Q&A: Manufacturers ask N.J. officials about workforce training programs, reopening state, incentives for making PPE — and more

MEP’s state-of-the-state event gives business leaders chance to be heard … and get some answers

The New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program worked hard to get 32 state officials to participate in its virtual state-of-the-state of manufacturing event Thursday — and it got them to take questions, too.

That was appreciated, said Pat Marotta, CEO and president of Marotta Controls in Montville.

“I want to thank everyone for taking the time to join us this morning,” he said. “Just your presence here goes a long way to reassuring the state’s commitment to manufacturing.”

Marotta and others asked direct questions and got reasonably direct responses, as both sides discussed the most pressing issues of the sector. Below are some of the questions and answers, shortened for space.

And don’t worry if you didn’t get your question in. MEP is holding two more of these events this year.


John Baker, president, General A&E, Hackensack: How can New Jersey companies make sure educational institutions are training workers for the types of jobs that employers are finding difficult to fill — and many of them creating opportunities for pathways to careers in underserved communities?


Assemblywoman Shanique Speight (D-Newark): Companies can forge relationships with public officials, especially in their neighborhoods and their school district, to help create a more direct connection.

When it comes to the underserved communities, a lot of our young people don’t know (about these jobs). We can begin by bringing these opportunities to their attention so they can understand the kind of knowledge and skills and training that they should seek through their education, starting as young as middle school, through career days and information sessions, and throughout high school, so they’ll know.

Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo: Don’t be afraid to get involved yourself; reach out to your school districts, reach out to your community college. From Day One in the (Gov. Phil) Murphy administration, we’ve been working hand in hand with community colleges, with employers. But employers don’t know what they don’t know. We can get out there, whether it be through our industry partnerships, or the work we’re doing during the employment training committee, but, in the end, it’s about the manufacturer taking that step.

One of things that NJMEP has really brought to the fore — and I wish that other industries in New Jersey did what NJMEP has done — (is) bringing employers together to talk about workforce skills. So, take that step yourself and be out there, finding who’s doing this training in your area. We’re happy to help out, with the Department of Labor.


Lisa Montalbano, director of development, Employment Horizons Inc., Cedar Knolls: What strides are taking place that advocate for effective plans for reopen a larger percentage of all businesses?


Sen. Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.): S3093 is a bill sponsored by the Senate president (Steve Sweeney) and myself, which establishes a county-based mitigation plan to allow businesses to operate during the pandemic. It passed the Senate and it’s up for an Assembly vote this Monday. This is an important bill.

One of the challenges I think a lot of businesses had during the pandemic is that they didn’t really have the proper time to really plan. I think a lot of reasonable people understood they needed to shut down or they needed to go backwards, because cases dramatically increase at a certain point. The challenge we’ve had the last six months — and the greatest criticism I’ve had — is that there were no benchmarks or timelines on where we were going to go. And, if you’re a business owner, that’s extremely hard, extremely frustrating.

We can put public health and safety first, as we should, but we also need to plan, and we should know, ‘If our cases and our hospitalizations and our COVID rates are at this number on April 1, this is where we’re going to be there. For May 1, this is where we’re going to be.’ That lack of planning made it hard. Many other states already do this.

A regional reopening approach is also based on federal guidance that suggests that states tailor their reopening criteria to local circumstances. And the state as a whole may be a long way from fully reopening — that’s why we should embrace a county-based, regional approach, rather than a one-size-fits-all. For example, if the data shows that Cumberland County has low levels of COVID activity, I hate to see mom-and-pop shops suffering under continued restrictions because Bergen County has an outbreak.

That’s one of the main things that that really needs to be done as we move toward the reopening for the future.

Sen. Anthony Bucco (R-Denville): In addition to monitoring the spread, I think it’s important that the Governor’s Office look at adding manufacturers into the essential worker class in order to get the vaccination. The manufacturing sector should have been included in the phase 1A of the rollout of the vaccination. We have manufacturers here in the state that are manufacturing products for vaccine distribution, as well as COVID testing products and vaccine products.

The owner of a company in my district is concerned that, if one of his employees comes down with COVID, he could end up having to shut the entire plant down. And that will have a major impact on the supply chain. So, we need to think about not only looking at this regional approach, but also getting the folks that are doing these important jobs vaccinated, so that the industry can remain up and running.


Gary Fails, president, City Theatrical Inc., Carlstadt: Will the state of New Jersey provide any incentives or assistance for New Jersey-based companies that make personal protective equipment for local essential businesses and residents?


Sen. Linda Greenstein (D-Cranbury): In the New Jersey Recovery Act of 2020, there are incentives for companies to locate in New Jersey and a lot of sections that have to do with PPE and help for manufacturers.

