Will it be back to business in Jersey?

Gov. Chris Christie tried to take his departure from the race to be president in stride last week.“I have both won elections that I was supposed to lose and I’ve lost elections I was supposed to win, and what that means is you never know what will happen,” he said. “That is both the magic and the mystery of politics — you never quite know when which is going to happen, even when you think you do.”

That sort of sums up how many business leaders feel about his return to being the state’s full-time governor this week: There’s no predicting what he will do.

Opinions of some of the state’s top leaders — most of whom requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the question — varied.

He may look to rebuild his legacy and get a lot done, some said.

He may take out his disappointment on the Legislature, others said.

One offered a third viewpoint: “I think he’ll just wait around a few months and then be back out there, supporting and stumping for whoever is the likely nominee.”

Polling data over the last few months has indicated that Christie will be coming back to near record-low favorability and job approval ratings.

Though Christie once noted that he “can walk and chew gum at the same time” in response to whether he’d be able to govern New Jersey and simultaneously run for president, the idea that he has spent the bulk of the past year in New Hampshire campaigning as opposed to managing the state has left many with bad tastes in their mouths.

Krista Jenkins, director of the Fairleigh Dickinson University PublicMind Poll and associate professor of political science at the school, feels the governor was hurt by the campaign.

“I don’t think people, by and large, buy the argument that you can do both at the same time,” she said.

So what will he do now?

Ashley Koning, assistant director of Rutgers University’s Eagleton Center for Public Interest Polling, says only time will tell.

“It’s kind of anybody’s guess which governor we’re going to get back and how he’s going to act,” she said.

The answer, she said, should come quickly.

“The Transportation Trust Fund and the proposed gas tax to replenish it could serve as a telltale sign of what’s to come,” she said.

Of course, getting that done may not be so easy.

While it would behoove Christie, the governor, to negotiate a deal with state Democrats on how best to fund the depleted TTF going forward, candidate Christie has spent the last few months signing anti-tax pledges and telling New Hampshire residents and the media that the TTF is not actually broke.

But Koning also noted that, with the right focus, Christie might be able to walk the line between ensuring his legacy in New Jersey and preparing himself for a political future outside of the state.

“It could be a make or break for him,” Koning said.

“If he refocuses on New Jersey and decides to actually commit to get stuff done … if he continuously shows that on a variety of issues and gets back to why he became popular in the first place, that can propel him for something good in the future.”

John Boyd Jr., principal of the Princeton-based Boyd Co., said the future is now and the governor needs to quickly get back on his game.

To Boyd, too many issues are on the table.

Between paid sick leave, a proposed $15 minimum wage and the ongoing pension payment dispute, Boyd said there is no shortage of topics worrisome to the business community that are in need of Christie’s opposition.

“There are a number of antibusiness policies on the horizon and no doubt concerns about Christie’s weakened popularity in the Garden State,” Boyd said.

“While job creators and businesses in New Jersey are concerned about a return to the tax-and-spend days of (former Gov.) Jon Corzine … most hope that with the governor leaving the campaign trail and returning to New Jersey, he will be able to improve his popularity and work to prevent a return to those antibusiness ‘bad old days.’ ”

Others hope Christie doesn’t get involved at all.

John Currie, chairman of the Democratic State Committee, feels his time is done.

“It’s time for him to grab a mop and attend to the countless messes he created and then avoided for so long,” he said. “Better yet, he should do what a majority of New Jersey wants him to do: resign.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @andrgeorge

Why JCPL has fewer outages, faster fixes

During the recent snowstorm known as Jonas, a docked sailboat in the Belmar area was pulled loose from its mooring in the high winds. Its mast became tangled in electrical wires and interrupted service for 900 utility customers in the area.
Jersey Central Power & Light quickly sent out a crew to repair the damage.
But that’s not all it did.

The impacted customers not only got notice that the issue was being worked on, but the company tweeted out an image of the unlikely sight to let its customers know exactly why they were without power.

JCP&L President James Fakult said it’s all a part of a larger strategy the company has undertaken in the wake of weather events such as Hurricane Sandy: Consistent contact with customers is a key.

