Public officials and industry experts from across the northeast region addressed some of the challenges of reopening the economy while balancing health and safety concerns during NAIOP’s “Tri-State COVID-19 CRE Response Webinar” on Tuesday.
“We are experiencing a disruption like nothing we have seen before, and will be living with this for some time,” said Michael McGuinness, chief executive officer of NAIOP NJ. “As we start to pivot and work on re-entry efforts, we need to understand how government agencies are collaborating with private sectors and other agencies to return the region to full operational capacity.”
McGuinness moderated a public policy discussion with Joe Kelley, Gov. Phil Murphy’s chief of staff for economic growth, and Rachel Loeb, chief operating officer of the New York City Economic Development Corp. (NYCEDC).
Kelley explained that the Murphy administration has shifted from managing crisis points to recovery mode, focusing on determining what short- and long-term policies to put in place.
“The governor has established the Restart and Recovery Commission to look at things from a global perspective,” said Kelley. “He has also set up an advisory council that will bring together hundreds of leaders from various industry, community, and faith-based groups and institutions across our state to give us ideas from a tactical perspective – coupling a macro-economic view with a micro-economic view.” McGuinness, and a number of NAIOP NJ members, were appointed to the Restart and Recovery Advisory Council.
With regard to small businesses hit especially hard by the pandemic, Kelley said: “We have small business owners as members of all of these councils, even the larger macro-economic commission.”
While New Jersey and New York are on the same page when it comes to relying on scientific data and prioritizing public health in any recovery efforts, there are marked differences in how each state is launching reopening plans.
When McGuinness asked why no specific time-frames have been floated in New Jersey – as they have in New York and Connecticut – Kelley said, “Long story short, from density issues, to the way the virus travels, to incidence levels and hospital occupancy, our situation is uniquely challenging. Decisions made by the governor such as closing schools for the rest of the year underscore the ongoing seriousness of this crisis. However, I expect you will begin to hear more specifics in the next week or two.”
Kelley said the administration also is reevaluating the governor’s 2018 economic plan, which placed great emphasis on communities with denser environments such as Newark, Paterson and Jersey City, as well as thriving downtowns like Morristown and Montclair. “There were capital allocation and public policy questions that needed to be answered, on top of NJ Transit and other regional issues. Our balance sheet is in a tough spot, but we will continue to invest in places like Newark, as well as cities like Atlantic City that have been walloped by the pandemic.”
From in-office social distancing measures to increased cleaning and sanitation measures, landlords and tenants are working to reconstruct the way business is conducted in the post-COVID-19 world.
Rachel Casanova, senior managing director of workplace innovation at Cushman & Wakefield, agreed. “We were on a path where landlord/tenant relationships were improving and now we have a more elevated opportunity,” said Casanova, who serves on the firm’s global Recovery Readiness Task Force and helped create a customizable social distancing design concept called the Six Feet Office.
“The comfort of alternative ways of working has a future, but home is not the most productive place for everyone,” said Casanova. “We will likely see more flexible spaces that eliminate transportation issues and accommodate workers who can’t or don’t want to go to a crowded office but may be able to get to a collaborative space. We have to see how the human psyche progresses. The more vaccines and treatments progress, the better these concepts will proceed.”