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Business community highlights economic development hopes for Assembly panel

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In testimony before the Assembly Commerce and Economic Development Committee Thursday, members of the state's business community across various sectors offered their takes on the state of economic development in New Jersey and highlighted potential areas of growth.

Invited guests touched on issues such as incentives, transit-oriented development and infrastructure investment.

It was the panel's first meeting since Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck) was appointed chair last week.

On the issue of the Economic Opportunity Act of 2013, New Jersey Business & Industry Association vice president David Brogan said that while the new incentives will certainly help the state stay competitive, this is not the time to stand down.

Brogan noted that especially with the aggressive business-friendly approach Gov. Andrew Cuomo has taken in New York, New Jersey must keep up with its neighbor through added tax reforms, incentives and policy changes. For starters, a "cleanup bill" to address some of the remaining issues in the Economic Opportunity Act should be worked on, Brogan said.

Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, said that it is because of the Economic Opportunity Act that "New Jersey is more competitive with our surrounding states." But Egenton agreed with Brogan that New York should be a concern given all that it is currently offering in tax exemptions and incentives.

"We need to keep an eye on our neighboring states," Egenton said.

Egenton also said investment in infrastructure, particularly at New Jersey's seaports. With the Panama Canal expanding and other ports on the eastern seaboard hungry for business, it's important that support be given to Port Newark and Port Elizabeth, he said.

"That is a gem that we have in the Port Newark, Elizabeth area," Egenton said.

Assemblywoman and panel member Sheila Oliver (D-East Orange) added that she, too, has heard of competitiveness among the region's ports.

"Norfolk, Va. is chomping at the bit to take our business away from us," Oliver said.

Both Brogan and Egenton noted that there is a level of concern among their organizations' members over the Affordable Care Act and its impact on small business.

Testimony on the state of New Jersey's development community was also given by NAIOP CEO Michael McGuinness and government affairs consultant Anthony Pizzutillo.

Pizzutillo talked up the benefits of transit-oriented development, noting that New Jersey must use its vast rail network to its advantage, especially given that developments situated near train stations are becoming increasingly desired.

"There is no place tin the United States that is more accommodating than New Jersey," Pizzutillo said in terms of statewide transit options.

McGuinness added that lawmakers should look at revising antiquated laws that are pertinent to the development community such as certain liquor license requirements, the COAH jobs tax and other outdated zoning restrictions.

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