Gov. Chris Christie told a gathering of the state’s biotechnology community Thursday night that their industry’s success is a key priority of his administration.
The governor was the keynote speaker at the annual meeting of the biotech trade group BioNJ, which drew a record 708 attendees who packed the ballroom of the East Brunswick Hilton.
Christie said the last decade was one where businesses were leaving the state, due to the heavy tax burden and frustrating regulatory framework. He said property taxes in the state went up a mere 1.7 percent last year, and said his proposal to cut income taxes 10 percent across the board is another sign that the New Jersey is being transformed into a pro-business state.
“We are working with you to deal with your concerns and turn New Jersey’s business climate once again into a good place — not only to raise your families, which it’s always been, but a good place to do business again. We’re happy to be in partnership with you on that.”
Christie said promoting the life sciences industry is one of four goals of a state strategic plan developed by Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno. He said one way the state aims to do that is by fostering more partnership between the public sector and the private sector.
“That way, you’re going to continue to benefit from the quality of the New Jersey work force, and at the same time, our communities benefit from your critical role in our economy,” Christie said.
If the tide at the state level has turned more towards the interests of business, at the national level, the focus is on penny-pinching, according to Jim Greenwood, who leads the national Biotechnology Industry Organization and also spoke at the event.
As a result, Greenwood said, groups like his have had to redouble their efforts to make the case that programs designed to support the biotech industry are important to the wider economy, even if they cost money up front.
“The fundamental thesis is this: Yes, the biggest problem with runaway spending in this country is Medicare,” he said. “But you can’t fix Medicare by nickel-and-diming what you pay doctors and hospitals and drug companies and device manufacturers.”
Debbie Hart, BioNJ’s president, said she feels momentum is on the industry’s side.
“I think we do have momentum,” she said. “There’s a great jobs and opportunity story in this industry.”
Hart spent Wednesday in Washington, meeting with Senate Democrats along with nine other business representatives from around the country. Hart said the meeting was designed to talk about the challenges various industries are facing, and ideas for how the federal government could help.
In addition to the speakers, BioNJ also gave out its Sol J. Barer Award, the group’s top honor. This year’s winner was Paul Thomas, chief executive at Roka Bioscience and the former head of LifeCell Corp.