In wake of COVID-19, let’s reopen and rebuild N.J. on sound, long-term fiscal footing

I have been part of New Jersey business community for half a century. I have lived and raised my family in this state.

New Jersey is blessed with some of the best demographics in the country and our location is unparalleled. In the past, we have leveraged those attributes to create a thriving, vibrant economic powerhouse that consistently attracted the best businesses and workers from around the country and around the world.

That is, unfortunately, not the New Jersey in which I live today.

I look around our state and I see an economy in turmoil, a business climate continually ranked at the bottom of national surveys, and a multitude of businesses struggling to survive in an atmosphere of uncertainty.

It is incredibly frustrating to me that a state with such immense resources and assets, as well as an unparalleled workforce, continues to wallow in, at best, economic mediocrity.

Adding to my frustration are the things I see and hear coming from Trenton, which are only more of what has dragged down New Jersey to begin with — more taxes on businesses, an ongoing barrage of costly mandates, no meaningful incentive programs for economic growth and a budget that is out of touch with the austerity required during the current pandemic.

We are headed for economic chaos. When we get there, recovery will be extremely problematic.

Ironically, while the COVID-19 pandemic has been one of the most difficult challenges New Jersey has faced in my lifetime, it also has brought to us a tremendous opportunity.

Over the next year, we will be reopening and rebuilding our state economy. Now is our chance to rebuild it on sound, long-term fiscal footing that will again make New Jersey an economic engine where all citizens have the chance to prosper.

To accomplish this, we need a robust recovery plan and a budget that inspires us to reach higher and grow our way back to prosperity.

To take advantage of this opportunity, our elected leaders need to acknowledge the magnitude of the problems we now face and reach out to our best and brightest citizens to collaborate on a bold economic development plan that puts New Jersey on a consistent upward economic trajectory; one that puts us on a strong competitive footing against our neighboring states; that offers incentives for businesses to relocate here and stay here; that offers opportunity to all of our citizens; and that makes New Jersey more affordable and competitive.

New Jersey has rebounded from the worst economic and natural disasters thrown at it — from wars and economic depressions, to pandemics such as COVID-19, to catastrophic storms like Superstorm Sandy.

We rebounded because our leaders brought together diverse groups in the state, put aside politics and individual agendas, and united on a recovery plan that helped everyone get back on their feet.

Do we really want to be characterized as mediocre, divided and uncompetitive?

It will take political courage and compromise to chart this new course to economic prosperity, and stay with it when the going gets tough, but that is what great leadership is all about.

I have seen New Jersey do it before. We can do it again.

But it must start with a plan and a budget that inspires us to reach our enormous potential.​

Tom Bracken is the CEO and president of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, based in Trenton.