The ReNew Jersey Business Summit & Expo, held March 14-15, continues to grow and evolve, as New Jersey Chamber of Commerce officials shape the identity of the event that replaced the organization’s Walk to Washington trip.
“The enthusiasm that we generated the last two days. The different attitude change we’ve seen happening. The ability to dialogue more. We saw all through the conference,” Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Bracken said as he wrapped up another edition at Harrah’s Atlantic City.
“We expect this to be the single largest business event in the state this year on a scale comparable to our Walk to Washington,” he said before the event kicked off. “There is a strong desire among businesspeople in New Jersey to improve the state’s business climate, and to network. This event will provide a prime opportunity for both.”
And this year’s summit certainly achieved that objective, featuring nearly a record 900 registrants, more than 40 speakers, 15 sessions on the state economy and over 90 exhibitors, bringing together many of the state’s top leaders from business, government, media, academia, nonprofits and more.
In noting the record registration, Bracken said it speaks to the fact that everybody wants to move forward in a better way, broadly, and in sync with government throughout the state. “We put together an agenda that I think will be enlightening, educating, hopefully inspiring, but also real, by addressing some of the issues we still have,” Bracken said.
The summit sessions were focused on robust and honest dialogue on the state of play in the Garden State, and the challenges facing the business community, which yielded ideas and solutions that the Chamber will synthesize to make recommendations on next steps to help move New Jersey and its business community forward.
“The goal is to bring together subject experts from business, politics and nonprofits to discuss the advantages of doing business in New Jersey and the challenges stifling New Jersey’s economy, and propose the actions needed to shift into long-term economic growth,” said Bracken. “We’re looking for solutions.”
And as life returns to normal and the pandemic moves further in the rearview, there was a palpable optimism and pride about New Jersey’s momentum emerging from the throes of COVID-19. But myriad challenges remain, many of which existed before the pandemic, and new scars emerged from the global catastrophe. Bracken stressed that finger-pointing about the past will not be beneficial and called for the focus to be on discussing the issues and the path forward.
The first day of the event featured panels with many speakers’ names recognizable to NJBIZ readers, including a number of Power List honorees. That first day was capped off by a keynote speech from Gov. Phil Murphy.
The governor led off with some remarks about the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, noting the assistance package the state quickly crafted for affected companies in the startup and innovation space. He used it as an example of why such a massive budget surplus is needed to guard against any similar situations or more broad economic downturns. And Murphy tied it to the Next New Jersey theme of his most-recent State of the State Address.
“This Next New Jersey prepares for the future, whatever that future may bring,” said the governor.
The business community continues to call on using some of the surplus to address needs such as replenishing the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and creating more grant programs for small businesses throughout the state. One topic where the governor and the business community are squarely on the same side is the sunsetting of the state’s Corporate Business Tax, something that was a big topic of conversation at the two-day event, and something that Murphy spoke at length about in his remarks.
“[T]he budget is also set to provide certainty to our business sector. It does so by keeping our word to allow the temporary Corporate Business Tax surcharge to expire,” said Murphy. “I know one of the most important factors for business in either deciding to relocate or expand their capacity is certainty. And certainty includes words meaning what they mean. Temporary does not mean permanent until otherwise noted. It means temporary. I’ve heard from companies that letting the temporary surcharge expire would free up capital to make improvements to hire more workers or simply ensure that business costs can keep up with inflation. It is only fair that I ask the business community to keep its word on how these resources will be invested, just as I am in letting this temporary surcharge expire.”
The governor also highlighted the importance of having events such as the Summit for the state to reach the goals that everyone is pursuing. “I would not miss this summit, period,” said Murphy. “This is an event that was written in Sharpie on my calendar.”
The second day kicked off with remarks from the event’s hometown Mayor Marty Small Sr., who touted Atlantic City’s efforts to attract business to the city, highlighting many of the recent and upcoming non-gaming redevelopment projects.
“Here in the great City of Atlantic City, we want to drive more business,” Small said. “And businesses like your organization are the key to our success. We’re always going to be a casino city. However, with the threat of gaming in New York and other nearby jurisdictions, we have to reinvent ourselves. We have to offer different things. And we’re transitioning in that direction. We need to attract more families.”
To see a slideshow of some of the panels and expo, click here.
