Analysis: ACEA cites need for regional economic diversification in South Jersey

The Atlantic County Economic Alliance announced on Friday a new analysis has predicted that the economies of the two most-southern counties of the state will take a hit this year.

The analysis said there will be a 24.1% decline in local Atlantic-Cape May County economic production for 2020, resulting in large and long-term disruptions.

According to the report’s author, Dr. Richard E. Perniciaro, the impact will be huge since the region relies heavily on its seasonal economy (tourism, hospitality, gaming). Perniciaro most recently served as both the executive vice president of facilities, planning and research at Atlantic Cape Community College as well as the director of the Center for Regional and Business Research.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered numerous businesses during peak earning periods in the second and third quarter, with more expected to close in the fourth and beyond. Roughly 30% of the region’s jobs are in leisure and hospitality, compared to 9.5% for all of New Jersey.

Lauren Moore, executive director of the ACEA, said the economic disruption came at a time when the region’s economy was significantly improving.

“The early 2020 data showed that the area was off to a healthy start before travel restrictions and stay at home requirements kicked in,” Moore said. “This makes the economic loss to the region even more significant.”

She also said there would have been a worse impact had it not been for the presence of the FAA William J. Hughes Tech Center and regional medical facilities like AtlantiCare and Shore Medical Center.

The center, which has more than 5,000 workers, is operating virtually throughout the pandemic, Moore said.

Moore emphasized the need for economic diversity, pointing to the fact that since 2009, the regional economy has taken five hits from major economic events, including the Great Depression, Hurricane Irene, Hurricane Sandy and five casino closures.

Brett Matik, chairwoman of the ACEA, said despite COVID-19, the alliance will continue to push for economic diversification, citing the creation of the National Aviation Research and Technology Park and and Aviation Innovation Hub.

“The ACEA is currently working on a post COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy that includes a component focuses on health smart airports and air travel” Matik said.

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