Five state legislators, Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli and Withum CEO Bill Hagaman have been named Business Advocates of the Year by the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the organization announced Monday morning.
All seven are being honored by the chamber for their overall support of the business community and for helping steer New Jersey through the pandemic.
The state chamber said it selected the bipartisan group of lawmakers (three Democrats, two Republicans) based on their voting records, bill sponsorships and initiatives:
- Vin Gopal (D-Ocean Twp.);
- Teresa Ruiz (D-Newark);
- Michael Testa Jr. (R-Cape May Court House);
- Assemblyman Roy Freiman (D-Hillsborough);
- Assemblyman Chris DePhillips (R-Midland Park).
The group will be recognized at the New Jersey Chamber’s Legislative and Business Awards Reception, to be held Wednesday at Bell Works in Holmdel.
Chamber President Tom Bracken saluted the group.
“The honorees were selected primarily because each has taken substantive action to help New Jersey’s economy persevere through one of the most difficult times in modern history,” he said.
“Each has been proactive in their support for employers and employees, particularly in a time when there is no blueprint for action. The business community is fortunate to have individuals such as these navigating New Jersey through the pandemic and into a brighter future.”
Here’s a look at the honorees (in alphabetical order):
DePhillips: The deputy Republican leader, he recently partnered with a fellow legislator to launch AnchorNJ, a statewide coalition of leaders from state institutions using their collective knowledge to help local economies recover from the pandemic. In 2019, DePhillips was a prime sponsor of the New Jersey Angel Investor Tax Credit Act, which was signed into law. The state chamber has also supported the following bills from this session, sponsored by DePhillips:
- A109, which provides assistance to business accelerators and incubators and the startup businesses located within those business accelerators and incubators;
- A115, which repeals a surtax imposed on certain businesses;
- A3756, which supports activities of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program.
In addition to his public service, DePhillips is vice president and general counsel for Porzio Life Sciences LLC.
Last year, TechUnited: New Jersey recognized DePhillips as its 2020 Legislative Champion of the Year.
Freiman: He meets regularly with industry stakeholders, including the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, to discuss the economy and how to improve New Jersey’s business climate. In March, Freiman recognized women community and business leaders in his district, in honor of Women’s History Month.
The state chamber supported the following bills, sponsored by Freiman, which became law:
- A5706, which appropriates $20 million to the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to support food and beverage establishments impacted by the pandemic;
- A5246, which expands opportunities for restaurants, bars, distilleries and breweries to provide outdoor dining, and permits certain sales at seasonal farm markets in response to the public health emergency;
- A4589, which extends the time period during which seasonal retail consumption license holders may sell alcoholic beverages, in light of the pandemic;
- A5863, which appropriates $100 million to the Department of Community Affairs for studying and providing grants and technical assistance to licensed and registered child care providers;
- A5443, which makes $25 million in federal funds available to the NJEDA to support microbusinesses.
Gopal: The majority conference leader, he has been a strong advocate for the business community throughout the pandemic. He sponsored several bill packages that became law, providing funding and accommodations that businesses needed to continue to operate.
The chamber supported additional bills, sponsored by Gopal, that were signed into law, including:
- S3115, which modifies the process for minors to obtain working certificates;
- S2508, which revises the law concerning notaries and notarial acts, and authorizes electronic signatures.
Gopal knows firsthand what it’s like to be a business owner, as he owns and operates small businesses in Monmouth County. Further, he has experience promoting economic development, serving on the board of the Northern Monmouth Chamber of Commerce and formerly serving as president of the Hazlet Township Business Owners Association.
Hagaman: He is managing partner and CEO of WithumSmith+Brown, the 25th-largest accounting, tax and advisory firm in the country. Hagaman has been a champion for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce Foundation and the business community at large — and he has come up big during the pandemic.
By offering a professional virtual platform, his firm, Withum, partnered with the state chamber at the very beginning of the pandemic to provide informational webinars for members of the business community struggling during the pandemic. Additionally, Hagaman led by example by contributing much-needed funding to the chamber foundation’s Jobs for America’s Graduates — NJ program and encouraged fellow chamber board members to join the efforts, resulting in more than $100,000 raised. That ensured the continuation of the chamber foundation program. This earned Hagaman and Withum the National Network Leadership Award in December from the national JAG program.
Persichilli: Appointed commissioner of the Department of Health in August 2019, mere months before the pandemic struck. She and her team have done an outstanding job coordinating with federal, state and local stakeholders to secure the necessary resources to get New Jersey through the pandemic.
With the help of her leadership, the economy was able to safely reopen, and New Jersey reached its original goal of vaccinating 70% of eligible adults by June 30. Most recently, the commissioner and the Department of Health partnered with the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce and local and regional chambers to boost vaccination efforts.
Prior to state service, Persichilli served as the acting CEO of University Hospital in Newark.
Ruiz: The president pro tempore, she is chair of the Senate Education Committee and a member of both the Budget and Appropriations Committee and the Higher Education Committee. She has been a strong advocate for improvements in education and workforce development. In the last legislative session, she sponsored a package of bills to promote and enhance apprenticeship opportunities — many of the bills were signed into law.
During the recent budget process, Ruiz was instrumental in securing funding for child care revitalization, as well as the chamber foundation’s Jobs for America’s Graduates program. The state chamber supported the following bills, sponsored by Ruiz, which became law:
- S3993, the New Jersey Economic Recovery Act of 2020, which creates tax incentives, financing and grant programs for businesses that grow in New Jersey;
- S3990 appropriates $100 million to DCA for purpose of studying and providing grants and technical assistance to licensed and registered child care providers;
- S973 requires the state labor commissioner to establish an apprenticeship mentoring program for women, minorities and people with disabilities.
Testa: He has been a vocal member of the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee, advocating for transparency and fiscal responsibility in government. After the COVID-19 Emergency Bond Act was enacted, Testa led the charge in challenging the constitutionality of borrowing almost $10 billion without voter approval.
As a representative of the 1st Legislative District, one of the key areas of tourism in our state, he fought for the struggling businesses that had been affected by the pandemic. Like many legislators, Testa led a business recovery tour, encouraging residents to visit the small businesses in his district.
The state chamber supported S2290, sponsored by Testa, that permits corporations to hold shareholder meetings in part or solely by means of remote communication during state of emergency.