Legacy trip: Murphy OK that biggest impact of East Asia Economic Mission likely will be felt after he leaves office

Governor says he hopes it will be known that his administration always did what was right for New Jersey

TAIPEI, Taiwan — One theme could be traced through the nine-day 2023 New Jersey East Asia Economic Mission trip that ended Sunday with an 18-hour journey back to the Garden State: The greatest impact of all of the meetings and Memoranda of Understanding with various business sectors, institutions of higher education and government officials likely will be felt after Gov. Phil Murphy leaves office.

And he’s OK with that.

Murphy, in fact, said it’s a part of politics that he readily accepts — and one he hopes all of his predecessors follow.

“That’s the nature of this business — planting seeds,” he said. “And, it’s funny, it occurs to me now more than it did six years ago.”

Murphy pointed to conversations on generative artificial intelligence, which seemingly were part of every discussion he had.

“That probably is mostly going to come to fruition well after I’ve hung up my cleats, but that’s the nature of the beast,” he said.

Murphy said it’s all about putting the state first.

“I would hope that, down the road, there would be an understanding that we did the responsible thing, we passed the baton, we sprinted through the tape, we did right by New Jersey, whether or not I was in office or not,” he said.

The governor, in an end-of-event discussion with ROI-NJ, spoke on a number of topics about the trip that included stops in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan.

Murphy, along Choose New Jersey CEO Wes Mathews, New Jersey Economic Development Authority CEO Tim Sullivan and first lady Tammy Murphy, were on point at the dozens of meetings and panel discussions — pitching the state’s growing economic metrics and its values.

The biggest takeaway? Murphy said the state’s education system — which feeds into a pipeline of educated workers — always garnered the highest reaction.

“Unquestionably, the sector that resonated the most was education, the quality of our workforce and our workforce pipeline,” he said. “Talent dwarfed everything else. That isn’t to say that other stuff wasn’t important, but it wasn’t even close.

“We got that everywhere.”

Murphy said he also got a sense that each of the areas had economies that fit well with New Jersey. One, however, stood out — but not for the reason you might think.

“I think the thing that probably took my breath away the most was the momentum in Japan,” he said.

Murphy, who worked in Japan with Goldman Sachs a generation ago, said you couldn’t miss the economic momentum there.

“I started going to Japan in January of 1990 — and the last time I was there was fall of 2003,” he said. Japan was morose for that entire period of time. It had just come off its peak in the 1980s and had deflation that lasted decades. It lost its place in the world, and China had eclipsed it, which was particularly offensive for them because it was in Asia.

“To come back and see that place on fire was a ‘holy cow’ moment.  Korea and Taiwan also have momentum. But I kind of expected that.”

All three areas present opportunities for New Jersey, he said. There are great opportunities for academic collaborations — the seven universities on the trip signed nearly two dozen agreements — but, also, opportunities in STEM (leading with AI research application) and industry. Opportunities in energy (particularly clean energy) appear abundant, too.

That’s why Murphy had so long wanted to come to the Pacific Rim.

The mission trip had previously been planned for fall 2020, only to be sidetracked by the pandemic.

“We kept hearing that other states had been here, and we wanted to say, ‘We were going to be first in line,’” he said.

The past week was a case of better late than never for the governor — and a huge starting point for the state.

“We’re planting seeds here that are going to be born and come to fruition years from now,” he said. “I’d be lying to you if I said it didn’t occur to me, it does.

“But, I’m cool with that.”