As one of the first orders of business after being appointed chair of the Assembly Commerce & Economic Development Committee, Assemblyman Gordon Johnson (D-Teaneck) called a meeting.
His thought was to get a bunch of members of the business community all in one room and have them give him and other committee members a sense for where the state stands economically.
The Economic Opportunity Act, infrastructure development, competitiveness with New York, you name it. It was all covered.
Having worked on previous bills through the years with Johnson, David Brogan, first vice president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association, said the move came as no surprise.
“I've found Gordon Johnson to be a very thoughtful and pragmatic legislator … He's the kind of guy who's going to take input from all sides and make a decision,” said Brogan, who testified earlier this month before the committee.
Getting members of the business community together in its first meeting “set the right tone for the committee,” Brogan said.
Michael Egenton, senior vice president of government relations for the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, agreed. He added that he always has found Johnson to be open and willing to listen to new ideas.
“He's doing everything as a new chairman to make that connection with the business community and stakeholders,” Egenton said.
For Johnson, the meeting was just the first step in cultivating what he hopes will be a long and healthy working relationship with the business community.
“I plan to have a constant dialogue with the business community,” Johnson said.
That's why Johnson said he's already planned a second meeting for the committee on March 3 that will take testimony from members of the small business community. After that, he says he's also looking to hear from the Economic Development Authority, Choose New Jersey and the state Business Action Center.
It's seemingly one big tent.
“It's nothing new,” Johnson said. “These stakeholders and government officials should be working together in doing all that we can.”
That's also something Egenton can get behind.
“We all have the same goal,” Egenton said. “Create jobs, strengthen the economy.”
Though Assembly Speaker Vincent Prieto (D-Secaucus) made the appointment, Johnson said he personally asked to chair the committee, given his “strong desire to help business in the state.” He's also pleased with the committee roster.
“We have a lot of good members on this committee with the proper backgrounds,” Johnson said.
The committee has been without a chairperson since September, when former Assemblyman Albert Coutinho, a Newark Democrat, resigned shortly before pleading guilty to stealing funds from his family's charitable foundation and filing false financial disclosure forms with the Legislature.
Despite his fiery fall from grace, Coutinho was well-regarded within the business community and heralded as one of the primary drivers behind the landmark Economic Opportunity Act.
Johnson said he has “much respect” for the work Coutinho did in the seat he now occupies.
“The direction he had left us with I thought was excellent … I think he was on the right track even before we had these committee meetings,” Johnson said.
Brogan said Coutinho was someone who championed and “shepherded” bills to great effect and will be remembered as such, but Johnson need not look behind him.
“Gordon Johnson shouldn't look at his new role as filling Assemblyman Coutinho's shoes,” Brogan said. “Rather, he should look to chart his own course.”
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