Tech activism: Booker says sector can play big role in creating more equitable future
Think your online platforms are too small to have impact? U.S. Sen. Cory Booker challenged viewers to think again Monday on a virtual TechUnited New Jersey Town Hall.
“If you have more than seven people following you, according to a Stanford study, you actually influence the thoughts of people in your circles,” Booker (D-N.J.) said.
In a conversation with TechUnited N.J. CEO Aaron Price, Booker emphasized the importance of tech’s influence in creating a more equitable future society, starting at an individual’s actions online.
“We are all sources of energy, and that energy is especially charged in a digital era,” he said. “So, we have to mind our own practices. Are you posting trivialities all the time? Are you posting anger all the time? Are you posting attacks that attack not just the policies of a person, but their very human dignity?”
Here are more of Booker’s thoughts on how technology can play a role moving forward:
On health care and public safety
The difference between us in the United States versus Taiwan and the number of cases we have — it’s just stunning. They have a card that you swipe when you go to the doctor; that’s their national health care system. I think they have eight deaths from their entire nation. The ability for us to fast forward in technology could literally be saving lives.
The fact that we are a nation that is not more productive and doesn’t use predictive analytics to intervene when people are in moments of fragility, whether it’s people who are facing addiction problems or mental health problems … there’s so much we could do to make ourselves safer as a country that doesn’t involve police and prisons.
On the power of going viral
When things go viral, and we have that momentum, that’s how the movements are started. And, you know, the Freedom Riders or the Montgomery Bus Boycotters, they didn’t have the tools that we have now.
I have watched how literally (online) movements can go after dictators globally or mount millions of dollars to help someone. We have these platforms that can do it. So, the question is, are we going to get justice fatigue?
On racist algorithms and biased tech opportunities
I know this personally because, when my parents tried to move into a house in 1969, they were steered away from places in New Jersey that were white communities. And it was just very active real estate steering. The problem is that you could find that happening online now.
The problem is that you could find that happening online through algorithms that have it look like, right now, I live in an inner-city community, a low-income neighborhood here in Newark. People could be using my ZIP code to deny me certain loan conditions or showing me certain housing.
I remember fighting in the Senate against people using predictive analytics about who would recidivate, and a lot of them were just very based on very racist things that end up becoming baked into algorithms that then really hurt everything from financing of homes to job applications, to even the things you might order online.
And then there’s other layers beyond just algorithm accountability. I remember years ago, when I was still mayor, I went to a black hackathon in Brooklyn. I was blown away by the conversations I had just about, even where our (venture capital) money goes, in terms of the massive gender biases and racial biases in angel investing and more.
On the U.S. digital divide
I think we take things for granted in New Jersey, because we are nationally so far behind our competitors. I mean, South Korea has virtually 100% broadband penetration, and we’re still struggling with millions of families that just don’t have it. And, even in communities around the state of New Jersey, there are homes that might have one device and four kids and a parent that needs to work from home.
When you ask, ‘What can I do?’ it’s just to be a part of a large chorus. It’s demanding that we as a nation, just like we did for the Eisenhower Highway Act, that we need a 21st century Eisenhower Super Technology Highway Act to make sure every student in America has the tools necessary not just to survive or get by, but to thrive in a digital era.
On inspiring action online
Ask yourself, so, what journey are you on right now? And how do your social media accounts reflect that? We are so much more powerful than we realize. Go through a self-audit of what you posted in the last month. And then say to yourself, does this reflect my sense of urgency for justice? Does this reflect me as an activist? If it doesn’t, then begin to do things that do link people to important information. Link people to ways that they can be activated. Link people onto the history of injustices in this country.
And, just by taking small actions, they reverberate into our circles and make changes in consciousness and therefore, changes in action and ultimately, that leads to changes in the justice that we have in our nation.
Murphy to ease capacity restrictions on NJ Transit
Even while acknowledging that ridership still is nowhere near where it was before COVID-19, Gov. Phil Murphy increased the capacity on New Jersey Transit trains and buses, eliminating the 50% limit.
Murphy acknowledged ridership is still down — especially on the train lines — but said he was making the change in anticipation of upcoming rush-hour scenarios needing to be able to handle more capacity.
Murphy said the state is lifting the limits currently enforced on NJ Transit and private-carrier buses, trains, light rail vehicles and Access Link vehicles, effective 8 p.m. Wednesday.
“As we have undertaken our restart and recovery, and as more New Jerseyans begin getting back to their jobs, we are seeing increases in ridership, which are quickly approaching 50% of the stated maximum capacity of these vehicles,” he said. “We want to ensure that people are able to get to their jobs and that the system continues operating as efficiently as possible.”
