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The 18 months since Gov. Phil Murphy was elected have been rough for manufacturers, as well as businesses in general. Paid sick leave, $15 minimum wage and numerous other initiatives have not only weakened New Jersey’s already poor business climate, they have made it an outlier even among other northeastern states.

It’s time for manufacturers to speak up. That was the rallying cry at today’s State of Manufacturing conference in Trenton, with NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka and John Kennedy, CEO of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program, exhorting participants to get involved.

“We can’t be strong advocates for you if you can’t be strong advocates for yourself,” Siekerka said during her opening remarks. “Manufacturing needs to be front and center at the table now.”

Kennedy said that advocacy is not something that comes naturally to manufacturers. “We’re certainly not professional lobbyists,” he said, “but it’s something important that we have to connect.”

Manufacturing has a great story to tell—manufacturing generates revenues for government and creates good jobs for working people. Kennedy and Siekerka are teaming up to tell that story, but they cannot do it alone.

“John and I need you in the trenches,” Siekerka said.

Kennedy urged more companies to come to Trenton on session days, either to testify before a committee or to be there to support those who are. Other groups bring big numbers of supporters to the Statehouse and committee meetings to support and oppose legislation that’s important to them. Manufacturers need to adopt the same mindset.

“If you want to be heard, you need to work in numbers,” he said.

Failure to do so will bring more of the same: Namely, a business climate that is already shockingly poor.

Siekerka explained that NJBIA had recently studied the regional business climate to see how New Jersey compared to its neighboring states on seven key factors. Not only is New Jersey dead last, it’s an outlier.

“It’s not even like we’re close to being competitive with the No. 2 least competitive state” in our region, Siekerka said.

She and Kennedy will meet with companies during three manufacturing roundtables in southern, central and northern New Jersey this year, to put together data to make the case for manufacturing in the state, and they need companies to step forward and participate.

She noted that as challenging as the past 18 months have been, things could have been worse. The original paid sick leave proposal, for instance, called for almost twice as much mandatory paid time off as was enacted. That’s because NJBIA and other groups were able to make the case for a smaller mandate.

“We talk so much about how no one listens to us, but are we really speaking up? If this industry is to have a voice, we need to speak up together,” Kennedy said.