Public hearings on a new blueprint for statewide economic growth are slated to begin next week, marking one of the last steps state officials will take before adopting a plan to strengthen New Jersey’s key industries and most vibrant regions.
The first hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Feb. 13 at Richard Stockton College, in Galloway, one of six that will allow residents, businesses and stakeholders to weigh in on the state strategic plan before final adoption. A draft version of the plan, unveiled in October by Gov. Chris Christie, outlines the state’s ideas for spurring economic development while preserving the most environmentally sensitive areas.
“We’re going to sort of walk folks through the plan and answer questions right there,” said Gerry Scharfenberger, director of the state Office of Planning Advocacy. “And once they get to the public comment, it should really just be their feelings and thoughts on the plan. That’s what we’re hoping to get.”
The last hearing will take place March 1, starting a 30-day clock on how long the public can submit additional input, Scharfenberger said. Once the comment period is over, his office will have another 30 days to weigh the input and prepare its final recommendations to the State Planning Commission.
The commission could vote on the plan by early May or sooner, Scharfenberger said.
Input from the private sector has been limited since the draft plan was unveiled last fall, he said, but his office held more than a dozen stakeholder meetings in the year and a half before the plan was released. Business leaders welcomed the plan, touting efforts to promote key sectors such as biotechnology, finance, logistics, and health care.
Scharfenberger said the strategic plan aims to jump-start the state’s economy and protect its natural resources, but also realign state government and form a strategy for future investment.
The inclusion of those goals is proof that the state heard the private sector when crafting this latest plan, said Michael McGuinness, CEO of the New Jersey chapter of commercial real estate development association NAIOP. The message has been consistent for years, he said, but state plans have not always reflected those ideas.
McGuinness said growing key industries and realigning government agencies are among the most promising ideas in the plan. He hoped that the upcoming public hearings will help bridge the gap on those ideas between state planners and local governments, he said.
“I think the biggest challenge is going to be at the local level, and how you get the local governments to agree with the priorities that the administration feels are important,” he said. “And that’s why we have this comment period that’s now in play.”
In addition to the Feb. 13 meeting, the State Planning Commission’s public hearings will take place Feb. 16, at the Gloucester County Administration Building, in Clayton; Feb. 23, the New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Newark; Feb. 27, Frelinghuysen Arboretum, Morris Township; Feb. 28, Monmouth University, West Long Branch; and March 1, Rutgers EcoComplex, Bordentown.