Murphy said the increased capacity should not be viewed as a decrease in concern about safety.
“To be sure, all other coronavirus mitigation efforts implemented by prior executive order — including the wearing of face coverings by both NJ Transit and private-carrier employees and customers while in all vehicles — remain in effect,” he said.
“And, through this order, face coverings are now also required in all NJ Transit and private-carrier indoor stations, as well as those outdoor stations where social distancing is not practicable.
“Do it for yourself and do it for your fellow riders, do it for the men and women who are making your trip possible. Make sure your mask covers both your mouth and nose — no chin guards. And, if a transit employee asks you mask up, they’re doing their jobs — please be respectful to them and your fellow passengers.”
Murphy did not give any specifics on how the state or NJ Transit will monitor the situation, but did ask anyone who is continually riding in a situation where they feel capacity is an issue to let NJ Transit or the state know.
Other items from Monday’s briefing:
Murphy said the state takes no joy in the fact that New Jersey is now consistently measuring lowering than just about every other state in the nation — a marked contrast from just a few months ago.
That being said, the numbers continue to be impressive. As of 10 p.m. Sunday, the state had fewer than 100 people on ventilators for the fourth consecutive day. In addition, the state’s rate of transmission is still below the 1.0 line. A look at the numbers:
- In hospitals: 892;
- In ICUs: 166;
- On ventilators: 81;
- Rate of transmission: 0.91;
- Positivity rate: 1.51 % (from July 9).
Murphy said the state was announcing 231 additional COVID-19 cases, raising its total to 175,522. And there were 22 more fatalities, pushing the state total to 13,613. That number does not include 1,947 probable fatalities.
Murphy signed an executive order on two issues concerning elections.
- All elections scheduled to be held before the Nov. 3 general election will now be held on Nov. 3.
“Given the public health challenges of in-person voting in a pandemic, and the cost and logistical challenges of all-mail-in voting, this is also a prudent and necessary step,” he said.
- The state is suspending the statutory requirement that municipal and county political parties hold their reorganizational meetings either Monday or Tuesday and allow for them to be held after the certification of last week’s primary election results.
“Given that some local elections have yet to be decided, this is a prudent, if necessary, step,” he said.
Murphy said residents should not feel the state has beaten COVID-19 in any way.
“What we are seeing across the nation, with other states setting and resetting records for the numbers of positive cases, is requiring us to stay vigilant here at home,” he said. “We cannot forget that it was only a few short months ago that we were being slammed full-force by new coronavirus cases.”
Murphy said testing is still necessary and urgent.
“Just because it is now some other states that are in the news, and not New Jersey, doesn’t mean that testing is any less important,” he said. “In fact, as we look to both protect our state against a resurgence of COVID-19 because of the national spike and continue moving forward on our road back, getting tested is perhaps even more important than ever.
“As we noted here Friday, testing is our best early-warning tool for knowing where coronavirus is lurking, so our Community Contact Tracing Corps can get to work to stop a flareup before it happens.”
The final word
Murphy on more openings:
I keep hearing the voices of those who look only at our hospital numbers to say we need to reopen everything right now. I would remind them that we just reported an additional 231 cases. We still rank in the Top 20 nationally in terms of the number of residents per capita in the hospital, and we are still in the Top 3 for the number of people who are dying.”
Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus:
Fastest-growing COVID-19 group? Those ages 18-29
Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli issued a reminder — which was kind of a warning — about the susceptibility of those ages 18-29 to get COVID-19.
While the age group has been one of the least impacted by the pandemic, she said it now has another distinction: It’s the group with the fastest-rising number of cases.
In April, those 18-29 accounted for just 12% of all cases. In June, that percentage jumped to 22%.
“I want to especially emphasize to our young people that they are not invincible or immune to COVID-19,” she said, speaking at the state’s COVID-19 briefing Monday.
Persichilli said nearly 24,000 residents between 18-29 have been diagnosed with COVID-19. And, while most find the symptoms easier to handle, COVID-19 can have impact.
Persichilli said 730 patients in that age range have been hospitalized and 53 have died.
“People at any age can get a severe illness,” she said.
Gov. Phil Murphy stressed the warning, raising another aspect as he did: Young, asymptomatic people are still able to spread COVID-19 to older residents — potentially family members.
“You’re not immune,” Murphy said.
Murphy and Persichilli both noted that parties involving young people — both for graduations and the Fourth of July — caused an increase in cases in some situations.
Despite this, Murphy did not come out strongly about Shore activity this weekend — even though overcrowding led to at least one municipality closing its beach.
