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State Street Sandy made helpline of hotline

The Business Action Center offered help to Sandy-slammed companies.-(AARON HOUSTON)

New Jersey’s Business Action Center thinks of itself as a one-stop shop for the Garden State’s businesses, but when Hurricane Sandy hit, the center became an emergency hotline for many businesses, connecting them with utilities and other vital resources in the immediate aftermath of the storm, and helping with permitting and disaster…

“At the same time, what we wanted to make sure is we don’t lose any momentum with respect to projects that were under way, companies already in the process of looking to expand in or come to New Jersey,” said Michael Van Wagner, interim executive director at the center.

Van Wagner said his office touched base with representatives from roughly 300 different business projects here. All

said they were fine and would move forward.

Van Wagner is also moving forward. He was appointed last May to a one-year term, but Lt. Gov. Kim Guadagno recently extended that term for six months, through November.

Van Wagner has plenty of experience helping people rebuild after unexpected disasters, albeit not on the scale of Sandy. Before joining the state, he worked as vice president of legislative affairs at New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Co., a post to which he plans to return once his stint with Gov. Chris Christie’s administration ends. He said he’s looking forward to the challenges ahead.

“There’s a lot in the pipeline, a lot of good things going on,” he said. “Add Sandy to the mix and the opportunity to really help businesses as we rebuild, it’s going to be a busy year, and a good year.”

The BAC serves as one prong in the three-pronged Partnership for Action, alongside the business recruitment nonprofit Choose New Jersey and the Economic Development Authority. Most of the center’s day-to-day tasks involve working with companies already in New Jersey, and answering between 600 and 700 calls per week at its call center.

Van Wagner said those questions tend to come from small businesses wanting to know which government agency to turn to, or needing help with regulatory or permitting questions.

The center also partners with Choose New Jersey, helping to work out logistics for companies with a serious interest in relocating here.

Van Wagner is well versed in New Jersey’s selling points: a good location, highly educated work force and so forth. But he said the state’s negatives are also diminishing.

“We are behind a lot of the competition when it comes to our tax climate, so we have to work harder on that,” he said. “From a regulatory standpoint, I think what we’re seeing now there’s still work being done, but it’s a matter of fighting the (negative) perception, and we’re having so much more success now because of the changes that have been made.”

Easing the sting
of a corporate tenant loss

New Jersey’s gained a reputation as a state willing to shell out the cash to lure businesses here, but a new bill would shell out the case in the opposite scenario — when businesses leave.

Assemblyman Ralph Caputo (D-Belleville) is sponsoring legislation to create a $5 million fund for temporary municipal tax relief in cases where towns face catastrophic drops in their ratable base. The case in point: Roche’s decision last year to leave Nutley after 80 years. Caputo is a native of Nutley.

In a press release, Caputo said people often forget the ratable impact when companies leave a town.

“What gets overlooked is the serious financial, property tax impact such moves have on the towns that host these businesses,” he said. “That needs to change.”

Michael Cerra, senior legislative analyst at the New Jersey State League of Municipalities, said his office is still reviewing the bill, but he said Caputo has put his finger on an important issue.

“We’ve seen from time to time this happen for towns across the state,” he said. “The intent of it is certainly laudable.


London calling as N.J.
weighs casino takeover

When gaming industry insiders gathered in London earlier this month, much of their attention was focused squarely on New Jersey.

Barbara DeMarco, a lobbyist with Porzio Governmental Affairs, said she faced a number of questions at the 2013 World Regulatory Briefing conference. The event coincided with Christie’s conditional veto of the state Legislature’s latest Internet gaming bill.

The Legislature is expected to send a revised Internet gaming proposal to Christie this week, and the governor has indicated he’ll sign it quickly. The bill would allow Atlantic City casinos to host online gaming operations.

DeMarco said many in London were discussing the possible legal implications of New Jersey’s enactment of Internet gaming.

New Jersey currently prohibits gaming outside of Atlantic City, so the bill stipulates that bets placed digitally would be considered bets placed in New Jersey, because that’s where the gaming servers and other equipment will be housed. However, DeMarco said, racetracks could sue over the location question. If they do, it could have implications for tribal gaming operations in other states.

“Let’s just say the judge rules that the gaming is actually occurring wherever the individual is. The net result is that for the tribe, if they offered Internet gaming, the only people who could bet on it would be people in sovereign tribal territory,” she said.

That means a tribal casino in California might be limited to taking electronic bets only from people on tribal lands, rather than from residents across the state.

The tribes are “very concerned that when judges start approaching or looking at the law, the judge might say, ‘Mohegan tribe, yes you can offer Internet gaming, but only to those people who are presently located within your tribal boundaries,’ ” she said.

The other hot topic of conversation, she said is the question of whether The Rational Group will win approval to take over the Atlantic Club. The company owns Full Tilt Poker and Poker Stars, but also has a history of charges and settlements with the U.S. Department of Justice. If Rational Group is approved, DeMarco said it could send a signal that the barrier to entering the U.S. market is lower than previously thought.

“It’s the whole idea of the United States being a whole new market,” she said. “And a lot of casinos are concerned that they won’t get licensed, because the regulations in numerous countries aren’t as stringent as the United States.”

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