“We’re very active in mobile technology — that is one of the big lessons learned coming out of the big storms,” he said. “What we want to do is communicate with our customers the way they want to be communicated with, and a lot of people today want the on-the-go apps.

“We’re set up now to provide that: Customers can go on our website and register for text messages and we’ll notify them instantly of an outage and once we restore service, we text them and let them know.”

While the photo in this incident was unusual, the idea of sending it out was not unique. It’s an example, Fakult said, of how emerging technologies are making the utility more reliable.

“We have a team that goes out as the storm is concluding and start to address the damage,” he said. “It’s an important part of the process.

“It was a manual paper process. Today, they go out with their mobile devices, assess, take pictures and electronically send the information back so we can prepare for the job.

“It saves a lot of time, energy and money.”

According to James Fakult, president of Jersey Central Power & Light, the utility has worked to increase its reliability by partnering with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Unions.
“We’ve developed a partnership with (the union), so if we got into another huge event, we will be training local electricians to do some of the hazard assessment that frees ups our employees to (work on) restoration,” Fakult said. “I think it’s the first of its kind. It’s a great collaboration within the state with key stakeholders.”

When Fakult assumed his position as JCP&L’s president, the now famous “Stronger than the Storm” advertising campaign was dominating the Garden State airwaves.

But the fears born from the storm were still very real in the minds of New Jersey’s residents. It’s what has been driving a lot of the company’s decisions since Fakult took the job.

“We learned a lot of lessons that came out of Sandy and Irene; we spent a lot of time working with a lot of different stakeholders, including the state,” he said. “The (Board of Public Utilities) has done a great job working with the utilities companies and the state.

“A lot of the processes and things we’ve done have been in collaboration with others, and it’s led to a lot of improvements and changes we’ve made. We’ve listened and worked hard to deliver what they want.”

Fakult said a lot of those changes are driven by a desire to provide the company’s customer base with a sense of reliability when memories to the contrary are all too fresh.

“What you’re seeing is a continued improvement in the No. 1 object, which is serving our customers,” he said. “We measure reliability on a number of different levels: the amount of outages customers see and their average length. Those have all improved. That translates directly into our customers seeing better services.”

Specifically, JCP&L posted its best service reliability numbers in 13 years. For 2015, the company showed an 18 percent reduction from the number of outages customers experienced the previous year.

In the pipeline
While the last year showed growth for Jersey Central Power & Light’s reliability, its president, James Fakult, is concerned about the supply of potential young workers coming up the employment pipeline.
So, the company is working with Brookdale and Raritan Valley community colleges under their Power Systems Institute program, to provide students with a two-year degree in electrical technology and hands-on experience that gives them a jumpstart into those careers.
“We’re being very proactive in recruiting and bringing our future line and substation electricians into the company,” Fakult said. “We have our first class in motion, with 44 candidates for future employment in the program and we’re very excited with quality of the students and bring them on the team.”

Last year, JCP&L customers overall averaged less than one outage for the year, with the average outage time being a little over an hour long.

“A lot of what we have done in the past years is a continuous improvement and has reflected out in the numbers you’ve seen through the investments in our infrastructure, people and team,” he said. “There’s a recognition that we’ve improved service and it was greatly appreciated and helps me to see that you’re making the mark.”

One thing Fakult cites for these numbers is an increase in institutional planning.

“The amount of time and effort that we spend on preparing and planning for storms (has increased),” he said. “For snowstorm Jonas, we had a tremendous amount of time for planning and preparing and we were able to restore an awful lot of customers rather quickly in terrible conditions.”

E-mail to: [email protected]
On Twitter: @sheldonandrewj

AtlantiCare opening Camden urgent care site

AtlantiCare is opening its third Camden County urgent care location, its 10th in the state, in Clementon on Wednesday.The South Jersey health system, which recently merged with Pennsylvania-based Geisinger Health System, will hold a ribbon-cutting for the 3.600-square-foot facility Wednesday evening, according to a statement.

The facility includes a reception area, children’s waiting section, coffee bar, an X-ray suite and centralized nursing station.

There are also six patient exam rooms that can be used for general purpose but are individually equipped for eye, ear, pediatric, suture, orthopedic and OB/GYN procedures.