And, while the Shore attracts those of all ages, it certainly is well represented by those in the 18-29 range.
Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus:
JPMorgan Chase survey: Majority of middle-market firms feel they will return ‘to normal’ in next 12 months
Just over half of business leaders of middle-market companies expect their companies to return to normal in the next 12 months. And, while nearly all currently are running at a reduced capacity, more than half are confident their business eventually will thrive again.
And then there’s this: Only 2% of business owners are concerned their business may not survive.
These numbers come from JPMorgan Chase’s Business Leaders Outlook Pulse Survey released Monday — a survey conducted online from June 22-29 for middle-market companies with annual revenues between $20 million and $100 million.
In total, 524 business leaders in various industries across the U.S. participated in the survey, JPMorgan Chase officials said.
Looking ahead to the next six months, more than half of business leaders (56%) are optimistic about their companies, but confidence dwindles on broader levels. Approximately one in three respondents is optimistic about the local economy (33%) and national economy (35%), while confidence in the global economy is considerably lower, at 17%.
Jim Glassman, head economist, JPMorgan Chase Commercial Banking, said the confidence — and resilience — of companies in the face of the pandemic has been astounding.
“It’s been incredible to witness the resilience, flexibility and innovation of America’s businesses during an extraordinarily difficult year for all people around the world,” he said in a release. “From speaking with business leaders across the country, it’s clear that some of the most agile companies are gaining market share, particularly in industries like technology and e-commerce.”
To be clear, Glassman notes, the survey amply demonstrates it is not business as usual.
As a result of this year’s disruptions, these are the Top 5 actions business leaders are taking:
- Conserving capital for unforeseen needs: Most business leaders (87%) have already built up their cash reserves or plan to do so in the next three months. Not surprisingly, 71% have either reduced their spending on capital expenditures or are planning to do so.
- Learning from the crisis: With continued uncertainty around economic conditions and a potential second wave of COVID-19, 82% of businesses have already prepared or are planning to prepare for a similar event in the future.
- Managing business finances digitally: The majority of business leaders (59%) have either already increased or plan to increase their use of digital banking and treasury management tools to manage cash flow, send and receive payments, and streamline operations.
- Implementing permanent changes to operating models: As a result of implementing remote working capabilities, more than half (56%) of business leaders have already made permanent changes to their operating models or plan to do so in the next three months.
- Shifting the business online: More than half (54%) of business leaders have also shifted their operating models to be more online or plan to do so, as a result of pandemic-related closures and shifting consumer habits.
And, while many business leaders are cautiously optimistic about the future, they’re faced with the realities of an unpredictable operating environment. Their Top 3 challenges, according to the survey:
- Uncertain economic conditions: The vast majority of business leaders surveyed (70%) cited economic uncertainty — both domestically and globally — as the leading challenge facing their business operations.
- Revenue and sales growth: 59% of business leaders are concerned about growing sales, though with certain industries seeing an uptick in demand, 47% reported that they’re expecting an increase in revenue and sales within the next six months.
- Shifting consumer habits due to COVID-19: The pandemic accelerated a behavioral shift of consumers leaning into e-commerce technology for purchasing, in addition to spending more conservatively overall. Changing consumer habits is a leading concern for 33% of business leaders.
Moving forward, JPMorgan Chase officials said businesses should keep the following considerations top-of-mind in navigating the remainder of the year:
- Harness the power of workplace technology: COVID-19 has accelerated the evolution of remote working, and now is the time for businesses to implement digital tools to enhance productivity. Learn more here.
- Enhance digital security protocols: Business email compromise is among the most serious threats that face businesses — particularly in times of crisis. Learn how to prevent BEC and other types of fraud here.
- Proactively prepare for future disruption: Recent events have reinforced that businesses across industries and of all sizes should have solid business resiliency plans in place before crises happen. Learn more here.
Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus:
ROI-NJ presents the online edition of its July 13, 2020, issue
Since most of you are not in your offices due to the outbreak of COVID-19, the June 1 print edition of ROI-NJ is being delivered electronically, so you can either scroll through the pages below or click the links that follow to see our coverage as it appears digitally. Thanks for your continued support of ROI-NJ and our advertisers. — Tom Hughes and Tom Bergeron, ROI-NJ
Read the July 13, 2020, issue of ROI-NJ by clicking on the preview and links below. And to subscribe to our print edition or our other products, click here.
