The staff at NJBIZ gives its thoughts on the year that was.
A is for Allspire Health Partners: Still trying to figure out the full ramifications of the Affordable Care Act, three hospital systems in New Jersey (Atlantic, Hackensack and Meridian) joined four in Pennsylvania to form this alliance. Those involved were quick to say it wasn't a merger but a way to increase their scale and scope with the ultimate aim of coordinated care that allows for higher quality and less waste (who can argue with those power business phrases?). Whether all this synergy actually happens will be worth watching in 2014.
B is for Birdsall: With all due respect to those who feel the Revel bankruptcy was a bigger transgression (or at least a bigger scandal involving money and politics), we lean toward the pay-to-play corruption case involving Birdsall Services Group. The once highly influential engineering firm pled guilty to funneling thousands of dollars in political contributions through its employees — a scheme that led to the company's bankruptcy and charges against seven top officials.
C is for Camden: Or should we say South Jersey, the home of political heavyweight George Norcross? The pressure to jump-start development in that region was enormous and held up EO13 in the Legislature for months, as the bill ballooned to 80-plus pages with bonuses for Camden and the southern half of the state. The Cooper's Ferry Partnership will no doubt be among the biggest beneficiaries. It could spur the kind of redevelopment needed to revitalize Camden. We welcome more announcements, such as the one trumpeting Cooper University Health Care's partnership with the Houston-based MD Anderson Cancer Center.
D is for Devils: The hockey team changed hands back in August, and it was much needed, as the underappreciated ownership of Jeff Vanderbeek had run its course. Underappreciated? Yes, let's not forget his commitment to keeping the Devils in N.J. (who remembers Nashville?) and using them to create a new arena and much-needed economic activity in Newark. New owners Josh Harris and David Blitzer have the money, smarts and philanthropic desire to make the franchise a success on and off the ice. (Now, about that Kovalchuk guy ...)
E is for E013: Or, as most people intimate in one way or another, the most important piece of economic development in decades. It's not perfect (though we were glad to see EOA II was pulled from consideration), but it has helped put sensible and useable incentive plans in place to both draw new business into the state and keep the companies that are already here. Hard to argue about that.
F is for Formula One: We appreciate and applaud the efforts to bring special events to the state (see W for Wrestlemania) and feel the Special Olympics in 2014 will be special, as will the two triathlons that are coming soon. It's a shame this race can't get to the starting line. Give up on it? Not us. We still remember the excitement and fun of the Meadowlands Grand Prix CART race (Yes, we're that old.) And that was in a parking lot. A race along the Hudson would be amazing.
G is for Governor: How can it not be? His big personality (dare we say, bigger than the storm?) should be viewed as a plus. He's brought more attention to the state than any governor since Tom Kean (yes, we remember those ads, too) or even Snooki. Ask anyone who has been out of the state or the country: Christie has made Jersey cool and put us on the minds of many. And that can't help but have a positive impact on companies considering us as a landing spot.
H is for Headquarters: New headquarters, that is, for Bayer, Novo Nordisk, Panasonic, Realogy, all of which opened this year, making for a nice slate of ribbon-cuttings in the thick of Christie's reelection campaign. Some may complain the state spends too much time (and money) on the biggest companies. And while we agree small and midsize businesses are a huge driver of the economy, raising the level of the big boys raises the level for all.
I is for Internet Gambling: Funny how discussions about gambling no longer focus on morality or a tax on the poor, but rather on how we can get a bigger piece of the pie. We think online poker and other games will be a big revenue raiser for the state (it's almost all pure profit, right?) and encourage the state to become a giant in the industry, attracting players from around the country. The money is going to be spent, there's no denying it; it only remains to be seen how much of it goes to Jersey.
J is for Jersey City: And its new mayor (Steven Fulop) and new initiatives (too many to list). We're not sure if all the efforts are going to pay off (let's check back a year from now to discuss the battle with the Port Authority), but we love the spirit and zest for growth, development and the spotlight (we're talking about the city, not Fulop's political aspirations). This is a city on the rise — and with the uncertainty surrounding a political change in Newark, arguably the most important city in North Jersey.
K is for Kiss: In October, same-sex couples in New Jersey got the right to share the moment that kick-starts a marriage. The state was the 14th in the country to give gay marriage the all-clear, and it was a hot-button issue right up to the end. Ultimately, our governor opted to back out of the fight. Some argued that was a bad move, particularly if, say, the governor has higher political aspirations. But Christie wouldn't be the first Republican to do an about-face on the issue of gay marriage and still live to tell about it. Our advice: Don't actually take a stand; just say your view on the issue is "evolving."
L is for Leaving: Having Hertz say goodbye after nary a nod to state groups willing to do anything to keep them should be a warning sign to all. It's easy to argue the state gives away too much to companies until one up and leaves, just as Hertz will do when it heads to Florida in 2014. The loss of companies equates to lost jobs for the state, and that's something none of us can afford.
M is for Multifamily Residences: You can't go anywhere or talk to anyone in the real estate development world without hearing the phrase "multifamily residences." We're not sure if people are tired of taking care of yards or don't want to be tied down to a mortgage or if they never fully embraced that other M word: McMansion. We just know "multifamily" was on everyone's lips in 2013, and it doesn't look like that will change in 2014. Multifamily residences, as in, they're going into that after abandoning "suburban office parks."
