Panelists tout positives as survey shows corporate concerns on regulations
While the state's top executives believe New Jersey is becoming a better place to expand and run a business, they still have major concerns about its regulatory climate, a panel of business leaders said today at an economic policy summit unveiling the results of a CEO survey by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.
"A difference has been made almost overnight with the perception of New Jersey as a place to do business, but it takes a long time to turn structural issues around," said Michael Van Wagner, executive director of the New Jersey Business Action Center. "If you had interactions with the administration, your view on the regulatory environment would be more favorable than it was in the past two years. It has to be, because I see it every day."
According to Madeleine Robinson, CEO of Moonachie-based manufacturing firm LPS Industries Inc., the state's environment regulations on construction and manufacturing has prevented many firms from doing business — which explains why more than half of the 274 executives polled indicated that New Jersey's government has an indifferent or difficult attitude towards business in the state.
"I'm on my ninth or 10th permit, and the last one cost $3,700, and two agencies are arguing over the jurisdiction," Robinson said. "It's not a good climate, but it's improved, because I did get the first eight permits, though it cost a lot of money. But the ninth was the killer, and it's still a challenge for me."
Dean Paranicas, president and CEO of the Healthcare Institute of New Jersey, said the state's history of strict government policies could undercut efforts by the Gov. Chris Christie administration to bring new business to the state.
"When you're a global company, you have a basis of comparison to other states with their different regulatory and tax climates, and they can historically look at how it was to try to do business New Jersey and think, 'I can get building up somewhere else before I can even get a shovel in the ground in New Jersey,' " Paranicas said. "The state's regulatory structure needs to be clarified so its rationalize and clear and easy to get through, and that will provide New Jersey with the big competitive boost it would need when global companies are looking at other states to expand. I'm very encouraged by the red tape review, but it needs to become part of state's DNA."
According to Bernard Flynn, President and CEO of New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance Group, the state should look back to May 2003 — when former Gov. Jim McGreevey "slayed the dragon of regulatory dysfunction" in the auto insurance industry — to make New Jersey one of the best places for business across all sectors.
"Not much was done with the legislation, but the fact that it was a bipartisan effort signaled a change in attitude," Flynn said. "The insurance rates weren't regulated by the regulator anymore, and the consumers benefitted and the sector grew. That's just a microcosm of what can happen for these other regulatory policies."
But Gil Medina, executive managing director of commercial real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield, said the state's regulatory environment is "not as bad as it sounds."
"When I worked with (former Gov. Christine Todd) Whitman, my perspective of the (state Department of Environmental Protection) was that it was Iraq, and we tried to occupy it long enough, and then let the Iraqis fend for themselves," Medina said. "But this administration is trying to be a transformative influence, not delivering top-down mandates to the DEP."