The July 13, 2020, issue:
The July 13, 2020, stories:
Focus On … Energy
- Sunset provision: N.J.’s solar sector is concerned about future as incentives transition, but hopeful that Murphy’s clean-energy goals will lead to clarity
- Cover story: Powering up (and up) — Wind Port project, where towering turbines could be made, looks like game-changer for Garden State, renewable energy companies
- Passive, aggressively: Walters hopes to bring environmentally friendly homebuilding trend to N.J. by championing sealed, temperature-stable home project
Focus On … Millennials
- Painful experience: For millennial bosses, COVID’s effects may include laying off longtime employees — ‘genuinely family’
- Bad beat: Casinos betting on millennial customers find that gaming — minus social elements — isn’t luring them back post-pandemic
- Bucking the trend: Financial planner says otherwise-independent millennials (like him) are seeking out experts in one key aspect of their lives — money
Bad beat: Casinos betting on millennial customers find that gaming — minus social elements — isn’t luring them back post-pandemic
The casino industry has spent a lot of time wondering when millennials might stop shying away from gambling, and the pandemic has provided an answer …
Definitely not right now.
In fact, analysts say slot machines and other forms of gambling might be less likely to reel in millennials as casinos reopen than they had before. Local casinos, which had often attracted millennials with still-closed clubs and dining options, are getting their first taste of that.
Mike Donovan of the towering and relatively new Ocean Casino Resort said that, on the casino’s first weekend back — when it became one of five Atlantic City casinos operating once more, abiding by new safety measures, at the start of July — there were some younger people, but less than usual.
“It’s certainly an older crowd right now than it was this time last year, when you had nightlife, day life and sports betting,” he said.
After years of industry speculation that millennials might be only passing through the casino floor on their way to find those experiences, Jane Bokunewicz, an associate professor of hospitality at Stockton University, led research that provided data for that conclusion.
She was involved with several studies of millennial entertainment and gambling behaviors at Stockton University’s Levenson Institute for Gaming, Hospitality and Tourism, where she now serves as institute coordinator.
“One thing I thought was interesting (in the findings of those studies) was millennials were most interested in restaurants, bars, happy hours — things like that,” she said. “Those are the amenities they look for when going for a night out. Eighty percent look to restaurants, 70% bars and lounges, 66% listed happy hours and only 20% listed gambling.”
When it comes to priorities on a night out, gambling tops the list of about 42% of over-35 individuals in her research at the local institute. For millennials, it’s No. 21 on the list of what they’re looking for.
“And millennials do enjoy casinos, too, but they’re just much interested in the social aspect of it than counterparts in other generations,” she said. “It seems like they want to do it in groups, even when it comes to something like playing slot machines.”
Bokunewicz expects gambling as a group activity to be difficult in the current environment for casinos, especially as the state’s previously planned restart of indoor dining July 2 was halted.
But, after they were shuttered for about 100 days, Gov. Phil Murphy’s reopening plan did allow for gambling facilities to reopen locally if they observed certain rules, such as not allowing more than 25% of the usual capacity of casino floors and turning off every other slot machine to create a distance between players. Casino patrons have also been asked to wear masks.
“I think the older generations who like to gamble alone are going to be perfectly comfortable with going in there with a mask and sitting at a slot machine and playing,” Bokunewicz said. “They’ll still be enjoying the experience, but I don’t know — because millennials are so social — if younger people will return to casinos as quickly.”
Online gaming, which has been touted as the industry’s answer to its missing millennial problem, has in theory been allowed throughout the pandemic. But, at least when it comes to online sports betting, there’s the obvious problem — professional sports aren’t happening.
Dustin Gouker, lead analyst for PlayNJ.com, said millennials have seen the online forms of gaming as more attractive to sitting at slot machines. And online poker has seen explosive growth while Jerseyans were asked to stay indoors.
“For the past several months, in New Jersey and elsewhere, online poker has seen more than a doubling of revenue while people are cooped up at home,” he said. “That might slow down as physical casinos open up.”
Knowing that they need to appeal to the next generation, casino owners were — prior to the pandemic — remaking the inside of their casinos to make them more millennial-friendly.
Donovan, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Ocean Casino Resort, said the older generation might still be its core clientele, but a lot of the newest machines on casino floors are meant to appeal to a younger demographic.
“As an industry, we’ve developed games over the past 10 years that appeal more to a millennial, but I still don’t think they’re coming in solely to play casino games at this point,” Donovan said. “Especially right now, they probably see their disposable income as better suited toward doing things with friends and family.”
For the time being, those in the casino industry have to admit that, without concerts and other social events, casinos with socially distant gambling alone are a hard sell for millennials.
That said, Donovan also thinks that what’s true of millennials today might not be true tomorrow.
