Does state need to bring back commissioner of commerce? The consensus: Yes

Panelists, potential governors all agree state needs bring back cabinet official solely concerned with business community

It was the question of the day at the ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo on Wednesday: Does the state need a commissioner of commerce — someone specifically appointed to oversee the business community? It’s a position the state has had before, but eliminated.

The consensus among business leaders — and potential governors — was “yes.” They just took different paths to the answer.

Diane Wasser, partner in charge of EisnerAmper, said doing so was a “No-brainer.” Jim Kirkos, the CEO of the Meadowlands Chamber, and Chris Abruzzo, the vice president of business development at New Jersey American Water, both agreed wholeheartedly.

So did three of the announced gubernatorial candidates: Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, state Sen. Jon Bramnick (R-Westfield) and former Assemblyman Jack Ciattarelli — they just got to yes in different ways.

Ciattarelli has long campaigned with a platform that puts business first; he reiterated that.

Baraka said it’s important to put all business first, pointing to the state’s recent disparity study that showed Black and brown businesses have been left out when it comes to government contracts.

“We need to make sure we are the best in the business at developing economic opportunities in the state by making sure that every part of the state is a part of that,” he said.

Bramnick tried to equate the issue to one-party rule, which didn’t seem to connect, but he was definitive in what he would do if he got into the top spot.

“If I’m there, I can guarantee you that the person sitting next to me in the cabinet will be the commissioner of business,” he said. “We’ll have a commissioner of labor and commissioner of business.”

Gil Medina, an executive vice president at CBRE, was perhaps the most qualified to answer the question. He not only previously served in the role (in Gov. Christie Whitman’s administration), he was part of the process of eliminating the position.

It is something he now says he regrets.

Tom Bracken, the CEO of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, clearly feels there is a need to bring it back.

“The Department of Commerce would coordinate all the economic activity in the state of New Jersey,” he said. “It will provide us with folks we need I think to enhance our business economy.”

A no-brainer, so to speak.

“You get things done when you focus on things, and you manage things in a focused way,” Bracken said.