Step 1 in N.J.’s post-pandemic recovery: Invest in business community ravaged by COVID-19

When the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce hosted a ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo in Atlantic City in April, more than 600 business and political leaders came together to discuss ways to revitalize New Jersey’s economy.

The summit came at an opportune time, because, right now, New Jersey is staring at an $11 billion revenue windfall, thanks to the $3 billion in unspent American Rescue Plan money combined with the state Treasury’s announcement that tax revenue over the next 14 months is projected to be nearly $8 billion more than originally projected.

The summit generated two days of nonpartisan and insightful discussions. But it was more than just talk. It resulted in a set of specific recommendations designed to ignite New Jersey’s economy and make our state more competitive and more affordable, which in turn leads to economic expansion.

After the summit, the New Jersey Chamber shared the recommendations with state leaders and legislators in Trenton, and we have had numerous discussions about the recommendations with them.

It is evident from these discussions that the summit’s recommendations are resonating in Trenton.

State leaders are taking action on these key recommendations that came out of the summit:

  • The summit recommended replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Fund without adding tax burdens on employers. Legislation is currently moving in the State House to provide such relief.
  • The summit recommended releasing upward of $3 billion from the American Rescue Plan fund for business grants to support the critical capital needs of the business community. Gov. Phil Murphy said in the weeks since our summit that he is open to adding more funding to the state’s Main Street Recovery Fund beyond the $50 million currently allocated in the proposed 2023 state budget.
  • The summit recommended more funding for the child care industry and financial help for employees who cannot afford the rising costs of child care. Recently, the New Jersey Economic Development Authority approved the creation of a $54 million child care facilities improvement program. In addition, a package of bills addressing child care issues is advancing in both the Senate and Assembly.
  • The summit recommended more resources and programs aimed at workforce development. A series of bills is working through the state Legislature now that allocates funds for pre-apprenticeship programs, requires state entities to promote manufacturing careers to students and allows tax credits to businesses employing persons with developmental disabilities or recovering from substance abuse disorders.
  • The summit recommended that state leaders schedule regular meetings with the business community to discuss ways to improve New Jersey’s economic condition. The first of those meetings has taken place.

Of course, these recommendations represent only a few of those generated by the summit. Among some of the other ideas we hope our leaders will seriously consider are:

  • Expanding incentives for employers to hire and create jobs, such as enhancements to the governor’s “Return and Earn” program.
  • Getting businesses involved in helping eliminate the duplication of efforts across federal, state and local governments.
  • Establishing a commission such as the proposed Government Efficiency and Regulatory Review Commission to reduce regulations and pave the way for more development.

Everyone in Trenton agrees the revenue windfall represents an unprecedented, once-in-a lifetime opportunity to invest in our state.

How to use the windfall has become a hot topic. Suggestions run the gamut from keeping the excess revenue in reserve for a rainy day, to paying down state debt, to reducing the tax burden on our citizens and putting additional funds into the state’s public worker pension fund.

These are all sensible ideas with laudable goals, but, if we really want to see a robust New Jersey recovery, the state needs to prioritize investments that result in long-term growth instead of short-term fixes, and that means investing in our business community.

An investment in the business community is an investment in long-term growth

New Jersey’s business community was ravaged by the COVID-19 lockdown, and most businesses are still dealing with the fallout, notwithstanding significant federal help and almost $850 million in state grants. We believe state leaders need to again look at every way possible to help business.

Our state Treasury officials and both state rating agencies (Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s) have asserted that the state’s current and healthy finances — propped up by inflationary revenue and federal aid — can only be sustained with long-term, reliable and sustainable sources of revenue.

The only way the state can generate reliable and sustainable sources of revenue is by investing in, and building, a robust economy with a strong business community as its foundation. Organic economic growth should be a desired outcome of the investment of the state’s current riches.

New Jersey’s revenue windfall gives us the means to invest substantially in our business community with the goal of creating one of the strongest economies in the nation. A robust economy is the best way to support the programs that will help attain Gov. Murphy’s vision of the nation’s fairest economy.

Let’s not squander the opportunity.

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