“I think millennials, the older we get, we’re not going out with large groups of friends as we might’ve once,” he said. “I think about myself and how my behaviors have changed since I was 25 and going to Las Vegas mostly for clubs, food and the typical nightlife activities for a birthday. … Your habits and tendencies change a lot in your 20s and 30s. So, I expect we’ll see that.”
Betting on ‘The Ocho’?
It’s a sport no one would’ve wagered on: pingpong.
Against the odds, Dustin Gouker of sportsbook and online gaming website PlayNJ.com said bets on table tennis amounted to about half of sports bets placed to bookmakers in New Jersey and other states throughout April and May, when the seasons of professional sports came to a standstill.
“So, even given the limited amount of what’s going on, that’s a crazy amount of betting on this sport,” Gouker said. “People might’ve played in their basement as a kid. It’s easy to get into. And there’s a high volume of matches being streamed online, mostly in Asia and Russia.”
Sports betting has suffered in recent months due to the postponement of professional basketball, baseball and other sports. In the place of those sports, there have been some unexpected competitors.
Mike Donovan, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Ocean Casino Resort, said he was most surprised to see cornhole — the bag-throwing contest regularly featured in the arena of neighborhood lawns.
“This is something that wouldn’t even have aired on ESPN’s (alternative channels) before,” he said.
With the resumption of international soccer and the start of professional golf and NASCAR, bookmakers are beginning to return to the usual sports betting roster.
As far as whether an offbeat sport like pingpong earned a lasting prestige … Gouker wouldn’t bet on it.
“I don’t expect it’s going to continue being a really popular sport,” Gouker said. “People are going to migrate back. But it’s still a fascinating trend.”
Wind Port project, where towering turbines could be made, looks like game-changer for Garden State, renewable energy companies
New Jersey’s economic officials hope their plans for a renewable energy windfall will arrive when it’s most needed.
Although the idea of locally growing the offshore wind power sector was floated before the pandemic’s disastrous impact, the state’s attempt to make itself central in the industry’s supply chain with the proposed New Jersey Wind Port has brought the promise of thousands of new jobs and $500 million of new economic activity … at a time when there are few signs of COVID-19 completely blowing over.
State leaders in late June outlined what the plan was for this around 200-acre seaport in Lower Alloways Creek Township; it’s a multiphase project that will ultimately allow for staging, assembly and manufacturing of components used for offshore wind projects. The New Jersey Economic Development Authority has spearheaded the project on behalf of the state.
Brian Sabina, the agency’s senior vice president of economic transformation, said that, as COVID-19 carries the risk of long-lasting job insecurity, there’s an important data point to look at: Near the top of the list of fastest-growing jobs is still the profession of wind turbine technician.
“And, what we believe we’re seeing in that data is the potential for clean energy jobs and green jobs to provide opportunities to those dislocated from previous employment,” he said. “So, accelerating access to those jobs and this clean energy transformation is doubly important.”
The project to develop the port, which is estimated to cost between $300 million and $400 million, is an extension of Gov. Phil Murphy’s vow to bring more offshore wind-generated electricity to the Garden State. Prior to the pandemic, he signed an executive order raising the state’s offshore wind goal from 3,500 megawatts by 2030 to 7,500 MW by 2035.
Next door, New York is aiming for 9,000 MW of offshore wind by the year 2035.
“Between those two states, which make up more than two-thirds of the U.S. East Coast wind market’s pipeline, you’ll have lots of jobs and economic activity over the years to come,” Sabina said. “And, what the port can do is serve as a hub for those projects, but also those up and down the coast.”
Globally, the offshore wind industry is anticipated to become a $1 trillion industry by 2040, according to a 2019 report from the data and statistics firm International Energy Agency.
“I believe (the Port) will put us in a strong competitive position to capture those investments, but, of course, we are not alone in making commitments to do so,” Sabina said. “Other states are also looking at how to commit public dollars to support this industry, and other states may look to create similar assets to ours.”
As of now, Sabina claims there are only a handful of similar manufacturing bases across the entire Eastern Seaboard, and none built to be dedicated to this purpose. And, of those facilities, he added, “very few have the space to really help the industry grow.”
The proposed seat of the seaport, Salem County, is a struggling area that state leaders say is in dire need of an economic centerpiece such as this. It lies outside of height-restrictive bridges and powerlines, which Sabina explained is a perk because of how wind turbines can be as tall as towering skyscrapers, and often have to be transported vertically.
State leaders have estimated that at least 1,500 jobs will come from serving the wind industry with this project, as well as hundreds during a period of construction that’s set to get underway in 2021.
“COVID-19 has, of course, created uncertainty, but it has not removed the pressure to make this happen by the early 2020s,” Sabina said. “If anything … it’s increased the importance of the construction jobs it will soon bring to the state.”
