STATE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT OFFICIAL ASKS LOCAL BUSINESSES TO ROOT FOR NJ
By Sergio Bichao/Home News Tribune
December 1, 2011
The head of the state’s so-called “bank for business” called on Somerset County business leaders to become cheerleaders for New Jersey in an effort to attract new businesses.
Caren S. Franzini, the CEO of the state Economic Development Authority, made her remarks at the annual meeting of the Somerset County Business Partnership, the chamber of commerce for one of the state’s wealthiest counties.
“We have a positive message to sell,” Franzini said. “I ask all of you to be our cheerleaders and talk to your other business colleagues as you travel, go to parties, wherever you are, sell our state, sell New Jersey.”
With state unemployment still hovering above 9 percent, county business leaders seemed optimistic about the state’s economic climate.
The annual meeting drew a record attendance for the business advocacy nonprofit. More than 400 representatives from municipal and state government, pharmaceutical giants and mom-and-pop shops ate herb-roasted chicken, asparagus, mashed potatoes, wine, cocktails and cheesecake at the Bridgewater Marriott luncheon.
Franzini touted the administration of Gov. Chris Christie and Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno for taking a hard line against taxes and regulations and wooing new businesses to the state.
“One of the first things the governor did was have the lieutenant governor lead a red-tape review commission,” she said. “We need to have the beautiful beaches, we need to have a great environment, but we need common sense regulations to ensure that occurs.”
The Business Partnership in 2010 launched an Affordability Campaign that closely follows Christie’s agenda: reforming the state tax structure to retain businesses and residents, the public employee pension system and the public sector bargaining system.
The EDA, which Franzini has led since 1994, has also attracted and retained businesses by offering taxpayer money as incentives.
Last year the EDA provided more than $567 million in financing and tax credits, which state officials said supported more than $1.4 billion in investments and creation of 5,200 new jobs in the state.
In Somerset County, some of those recipients include the borough of Somerville, which was awarded a $5 million Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant to repay a loan the municipality offered to Saker ShopRites to open its much-anticipated supermarket.
The multinational Archimedes Pharma opened its first U.S. facility in Bedminster last year, creating an estimated 75 new jobs, thanks to a 10-year $2.1 million Business Employment Incentive Program grant from the EDA.
A $583,000 Economic Redevelopment and Growth grant also helped convince Roka Bioscience to relocate from San Diego to Warren, creating an estimated 20 jobs.
Such publicly funded incentives are not without critics. Earlier this year the liberal New Jersey Policy Perspective think tank showed that an $80 million grant to Goya Foods in Secaucus would create just nine new jobs, despite an EDA estimate of 175 new positions. Most of those jobs were transferred or relocated from other cities or contractors, according to EDA documents obtained by NJPP.
The Business Partnership, meanwhile, is behind a $162,000 study of business growth in the county.
“We will build on the success of our Affordability Campaign and advocate for outcomes that we can all measure, investment in infrastructure, new job creation and a better business climate,” Business Partnership President Michael Kerwin said. “Our goal is nothing less than to make Somerset County the best place in New Jersey to be in businesses.”
The luncheon also honored Ortho Clinical Diagnostics of Raritan Borough, Voltaix of Branchburg, Bridgewater Overhead Door of Raritan Borough , and young entrepreneur Ryan Lucht as 2011 Economic Vitality Award recipients.