The summit was punctuated by a panel featuring the state’s four legislative leaders, Senate President Nick Scutari, D-22nd District; Senate Republican Leader Steve Oroho, R-24th District; Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin, D-19th District; and Assembly Republican Leader John DiMaio, R-23rd District, which was moderated by Benjamin Dworkin, founding director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy and Citizenship.
The panel offers a rare opportunity for the four leaders – who profess deep personal admiration for each other – to hold a frank public discussion away from Trenton, with a strong sentiment of bipartisanship.
Dworkin opened by asking the four leaders to identify the top legislative priority related to the business community.
“I think what we need to do for the business community is continue to do those things that we have set our path on over the last several years,” said Coughlin. “When I say that, what I mean is a renewed commitment to making New Jersey more affordable for the people who live and work here. A recognition of the importance of the business community to the economic success of the State of New Jersey. And to work together cooperatively to do that.”
“Our top priority is to find ways to relieve the tax burden on businesses and people in New Jersey,” said DiMaio.
“I think that myself, the speaker, and the governor have put forth an aggressive plan of property tax reduction and affordability,” said Scutari.
“First of all, the CBT surcharge, make sure it stays out and it will stay out,” said Oroho.
As the panel wound down, Dworkin asked the four leaders about a topic that also generated a lot of buzz throughout the conference, emerging industries in the Garden State.
“What’s next,” Dworkin asked. “What’s the next industry that will emerge in New Jersey over the next five years? And what should Trenton be doing?”
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Scutari, one of the biggest proponents of getting legalized marijuana in New Jersey, said cannabis, joking that he didn’t think he had another 20-year journey in him as that effort required. “The cannabis industry is just in its infancy. We have seen nothing yet,” said Scutari. “The extraordinary amount of job creation that’s just at the very beginning. What’s been happening is remarkable.”
“I think the exciting answer to that question is I don’t know,” said Coughlin. “I don’t what’s next. Here’s what I do know, though. I know that what we want to do is have New Jersey be a place where innovation comes to grow and succeed. That’s why we invested $14 billion in tax credits through an economic development plan. We want to have innovators come to New Jersey, grow here, create new businesses, and have the next idea about how we go about moving the economy forward. How we go about making lives better for people.”
Oroho said the state needs a climate for entrepreneurs and innovators to want to come to New Jersey and invest and take risks, which could lead to the next big company or industry coming out of here. “And I think that’s what we have to do as legislators is make that easy enough so that people want to come here, invest money here,” he said.
DiMaio mentioned energy, noting how quickly the sector is evolving. “We haven’t even seen what it’s going to be in 50 years.”
Dworkin closed out the panel by asking the four leaders to give their 30-second pitch to sell investors on bringing a potential business venture here.
Scutari began his answer by referencing our state’s infrastructure and location, as well as the massive surplus before turning to New Jersey residents. “New Jersey’s in a great place with great folks,” Scutari said. “And our people are our greatest accomplishment.”
Oroho said the state needs to develop a formal 30-second pitch. “We have to sit down and come up with a brand and a strategy for communication because we don’t have a 30-second pitch,” said Oroho.
“We are perfectly placed in the center of the most powerful economic area of the world between New York and Philadelphia, Boston and Washington, D.C.,” DiMaio said. “People who come here can expect an hour or two drive to the beach, to the mountains, to the southwest part of our state, which I’m learning better and better these days.”
DiMaio said there are a lot of great things happening here, adding in a tease for tax reform coming soon.
“I think the 30-second commercial is, ‘Come to New Jersey. Now’s the time. And we have everything that you could possibly want,’” said Coughlin, as he ticked through some of the state’s main draws and geography.
“We also have opportunity. The opportunity to have a solid financial state that’s moving forward. We have a government that’s committed to working to help innovation and growth occur in the state. We have a commitment to affordability that has not existed, I think, in decades. And we have people who are bright, intelligent, hardworking, diverse, and are well-educated. The combination of what New Jersey has to offer is beyond comparison.”
“So, get to New Jersey now,” Coughlin added. “Don’t miss this opportunity.”
Bracken gave his own 30-second pitch as he capped off the event following the legislative panel.
“We have the best demographics of any state in the country. We have the best array of assets of any state in the country. We are the best located of any state in the country. And we’re coming back. So come on in and join the rush,” Bracken concluded."