The timeline of the port’s development is guided in large part by the energy industry’s own timeline for developing the first round of wind projects in the region, Sabina said.
Around this time last year, it was announced that offshore wind developer Ørsted would be installing a massive wind farm 15 miles off the coast of Atlantic City. The project, which is scheduled to be up and running by 2024, will supply enough power for more than 500,000 New Jersey homes.
The developer, a Danish company that operates locally as Ørsted U.S. Offshore Wind, welcomes the state’s plan for the port. Additionally, its leaders have been willing to provide input on it, according to Kris Ohleth, senior manager of stakeholder engagement at Ørsted.
“We’ve worked with them on technical details, because we’ve had the opportunity to work in many offshore wind ports in the world,” she said. “They’ve done a great job in doing their homework, reaching out to us and perhaps other developers about what the specs should be and the layout should be, schedule, costs and other information.”
Ohleth said Ørsted is leaving it up to the state’s agencies to spearhead the project and has no formal ties to it.
“But we do hope to be able to be one of the customers of the port,” she said. “We think it will be a great facility. And ports are in short supply right now.”
Offshore wind developers need more of these manufacturing bases locally to help meet the increasing demand for wind projects at the state level. Until last year, there was not only just one wind farm in the country — but few, if any, concrete plans for more.
In New Jersey, wind projects have started to be solicited by the Board of Public Utilities on a set two-year schedule. Ørsted was selected last year after the BPU began this process in 2018 to develop its 1,100 MW wind farm, set to be the largest project in the company’s regional portfolio.
“We expect another solicitation to be released by the state through the BPU later this year,” Ohleth said. “We at Ørsted plan to respond to that solicitation, as we would imagine other companies who are eligible will as well.”
Ørsted is making biggest splash of maybe all offshore wind developers in the U.S., which started with the Rhode Island-based Block Island Wind Farm it operates, the country’s first offshore wind farm.
Its mark can also be found in the earliest history of the industry abroad. One of its predecessor companies launched the world’s first offshore wind farm about 30 years ago, the Vindeby Offshore Wind Farm on the Danish island of Lolland.
Even if Europe has sailed far past the U.S. in wind energy developments, leaders at Ørsted believe the country is on a similar trajectory now, with states like New Jersey pushing for these developments with renewable energy targets in a way that individual European countries have.
In any case, New Jersey’s leaders are glad to be riding the wave.
“There’s actually a benefit to the fact that Europe is at least a decade ahead of us,” Sabina said. “We can take a look at the advancements they’ve made in offshore wind and learn from it.”
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- N.J. to build massive Wind Port facility in Salem County, with aim of becoming supply chain leader in sector
Financial planner says otherwise-independent millennials (like him) are seeking out experts in one key aspect of their lives: money
Bryan P. Murray wouldn’t say he’s figured it out on his own, but he’s a millennial — and, as one, he knows millennials often want to figure things out themselves.
It’s a generality, but, when it comes to millennials, he expects they’ve looked for answers in YouTube tutorials, Google searches and the like before coming to him. That millennial inclination is very obvious in financial planning, his profession.
But one of the many things flipped upside down during the pandemic has been exactly that tendency: When it comes to their money, millennials now want help figuring things out.
“The general gist of it is, they don’t believe they’re maybe as prepared as they should be and don’t know the necessary steps to take right now,” Murray said. “I think there’s much more of an incentive for them to actually set a solid financial foundation now than there was six months ago.”
Partly because of the asset sizes expected of clients at a financial planning firm, millennials as a whole haven’t had an enormous amount of interaction with financial planners. Murray, a financial planning manager at Paramus-based Wealth by Design, does more with these clients than most, both due to the fact that he’s a millennial and because he deals with multigenerational wealth.
Millennial clients tend to fall into two groups, he said. There’s a relatively rare millennial that he’s already engaged with and has gone through the financial planning process. And then there’s the more common millennial today, the one that feels like they should’ve already started that planning.
“That first group, they’ve been looking at it from the perspective of where opportunity lies,” he said. “They’ve seen very recently how an economy can come back. In this case, that rebound took just a couple of weeks. So, I think these younger people see a reason to possibly take on some risk.”
A recent study conducted by Fidelity Investments indicated that millennials were the likeliest of all the generational cohorts to be doing something about their financial situation. More than half were choosing to delay planned events or major purchases and build up savings, according to the survey.
About 20% of that survey’s millennial respondents were also investing new money in the market — the other side of the demographic that Murray alluded to.
