‘Next Normal’: CCSNJ offers state leaders recommendations on reopening economy

Chamber’s 17-page document offers thoughts in 6 key areas

Expand grant programs, especially for a new class of entrepreneurs … assure businesses, especially larger and more regulated industries, that they will have predictable lead times on reopenings … revamp the Restart and Recovery commissions and councils — and give them more relevance …. consider a geographic approach to reopening the state’s economy … and continue prioritizing underserved groups in the recovery.

These are just some of the ideas the Chamber of Commerce Southern New Jersey will present Monday to the Governor’s Office, the Legislature and other key stakeholders in a 17-page report: “Preparing for the Next Normal: Recommendations for Supporting New Jersey’s Business Community and Reopening the Economy.”

The report is the result of the effort of approximately 100 members from various industries and business sizes, many of which are high-level CCSNJ officers and directors, from working groups.

The groups began meeting in late February, when hope started to build that a successful COVID-19 vaccine rollout would lead to a greater opening of the state and — most importantly — its business community.

CCSNJ CEO Christina Renna said the goal was to create a structure for how state government can effectively reopen the economy and guide businesses successfully. More importantly, it comes with a hope that the state will learn from the victories and mistakes of the past year, she said.

“This report reflects the needs, concerns and goals of the New Jersey business community from the businesspeople themselves, all of whom are somewhat frustrated but still anxious to help state government be part of the reopening solution,” she told ROI-NJ. “With a tremendous influx of federal dollars headed to New Jersey, there is real opportunity to be creative on the business assistance front.

“This, combined with policy changes and new considerations outlined in the report, can go far to ease the burden on business, provide greater clarity and move the state’s economy in the right direction.”

The report details the efforts of six key working groups. It is thorough and comprehensive — yet simple and straightforward. Here is an overview:

Business assistance programs

More targeted programs are needed.

  • The Economic Development Authority just announced Phase 4 of the Small Business Emergency Assistance Grant Program. CCSNJ, assuming this program will again be oversubscribed, suggests NJEDA prepare to launch Phase 5 as soon as possible after Phase 4 closes.
  • The CCSNJ recommends the expansion of the emergency grant program, as business owners do not want more loans, even if they are low-interest or forgivable. Most are overleveraged and simply need cash to assist in their recovery.
  • The CCSNJ recommends reassessing what constitutes a “small” business, as multiple state programs have varying definitions of “small” based on employee count, making the programs inconsistent and frustrating for those eligible for some, but not all programs.
  • The CCSNJ encourages the state to expand and revamp the Ignite program, which is intended to help startups, but currently has somewhat rigid application criteria. The CCSNJ recommends expanding this program to include sole proprietors and microbusinesses created during the pandemic to assist them with workspace costs in a postpandemic environment.

Predictable lead times

Employers need time to take the safest measures possible to protect their employees and customers.

  • The CCSNJ recommends the state provide businesses the time they need to adjust to new requirements, train and prepare staff and purchase needed personal protective equipment. Without enough time, the state is setting up the business community and, therefore, the economy, for failure.

Executive order and legislative action review

Executive orders should be reviewed to ensure businesses are not being hindered by previously established guidance that were specifically issued to combat the spread of the virus.

  • The CCSNJ feels positive governmental actions that were taken over the past year should be reviewed and the government should consider if they should remain in place after the conclusion of the public health emergency.
  • The CCSNJ strongly recommends that the assessment of executive orders also contain a cost analysis of how executive actions impacted revenues and the overall economy as the health emergency continues to be extended. This assessment is no different than a fiscal estimate performed regularly by the New Jersey Office of Legislative Services.

Revamp Restart and Recovery groups

Some of these groups have been criticized for being underutilized at the peak of the pandemic. The experts on these commissions and councils have a wide variety of expertise that should be leveraged.

  • The CCSNJ recommends that these groups be converted into long-term planning councils with a specific focus on reopening the economy and safely returning to the next normal — and that their input be used to drive smart decisions looking ahead.

Ensuring equity

During the height of the pandemic, 58% of New Jersey’s women- and minority-owned businesses furloughed 75% or more of their staff, compared with 43% of white male-owned businesses.

  • The CCSNJ strongly supports a package of bills sponsored by state Sen. Troy Singleton (D-Moorestown), which would aid in the development and growth of minority- and women-owned businesses in New Jersey, helping those that were able to survive the pandemic do so and thrive with greater state government support.
  • The CCSNJ recommends that state government consider developing a program for employers through the Department of Human Services, in coordination with the Department of Labor & Workforce Development and the Department of Education, which would connect nonprofits that provide job coaching and training for the disabled community to private entities.

Geographic reopening approach

When New Jersey’s stay-at-home order was put in place, it was done meticulously, but, unfortunately, in a one-size-fits-all fashion that did not take into consideration the health data and demographic considerations of certain areas of the state.

  • The CCSNJ supports the Legislature’s passage and governor’s signature of A4910/S3093, which establishes a county-based mitigation plan to allow businesses to operate during the pandemic. A geographic reopening plan that assesses demographics and health data is a proven method that continues to be used successfully by other states and should be the model that New Jersey adopts in the coming weeks and months.

The report said all of these recommendations come with the understanding that the next normal will vary greatly from the old one.

“As the state and its residents continue to prepare to return to life as it was pre-pandemic, it is with the acknowledgement that there will be some aspects of life that will look different,” it said. “The state must start planning now for the ‘next normal’ and how it will impact its residents and businesses.

“Businesses need stability and certainty to plan for a safe return and increase consumer confidence, something that is difficult to achieve, given the uncertainty of the virus. However, the state must take the lead on presenting a clear and concise roadmap to open the economy as individuals begin returning to work and businesses safely reopen.”