Corner Office: A strategic plan to help N.J. capitalize on its assets
NJBIZ, November 7, 2011
By: Peter Kasabach
“To attract and retain people, industry and investment, and to live within the state’s means, the Christie administration must lead the state in a new approach to economic development.”
This is the advice the Governor’s Institute on Community Design, a nonprofit that provides practical strategies to governors for attracting growth and development to their state, offered to Gov. Chris Christie following an intensive two-day workshop in May.
New Jersey has many assets, the Governor’s Institute noted — an educated and skilled work force, access to large markets, elite universities, medical and research facilities, and cultural and natural amenities that make the state a desirable place to establish or grow a business.
But New Jersey also is a state with high costs — high taxes, high housing prices and high labor costs. While the administration should work to reduce these costs, the institute’s report recommended there would be more to gain by capitalizing on the state’s assets than focusing exclusively on addressing its liabilities.
“It is clear that New Jersey’s value proposition for attracting, retaining and growing business should not simply focus on being the lowest-cost provider,” the report concluded. “Rather, New Jersey’s value proposition should be that the benefits of locating in New Jersey are well worth the costs.”
To deliver on this promise, the report recommended the state adopt a new economic development strategy that sets forth a vision for creating places that will attract and retain residents and businesses; directs public and private investment to priority areas; protects natural resources and the environment; and provides incentives to municipalities to create compact, livable communities that use infrastructure efficiently and meet the needs of companies and workers.
On Oct. 20, the Christie administration unveiled a new State Strategic Plan that embodies this new strategy. The plan emphasizes four key themes — targeted economic growth, effective planning for vibrant regions, preservation and enhancement of critical state resources, and tactical alignment of government. To help carry out the new plan, a cabinet-level steering committee will be responsible for ensuring that the functional plans of state agencies are consistent with the State Strategic Plan, and that funds from various departmental sources are targeted for strategic investment.
This effort to coordinate state agency plans with the broader State Strategic Plan holds considerable promise for businesses. While it may not end the practice of state agencies sending mixed signals to the regulated community, it should sharply reduce, if not eliminate, departmental rules that conflict with each other, or otherwise hinder implementation of the State Strategic Plan.
Perhaps the most important message the new plan sends is that New Jersey residents and businesses share the same values and goals: sustainable economic growth; high-quality public schools and universities with close ties to the business community; a transportation system that links people with jobs, offers choice and provides efficient mobility of goods; desirable, affordable neighborhoods in vibrant cities and attractive towns; a robust agricultural sector; and a healthy environment.
These values and goals mirror the findings of a recent Monmouth University poll in which New Jersey residents identified protecting the state’s drinking water supply, encouraging new businesses and job growth, and improving education as their highest priorities. The poll also found widespread support — 69 percent — for a coordinated, statewide plan that would steer growth and development to existing population centers.
Properly implemented, this plan can deliver what residents and businesses want — and demonstrate to the rest of the United States and the world that the benefits of living and working in New Jersey are indeed well worth the costs.
Peter Kasabach is executive director of New Jersey Future, a nonprofit research and advocacy group focused on smart growth and sustainable development.