For those millennials putting discretionary cash into the market, they’re starting their investing at a time when the barriers to entry are lower than ever. Some of the newer entrants among investment platforms, such as Robinhood, have brought in millennials with the promise of all-digital, free trading arrangements.
Even as profits have slid during the pandemic, some millennials have rushed into the market to place their bets on beaten-down stocks on Robinhood and other mobile apps.
“There might be merit to the argument, too, that more people are investing now because of the pause on something like gambling or sports betting,” Murray said. “But, in any case, more young people are coming to an understanding of how the stock market works; they’re at the same time becoming more open to understanding their overall financial picture.”
Often, a financial planner such as Murray sits down — virtually, these days — with a millennial to talk investing, only to have that conversation turn toward that young client’s cash flow issues that are taking potential savings away from them.
Especially for the millennials that didn’t have much interaction with a financial planner prior to the pandemic, there’s a lot of interest in etching out a financial plan and building up emergency funds.
The pandemic’s high economic toll has been a rude awakening for these new clients. And they’re now paying a lot of attention to what financial experts have to say.
As Murray said, if a financial planner told a client a year ago a global pandemic would put their finances at risk, no one would’ve believed it. Now, everyone’s aware of how prepared they need to be for the potential of financial hardship as a result of the COVID-19 situation.
“In theory, millennials might’ve known something could happen to them financially, but — particularly for those who weren’t out of college until after 2008’s recession — this might be the biggest change they’ve seen from an economic standpoint,” he said. “There’s millennials suddenly losing jobs, having bonuses cut and having their general work-life challenged in a way they never expected.”
Painful experience: For millennial bosses, COVID’s effects may include laying off longtime employees — ‘genuinely family’
Behind the pandemic’s historic unemployment figures have been the numerous ill-at-ease conversations between employers and employees that nobody involved wants to be a part of.
Meet the twenty-somethings that have been there … on the employer side.
At 28, William Bauer, managing director of the longtime Secaucus-based Royce Leather, was suddenly thrust into the position of having to lay off employees, some of whom have worked for his family’s fashion business more than half as long as he’s been alive.
“Having to lay people off has been a difficult blow,” he said. “You don’t see them as employees or means of productivity but, for us, they’re genuinely family. And, as much as it’s difficult for them, you as a leader also feel like you’ve betrayed them — even if it’s in the spirit of trying to make sure your company as a whole continues on and others can stay employed.”
Don’t worry — it’s not revenge of the millennials.
Bauer said he’s not keen on shaving the most veteran talent of his business, which has a history that goes back several generations.
“Honestly, I wouldn’t want all millennials here,” he said. “To run a business, you need long-term business acumen and things that come with time and age — the contributions that come with life experience that I can’t always bring to the table.”
But the millennial business owner has had to make a self-described “terrible trade-off.” It’s a direct result of retailers closing to comply with state orders. Even with the businesses that sell the Royce products — mostly a selection of luxury bags and wallets — reopening, Bauer expects only he’ll be lucky to see 50% of last year’s business.
One of the biggest issues for the company was the overnight destruction of its events-based line of business. Royce was collaborating with brands and corporations to do pop-up shops and other sponsored activities. Some of those partnerships have been suspended until 2022, or sometimes indefinitely, Bauer said.
Like many, the business had to make a quick pivot to e-commerce transactions when department stores canceled orders through the fall. For at least three months, the luxury fashion brand became a purely digital business — perhaps benefiting in the process from having a tech-savvy millennial at the wheel.
Bauer expects digital, direct-to-consumer sales will remain a main driver of the company’s revenue for quite some time.
“Foot traffic in stores is still a fraction of last year’s right now, and I don’t expect customers to all return at once,” Bauer said. “People are going to be reluctant to step foot in busy place for quite some time. … So, I wouldn’t say we’re overly optimistic. But we are cautiously optimistic.”
Even as luxury retail centers, such as the company’s new flagship Bloomingdale’s base on Lexington Avenue in in New York, have started to come back online — it’s a tenuous time for everyone, and the business has had to steeply mark down the price of its products in light of that.
When asked what might be in store for his business if COVID-19 surges locally once more, Bauer said he’ll have to do a lot of what he’s done since he first started working for his family’s business at the age of 16 …
Spoken like a true millennial, he said it’ll mean “hustling incredibly hard.”
“But, one thing I always try to keep in perspective is that, while we might always have a hunger for more, we’re not jeopardizing how we’ve done business all this time,” he said. “I think that’s something you hear from most millennials in business, because many want to go hard and fast and grow a business overnight.”
Spoken like an old soul, he said that means “upholding traditions.”
