More than 600 business and government leaders in New Jersey gathered at the Borgata at Atlantic City on Wednesday and Thursday for the ReNew Jersey Business Summit.
The event, sponsored and organized by the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce, served as the networking replacement for the Walk to Washington, which was cancelled by the pandemic. But it was intended as more of a working conference, one that would produce suggestions for the state.
With that, a look at some thoughts that came out of the event’s five panels:
Panel 1: New Jersey’s Economic Climate
The question: What problems continue to hold back New Jersey’s economy and what are the key things that need to be done to ignite a full-throttle economic recovery?
· Replenish Unemployment Insurance fund with federal pandemic aid to reduce or eliminate a payroll tax increase on employers.
· Release more of the $3 billion in federal pandemic aid to help the business community hire more people and recoup losses from the pandemic.
· Appropriate state agencies should collaborate with employers, colleges and labor organizations to enhance the talent pipeline through effective college and apprentice programs.
· More funding for child-care industry and employees who can’t afford child care.
· Utilize the business community and collaborate on ways to improve the state economy in the form of quarterly meetings with the governor and legislative leaders.
· Reestablish the state Red Tape Commission to reduce regulations and pave the way for more development.
· Go into communities that are underserved and have not traditionally been part of the economy to find workers. Provide them with the training and/or the access to compete.
Panel 2: Health Care Costs
The question: With COVID-19 and its variants expected to remain a factor in our efforts to reNew Jersey, what can we expect of the pandemic in 2022 and what new ways can we look at providing and controlling healthcare costs for businesses?
· Assist hospitals and other health care settings with the skyrocketing costs of nursing and clinical staff.
· Promote telemedicine, tele behavioral health and tele dentistry to provide easy health care access.
· Continue to break down barriers that health care facilities face when they expand or innovate.
· Reduce non-medical emergency room visits by addressing social determinants, such as homelessness, food insecurity and mental health.
· Employers must take a leadership role in employee health through corporate wellness programs that encourage screenings for blood pressure, cholesterol, colonoscopy, etc.
· Employers should continue to work with government in promoting vaccines to prevent another pandemic.
Panel 3: Infrastructure and Environment
The question: New Jersey is flush with monies for infrastructure projects. Which infrastructure projects should be prioritized in our efforts to ReNew Jersey and, as we dig new tunnels, create new energy sources, expand mass transit, and build new roads, will businesses be impacted by new taxes or regulations aimed at protecting the environment?
· In anticipation of an influx of federal dollars, state regulatory agencies should be fully staffed to adequately manage the process of responding to applications for funds. Increase the transparency of this process; perhaps establish an infrastructure czar or oversight board.
· Involve businesses to improve the collaboration between state, county and local levels to reduce duplication.
· Prioritize shovel-ready projects with a regional impact, such as roads and highways between ports and distribution centers. Establish a coalition between business, environmentalists and government to prioritize these projects.
· Invest in sewer and water systems.
· Close the digital divide by paving the way for companies to invest in broadband and eliminate New Jersey’s “broadband deserts.”
Panel 4: Taxes and Incentives
The question: New Jersey’s highest-in-the-nation tax rates are a significant obstacle in our efforts to ReNew Jersey. What can the business community recommend to New Jersey state leaders in the way of tax cuts, financial incentives or support policies that will immediately help business and ignite a robust economic upturn?
· Reinstate a Department of Commerce so business agencies can work cooperatively.
· Keep taxes at the same level or below neighboring states so New Jersey can continue to be competitive.
· Provide tax relief/incentives for small- and medium-sized businesses.
· Incentivize government workers to more efficiently execute regulatory and other approval processes.
Panel 5: Labor Shortage and Workforce Development
The question: A significant impairment in our efforts to ReNew Jersey is the great difficulty business faces finding willing and/or qualified workers. How does New Jersey effectively address the labor shortage in the short-term and ensure a well-educated and qualified workforce in the long-term?
· Expand incentives for employers to recruit, hire and train employees; make employers more aware of these incentive opportunities.
· Colleges and businesses should provide students with more real world experiences through internships, mentorships, co-ops and research projects to help preserve New Jersey’s competitive workforce.
· Provide public funding for higher education that is more in line with national average.
· Push for New Jersey to get its share of J1 Visa employees from overseas.
· Extend the pandemic-time emergency suspension of maximum number of hours student workers can log per week.
· Employers should allow for hybrid work schedules, when possible. Provide flexibility and accommodations to employees.
· Employers should be more inclusive in their hiring process, and reassess their expectations of candidates to cast a wider net and attract a diverse workforce.
· Employers should embrace positive work culture initiatives in an effort to recruit and retain good workers.