At the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce 81st annual Congressional Dinner, on March 1, Governor Phil Murphy spoke about his desire to pump up the tech industry in New Jersey by designating Innovation Zones. At the same time, he said that the “good value for money” equation must be brought back into balance.
He also spoke about Newark’s bid for Amazon, the control of property taxes and the creation of a place with “New Jersey” ethical values that will make companies and their employees want to come here. In his own words:
“Every corner of our state has the capability of being part of this renewal. But, we cannot ignore demographics, and the fact that the next generation is returning to our urban centers. Our cities were once the economic engines of our state and they will be again. It is inevitable. We see the growth in Jersey City, Newark and Camden. We see the potential in Trenton. We see the seeds being planted in Atlantic City, to name a few. But there are more places where we can focus efforts to create good jobs and create the environment where businesses can succeed.
“With the ability to designate Opportunity Zones, as part of the federal tax bill, I give Senator Booker and Senator Scott a huge shout out in our cities and rural areas, we can move in this direction. I believe we can take this further, with Innovation Zones where transformative high-tech businesses can take root in incubators and accelerators where these businesses are born. We lost our edge to competitor states like Massachusetts, New York and California. This is how we begin to get it back.
“And, by the way, government policy, or lack thereof, matters. New Jersey has 15 startup incubators. New York, 179. That’s because they’ve embraced incubators in their policies. Venture capital in New Jersey is down 40 percent over the past five years. It’s up two times in the rest of the United States. Government policy matters.
“Now, let me be clear, we are committed to doing, in addition to the startups, everything we can to make Newark the next home for Amazon. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. As I have said before, we’re going to make sure we do the right things, not just for Amazon, but for our state.
“We have a tremendous natural advantage, too, when it comes to Amazon, but which can be true, not just for them, but for any business, big or small. Certainly, on the one hand, there is the hard math, and on that list is controlling property taxes. It’s investing in world-class infrastructure, funding excellent public education, and making college more affordable and accessible for more New Jersey kids.
“But you can’t put a number on a state’s values. If you, or your business, or your coworkers, or your kids care about things like: common-sense gun safety laws, a 100 percent clean energy future, fully funded women’s health care, the welfare and rights of our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, or enlightened immigration policies that allow safe cities to flourish or other deeply held values that have historically defined New Jersey – we aim to be America’s gold standard.
“So, it is not just about financial value; it’s also about human values. And we believe ours align perfectly with today’s corporate mindset. It is a tremendous weapon at our disposal for economic development, and we intend to aggressively deploy it. And I will give you an example. We are tracking down the CEO of Delta Airlines, and we will have a meeting with him.
“Unfortunately, too often over the past eight years, tax incentives were the only thing given weight. We never spoke to businesses about the greater value of proposition of New Jersey. And, we failed to invest in ways to make our state an attractive home for all businesses. Those days are over.
“We can’t be content to just be the place where companies like Amazon want to come. We must also want to be the place where the next Amazon is born; and, frankly, it’s a lot cheaper when they are born here then to convince them to come here. That will require a multifaceted approach to business incentives and state investment, evaluating each new opportunity and creating a package that works for that business or startup, but also for us, and for you all.
“It is one of the driving reasons why I ordered a sweeping audit of the Economic Development Authority’s incentive programs, to ensure we do more for small business growth. Fully 98 percent of the businesses in New Jersey are small businesses. Small businesses employ more than half of all working New Jerseyans. And, nationally, small businesses will create upwards of two-thirds of all new jobs.
“With new leadership from Executive Director Tim Sullivan, and new board chair, my friend Larry Downes, EDA will be the partner small businesses and startups need, with the right focus in making the right investments in our future growth.”