“Doing business the right way, not the quick way — that’s how I’ve tried to lead this business,” he said. “And we’ll continue to do that, whether the economy is doing well or not.”
Read more from ROI-NJ on coronavirus:
N.J.’s solar sector worried about future as incentives transition, but hopeful that clean-energy goals will lead to clarity
Aside from the summer sun beating down, there’s one other thing those in the Garden State’s solar sector can usually rely on in high places these days: friends.
Stephen Kisker, a chair of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi‘s Renewable Energy & Sustainability Group, said New Jersey’s industry is at a crossroads right now. The local solar incentive program that has existed for more than 15 years is ending, and no one knows what’s on the horizon.
But he also said Gov. Phil Murphy administration’s renewable energy priorities basically ensure solar aficionados can assume what’s coming, besides more balmy weather, will be good for them.
The only problem? A catastrophic pandemic continuing to circumnavigate the globe happens to have everyone’s attention.
“With COVID-19 in the mix, it has made it so everyone is struggling with all aspects of operating government in a pandemic,” Kisker said. “And is there the will to focus on this program when there seems to be so many bigger fish to fry?”
It was in December, before the pandemic entered the local collective consciousness, that the state’s Board of Public Utilities began the transition away from the current Solar Renewable Energy Certificates, or SRECs. The incentive was established in the mid-2000s to encourage more solar installations and reach renewable energy targets.
Murphy’s 2018 Clean Energy Act called on the BPU to phase out that program and develop a yet-to-be-determined replacement incentive to continue to support solar developments. For the time between that new program being established and the old program expiring, the BPU approved a stopgap known as Transition Renewable Energy Certificates, or TRECs.
At the same time, every state’s solar market will soon have to reckon with the virtual elimination of a major federal solar tax credit that has existed since 2006. The Solar Investment Tax Credit, or ITC, was extended in 2015 but has been shrinking incrementally each year and will soon dip to 10% of the former value of this tax break for new solar installations.
Pair that with the economic downturn from COVID-19 that have left few sectors unscathed, and the Solar Energy Industries Association is expecting a state like New Jersey to have almost 6,000 less solar jobs in 2020 than it was once predicted to.
But it’s hard for the Garden State to live up to the sky-high solar figures it hit last year. Because, according to Kisker, the fact that there were few details available on what the temporary incentive structure would look like inspired a race to complete projects before SRECs went away.
“Not knowing what was on the other side forced a lot of solar programs to get on the fast track,” Kisker said. “And the squeezing in of projects last-minute led to an unusual spike of installs in New Jersey — in a way that states that didn’t have the pending removal of an incentive wouldn’t have experienced.”
There’s some expectation that the rush may continue to some extent until April 30 of next year, when the state’s current solar credit program will be officially terminated.
Meanwhile, some questions that remain, said John Valeri of Chiesa Shahinian & Giantomasi’s Environmental Practice. For instance, the industry isn’t sure if extensions will be granted around that deadline or if projects will still qualify for the temporary incentive after the creation of a new program.
Valeri, who is a former chief of staff at the BPU and works on the government relations side of the sector, said that’s leaving those in the solar sector wondering if they should treat May of next year as the finish line, or perhaps a better starting point for projects.
“Hopefully, the board will send signals about that,” he said, “because that’s almost as big of an issue as whether there’s going to be gaps between these programs.”
Unless more details are released soon, Valeri expects New Jersey’s solar market will steadily cool off, perhaps to a greater extent than other states have already during the pandemic.
Valeri said the state’s energy officials have done the best they can to further the process of taking input from stakeholders on what a long-term plan for solar sector incentives should look like. He also understands that this isn’t everyone’s first priority.
“The board has a tremendous agenda of items it needs to get done outside of solar,” he said. “As important as it is, wind is still a big agenda item for the administration.”
What could end up being a long-lasting or permanent policy would usually take years of in-person discussions and deliberations. But the state just has a 10-month period to come up with a new plan.
“I think it’s a tall order … but I don’t question they’re committed to get through this process,” Valeri said.
Both Valeri and Kisker said the temporary incentive that’s in place right now isn’t far off from what solar industry clients are actually hoping will be the law of the land.
One of the primary differences between the prior SREC system and TRECs is that the former system fluctuated with market demand and the latter has set pricing. Even if that price is lower than the market-tied credit at the moment, most prefer the fixed numbers with TREC because of how much more their bank and private equity lenders appreciate the certainty.
“And, so, we’re hopeful we’ll get something like the existing TREC program going forward,” he said. “If the state’s program is similar, the growth of the solar market in the state will continue to explode. … But if we don’t have a lucrative incentive, solar installs are going to slow way down.”