N is for Noteworthy Departures: Too much of our bluster is about today or even tomorrow. We need to remember how we got there and salute those who helped us, people such as Sen. Frank Lautenberg. And then there's the most famous (or infamous) New Jersey businessman of all time: Tony Soprano, played by Park Ridge native and Rutgers grad James Gandolfini.
O is for Obamacare: Or, dare we say, OMG — as in, what have we done? The missteps are too well-documented and too many to name. And costs continue to rise — for employers and employees. Such concerns and questions only figure to grow in 2014. We must say this, however: It is spurring the economy. Companies situated to take advantage of ACOs (one of the items that does seem to make sense) are thriving — as are any number of lawyers, accountants and health care experts being hired to figure it all out.
P is for Paid Sick Leave: We fear it's one of those things that sounds good in theory only. After all, a sick employee working because they can't go without the pay isn't good for anyone (coworkers or customers). And taking a day would likely help them return a more productive employee. But raise your hand if you give paid sick days — and have employees mysteriously get sick far more often on Fridays than any other day of the week (especially before three-day weekends). The policy is ripe for abuse.
Q is for QuickChek: Veteran writers of A to Z items are usually in a quandary when it comes to Q. Not us. Not on this item. Not with the family-owned company based in Whitehouse Station that has been a star in the state for generations. It's no wonder CEO Dean Durling joined Keith Campbell of Mannington Mills in Salem and Bernie Flynn of NJ Manufacturers Insurance Company in West Trenton in our NJBIZ Hall of Fame this year. QuickChek, a regular in our Best Places to Work listing, figures to face more competition in 2014, with WaWa and 7-Eleven starting to pop up, but should maintain its spot on top.
R is for Rutgers: Taking our cue from President Barchi, we'll try to ignore all the goings on with the athletic department. When you do that, there is plenty of good going on here. The merger with UMDNJ gives the university a full-fledged medical school and access to so much intellectual property and capital. And the partnership with Devco to expand and improve its campus is a model for all. We know, we know: Sports drives the bus. So here's hoping the move to the Big Ten — a, pardon the pun, game-changing moment for the athletic department — is all that it can be.
S is for Senate seat: Or is it, the special election for the Senate seat? The controversy over when to fill the seat in the wake of Sen. Lautenberg's passing and how it would impact the gubernatorial election proved to be much ado about nothing (other than an estimated $24 million). Cory Booker was going to win the seat, and Chris Christie was going to be reelected governor, no matter when the votes were taken. The positive to take from this: Booker was the first African-American to be elected to the U.S. Senate in state history — a fact that was barely mentioned.
T is for Traffic study: We're not sure what was more mind-boggling about an event we refuse to call "Trafficgate:" that someone could argue there were no political undertones involved in the mysterious closure of three lanes on the GW Bridge, or that someone would think, 'Hey, if we close lanes on a bridge, drivers will somehow blame that on the mayor of Fort Lee?' Good political theater? Absolutely. But for our time in traffic, it was something out of "Monty Python" or "Mystery Science Theatre 3000."
U is for Urban Transit Renewal: It's the other catchall phrase in the state that goes hand in hand with multifamily residential. People want to live (and work) in urban centers that feature mass transit access (read, trains) again. Cities and towns are now rushing to take full advantage. There are so many spots (see Bloomfield, Morristown, Roselle, Red Bank and Long Branch, among dozens of others) eager to take advantage.
V is for Voting: As in, why was the fight to raise the minimum wage put in the hands of voters? We'll skip the discussion on whether a raise will really hurt businesses (most of which were already paying close to the higher rate) and concentrate more on the big-picture aspects of a decision that was left to the ballot box. It shouldn't have been. It was the result of a legislature that couldn't do its job (so don't claim D.C. is the only place that's dysfunctional) and sets an awful precedent that politicians will go to the polls in lieu of forging compromise through negotiation. Any sixth-grade social studies teacher will tell you we have a representative democracy where we elect leaders to vote for us — not send votes back to us.
W is for Wrestlemania: The Wrestlemania event at MetLife Stadium in April (which was supposed to be a warmup for the Super Bowl) reportedly had an economic impact of more than $100 million on New Jersey — a total next year's Super Bowl will struggle to top (unless you count the tunnel tolls for those racing to get to New York City). But it did go to show that the state's plan to host more big-time events is a good one. How cool would the X-Games be?
X is for Xanadu: Once referred to by Christie as the "ugliest damn building in New Jersey and, maybe, America," the American Dream project (or the project formerly known as Xanadu) is finally on its way to being built. Well, make that finally on its way to being financed. That's thanks to a $390 million incentive grant issued by the EDA in November. We're told we may see construction crews soon — and that they will be ready to paint over that exterior when the weather turns warm. We'll call it progress because we are tired of so many broken promises.
Y is for our Yearly Call to Action: Say what you want about Jerseyans — and there's a lot of opinions to go around about our great state — but one thing can't be ignored: We face a crisis head on with a spirit that says, simply, 'It's time to get to work.' Our efforts to rebuild following Superstorm Sandy — and do it in a non-political way (heaven forbid the governor actually walks with the president) — were admirable. But it doesn't have to be an international story for us to do the right thing. The spirit of Seaside after this year's devastating boardwalk fire is another example of Jersey grit. Working together to get the job done is the secret to success for business and community. We don't know what tragedy will strike the state in 2014 — and we sure hope there are none. But we know when the time comes, Jerseyans will be ready.
Z is for ZZZZ: If you've made it this far down our list, you are surely exhausted. Let's put 2013 to bed.
RELATED: 2013 By the Numbers