Section 91 of the bill would establish the in-state preference for the procurement of PPE. If there is not an in-state responsible or advantageous bidder submitting a bid, then the contract would be awarded to the out-of-state bidder that would be most advantageous, looking at price and other parameters. PPE would include coveralls, face shields, gloves, gowns, masks, respirators and other equipment to protect the wearer from the spread of the disease.

Sections 106 and 107 provides a corporation business tax credit and a gross income tax credit for taxpayers making investments and creating or retaining jobs in the manufacturing of PPE in a qualified facility in the state. The credits would be temporary; they’d be allowed for periods ending in 2020, 2021 and 2022 for the incorporation business tax and taxable years 2020, 2021 and 2022 for the gross income tax credit. The maximum credit for an individual taxpayer would be $500,000; the annual program cap would be $10 million. And it would be $10,000 for each full-time employee whose job is related to the manufacturing of PPE, and there are $1,000 bonuses for qualifying businesses.

There’s also something in Sections 92-97, which is called the New Jersey Ignite Act, which is intended to foster early-stage innovation for businesses. The program would be structured as a public-private partnership through which the EDA provides grants to a collaborative workspace. This would include a business less than 3 years old, that operates within a targeted industry with at least one full-time employee but fewer than 10 and has less than $1 million in gross sales over the 12-month period, preceding its application for tenancy at the collaborative workspace. The targeted industries under this section are advanced transportation and logistics, advanced manufacturing — it’s quite a long list.


Pat Marotta, CEO and president, Marotta Controls Inc., Montville: What is the state doing to help combat and prevent and protect the manufacturers in areas of cybersecurity?


Melanie Willoughby, executive director, Business Action Center: The New Jersey Department of Homeland Security is very active in making sure that they have the information to share with businesses about all the cyber concerns that are out there, as well as having a newsletter that goes out. They also are willing to conduct an investigation. Connecting you with the New Jersey Homeland Security Department would be one way that the Business Action Center can help you.


Edward Russnow, president, MAC Products Inc., Kearny: What is the plan is for infrastructure spending in the state for this year and beyond?


Bucco: There’s some good news here. New Jersey is poised to see one of the biggest increases in transportation spending in recent years. The annual appropriation this year is about $2.6 billion. Some of those projects that we’re going to see go forward are the Portal North Bridge project ($770 million), the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden ($250 million) and Newark Penn State ($190 million) in renovation and upgrades. And that doesn’t include many of the roads and bridge projects that the Transportation Trust Fund is scheduled to fund and move forward.


Mike Seitel, CEO, Norwalt, Randolph: What type of coordinated effort is the state making with high school students about manufacturing jobs?


Willoughby: It’s very important to really have a major shift in the way parents look at the education of their children and the jobs that are available to them in the workforce for them to focus on. To that end, businesses have become much more involved in trying to build from the ground up getting schools to focus on advanced manufacturing programs at the high school level.

We have been growing advanced manufacturing programs in many of the county vo-tech schools. And to that end, the (New Jersey Council of County Vocational-Technical Schools), together with the (New Jersey Council of County Colleges), is now working very closely together to try to ensure that they are programs in which you can start in vo-tech high schools in advanced manufacturing, and then move into a county two-year program, where you can get credit for what you did in high school.

This is one of the ways that you can try to encourage students to go into manufacturing and still come out with a two-year degree. The NJBAC has been working with the vo-tech high schools as well as the county colleges to put together the list of all the programs that exist in the state, so that we can connect manufacturers with them. These are options in addition to apprenticeships. The options have grown considerably, but sometimes it’s hard to find them. I’d be happy to work with you and all of your colleagues.

Assemblywoman Betty Lou DeCroce (R-Parsippany): There is a bill that (Sen. Linda Greenstein, D-Cranbury) has advanced for us on the Manufacturing Caucus, which provides assistance to manufacturing businesses by having certain state agencies promote economic development and identify credentials needed for careers of modern manufacturing. It was moved out of committee in 2020, but the pandemic has slowed things down. It requires the commissioner of education, in consultation with the secretary of higher education and representatives of the manufacturing industry, to establish and maintain the state-recognized list of industry-recognized credentials in the advanced manufacturing field.

The list of these credentials will in turn assist county vocational school districts, institutions of higher education and the Workforce Development System in developing appropriate educational programs to train the personnel necessary to meet the advancing needs of manufacturing in the state.

The bill also requires the commissioner of education, in consultation with representatives of business and industry, to identify courses of study, careers in emerging manufacturing industries, including careers in industrial marketing, mechanical engineering, computer science, electronics and mechatronics.

What this bill is trying to do is bring all the entities together and provide a list, so we know what positions are needed to be filled to enhance and develop and enlarge our manufacturing industry here in New Jersey.