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Grapevine: Taking their business elsewhere

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For anyone who's wondering how businesses feel about the long, drawn-out effort to revamp the state's incentive programs, one insider pointed a recent meeting agenda for the Economic Development Authority.

The person said the EDA board in May had "one of the lightest agendas — at least in terms of incentives — in a very long time." The agenda included just two Business Employment Incentive Program awards totaling about $1 million, but nothing from the big-ticket programs like Urban Transit Hub and Grow New Jersey.

The reason, the source said, is that once a company applies for an incentive, the application "gestates for three, four, five months" before it appears on the board agenda. That would mean companies started to hit the brakes around January — when the first version of the Economic Opportunity Act hit the Assembly — and have since waited to learn the fate of the bill.

The Economic Opportunity Act would consolidate five incentive programs into two, loosen the geographic restrictions of some of the current incentives offerings and place a greater emphasis on job creation.

As of press time last week, the bill was pending a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee and the full chamber, while a separate version had passed in the Assembly in May. Stakeholders on all sides seemed optimistic that the bill would be on Gov. Chris Christie's desk before the Legislature breaks June 30; the governor already has indicated he'd sign it.

But movement of the legislation has been slower than anticipated, especially considering its broad support among business groups, lawmakers and the administration. The source said further delays might have tempted some would-be applicants to "cut bait and go somewhere else."

The person also noted that companies already had been "rowing in place" since late last year, when it became clear that the allocations for Grow New Jersey and Urban Transit Hub were beginning to run low.

In recent months, "companies that were interested in the state (were) rowing in place for a different reason," the source said.

Incentives bill a primary concern

There is at least one piece of solid progress on the Economic Opportunity Act, though: One of its chief sponsors is back in the driver's seat.

Ray Lesniak, the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, had been locked in a tough primary election battle, and in the weeks leading up to the June 4 election, sources told Grapevine the Union County senator's focus on the race was making it difficult for the bill to make its way through the Legislature.

Now that he's emerged victorious, all that's changed. Trenton insiders said Lesniak has returned his focus to the bill, and spent much of the last couple of weeks working on a slew of details. The talks concern, according to sources, an unnamed project in Camden that has the backing of Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Still, the sheer amount of details meant the bill — which proponents hoped to pass before the budget break, then in April, then in May, then again in early June — will end up among the last items to get a vote before the summer break.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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Grapevine: Taking their business elsewhere

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Latest News

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For anyone who's wondering how businesses feel about the long, drawn-out effort to revamp the state's incentive programs, one insider pointed a recent meeting agenda for the Economic Development Authority.

The person said the EDA board in May had "one of the lightest agendas — at least in terms of incentives — in a very long time." The agenda included just two Business Employment Incentive Program awards totaling about $1 million, but nothing from the big-ticket programs like Urban Transit Hub and Grow New Jersey.

The reason, the source said, is that once a company applies for an incentive, the application "gestates for three, four, five months" before it appears on the board agenda. That would mean companies started to hit the brakes around January — when the first version of the Economic Opportunity Act hit the Assembly — and have since waited to learn the fate of the bill.

The Economic Opportunity Act would consolidate five incentive programs into two, loosen the geographic restrictions of some of the current incentives offerings and place a greater emphasis on job creation.

As of press time last week, the bill was pending a hearing before the Senate Budget Committee and the full chamber, while a separate version had passed in the Assembly in May. Stakeholders on all sides seemed optimistic that the bill would be on Gov. Chris Christie's desk before the Legislature breaks June 30; the governor already has indicated he'd sign it.

But movement of the legislation has been slower than anticipated, especially considering its broad support among business groups, lawmakers and the administration. The source said further delays might have tempted some would-be applicants to "cut bait and go somewhere else."

The person also noted that companies already had been "rowing in place" since late last year, when it became clear that the allocations for Grow New Jersey and Urban Transit Hub were beginning to run low.

In recent months, "companies that were interested in the state (were) rowing in place for a different reason," the source said.

Incentives bill a primary concern

There is at least one piece of solid progress on the Economic Opportunity Act, though: One of its chief sponsors is back in the driver's seat.

Ray Lesniak, the prime sponsor of the Senate version of the legislation, had been locked in a tough primary election battle, and in the weeks leading up to the June 4 election, sources told Grapevine the Union County senator's focus on the race was making it difficult for the bill to make its way through the Legislature.

Now that he's emerged victorious, all that's changed. Trenton insiders said Lesniak has returned his focus to the bill, and spent much of the last couple of weeks working on a slew of details. The talks concern, according to sources, an unnamed project in Camden that has the backing of Senate President Steve Sweeney.

Still, the sheer amount of details meant the bill — which proponents hoped to pass before the budget break, then in April, then in May, then again in early June — will end up among the last items to get a vote before the summer break.

Grapevine reports on the behind-the-scenes buzz in the business community. Contact Editor Tom Bergeron at tomb@njbiz.com.

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