and not only in North Jersey, but in Central Jersey and in South Jersey. This is across the board, in sectors, geography and size of companies. There are some significant jobs that I think we may lose if we don’t get something done sooner rather than later.
“I think no (incentive) programs in the next couple of months could mean the loss of thousands of jobs, not hundreds. I think we’re looking at thousands.”
The state has been without its major economic incentives since the Grow New Jersey and Economic Redevelopment & Growth programs ended July 1. Gov. Phil Murphy announced five potential replacement programs back in October 2018, but they have yet to come up for a vote in the Legislature.
Many have speculated the delay has been caused by the rift between Murphy and state Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-West Deptford) and South Jersey power broker George Norcross regarding the previous incentive programs. Others say the administration’s desire to have a cap — or limit — on the amount of incentives that can be awarded under Murphy’s programs is the problem.
Regardless of the answer, Lozano is left without what the administration has taken to calling a valuable tool in the economic development toolbox.
Lozano doesn’t know when that will end. He just knows he’s stopped guessing with potential companies.
“They will be looking for a timetable,” he said. “And, unfortunately, based on the last few months, I’m not comfortable providing a timetable anymore. Those are much tougher conversations. When the program sunsetted in the summertime, we had said, ‘Hey, we do know that the leadership is close, we anticipate things in the fall probably sometime shortly after the election, but before the new year.’
“So, there was something to point to. I’m not really sure what I’m pointing to right now other than apologizing and continuing to sell them on the other things that make New Jersey a desirable location.”
Lozano points to the usual talking points, all legitimate: educated workforce, prime location, great schools, proximity to New York City and Philadelphia. That can be enough for some. But Lozano knows he’s hurt by a lack of incentives.
“Last year alone, Choose New Jersey had about 60 wins of companies that are calling New Jersey home, either a second home or a primary home or doing some expansion in some variation,” he said. “A majority of those did not receive incentives.
“But there is a pool of folks that are looking to bridge the gap a little bit. They realize New Jersey makes a lot of sense, but they have some tough decisions to make. Do they still proceed with New Jersey without an incentive conversation, or do they actually turn away to some of our competitors? The jury’s still out on this.”
The good news: Lozano feels the lack of incentive programs does not hurt one of Murphy’s top goals — to bring more international companies to the state.
“With International companies, it’s a long game,” he said. “They’re looking about what is their best way to establish their company and grow. Proximity, location and talent means much more to them than an incentive that that comes with strings attached. If you take an incentive, there’s a whole host of checklists, and I think they’re just looking to make a decision and move on.”
Lozano, speaking from Choose New Jersey’s new offices in Gateway One in Newark, said he wishes he could have his full set of options when he brings companies in.
“Right now, all I can do is hopefully beg the administration and the Legislature to utilize my circular table and bring them up here and, hopefully, a deal can be broken sometimes sooner rather than later,” he said.
“There were companies that were looking to see a new program before the end of the calendar year with decision-making plans in Q1 of 2020. Unless something gets done in very short order, I think it will make the jobs of people at Choose New Jersey and of multiple folks in the economic development world extremely difficult.”