Talking it out: ReNew Summit creates honest discussion (good and bad) about state’s business climate

Tom Bracken, Mike Egenton and the rest of the crew at the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce endlessly advocate for the business community in New Jersey — it’s what they do.

Their job, their goal, their mission … gets easier when others join the chorus.

That’s why Bracken said the comments from Johnson & Johnson CEO Joaquin Duato were the highlight of the two-day ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo, which concluded Wednesday morning in Atlantic City.

“When he was asked what the state needs to do to make it better for business, he said the leaders need to provide more resources to business, which is what we have been advocating for decades,” Braken said. “When you hear that from the CEO of the most iconic company in the state of New Jersey, and from someone like Joaquin, who has such a great perspective on the state, it really means something.”

Bracken said he felt the event brought key issues to the forefront.

There was honest discussion on both sides of the issues — about taxes, about incentives, about business climate. And not just the items the business community wants to change, he said.

“The goal of this summit was to put everything on the table, making sure that all the positives and the negatives that we have here are recognized — and, I think they were,” he said. “It was very enlightening.”

Of course, topic No. 1 always is the cost of doing business.

“Nobody likes the tax situation, and not many people like the new budget, but they are still willing to look beyond that because of the positives that we can focus on to make the state better,” he said. “That cheerleading aspect, that emphasis on the positives of New Jersey, are why we started this summit. And the last day and a half absolutely put a crescendo on what we thought we could accomplish.

“I think what we need to do now is move it forward and leverage it.”

Even the high cost of living.

Newark Mayor Ras Baraka — a Democrat on a panel with two other declared gubernatorial candidates, Republicans Jon Bramnick and Jack Ciattarelli — made the case that the high cost of doing business isn’t as big a factor as some feel it is.

And, if it were, Baraka argued, the state’s business climate ranking would be going down, not up.

“At the end of the day, the things that are heavily weighted (for the rankings) are workforce, transportation, infrastructure and investment,” he said. “The cost of doing business is weighted less.”

Baraka said the state needs to invest more in those areas — he talked about investing more at the Port of New York and New Jersey, an underappreciated asset. He said that type of investment would make the state even more appealing.

Bracken loved it.

“If that’s the type of debate we’re going to get in the next 18 months, it will be great,” he said. “The state needs to address business issues — the bad and the good.”

And, there’s plenty of good.

Just ask Public Service Enterprise Group CEO Ralph LaRossa, who had the bumper sticker line of the event when talking about how great it was for FIFA to pick New Jersey to host the final match of the 2026 World Cup.

“The world chose New Jersey, so maybe you should choose New Jersey,” he said.

The state chamber couldn’t have said it any better.