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The question on a lot of business owners’ minds these days is when will New Jersey’s economy reopen. Assembly Speaker Craig Coughlin doesn’t know the answer, but he is making plans for repairing the economic damage caused by a nearly two-month long shutdown of non-essential businesses aimed at stopping the spread of coronavirus.

Coughlin outlined his ideas and fielded questions from NJBIA and the State Chamber of Commerce during a town hall-style webinar this morning.

Obviously, the best thing for the economy would be to get it back open, he said. At the same time, reopening too soon and triggering an increase in COVID-19 cases would only make things worse than they are now. “I cannot imagine a round 2 of this,” he said.

When the economy does reopen, Coughlin said, policymakers will need to be more creative than ever with policy. Both businesses and their customers have suffered deep financial pain. At the same time, state revenues have fallen off a cliff. So not only will the state need to figure out how to help businesses get back on their feet, it will have to do so without much in the way of financial resources.

“The answer can’t simply be that we need more money,” Coughlin said.

To develop those creative ideas, Coughlin has tapped New Jersey businessman George Zoffinger to head up a panel looking for policy solutions of every aspect of the state impacted by the pandemic, and to understand the pitfalls of potential solutions.

Whatever the eventual policy initiatives are, Coughlin said they should be targeted to specific areas.

The key will be bringing back “areas of the economy that are most likely to generate jobs and bring people back sooner at full pay so that they can get back on their feet, so that they can get back to the very robust economy we had just a few short months ago…,” Coughlin said. “It’s not going to be easy and it will never be as fast as we hope.”

NJBIA Chief Government Affairs Officer Chrissy Buteas said businesses are ready to get moving again. She pointed to aNJBIA’s recently-released Business Recovery Survey that indicated 70% of companies were confident they could operate safely according to guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

She also pointed out that a coalition of 80 business groups has put together a comprehensive list of policy recommendations for reviving New Jersey’s economy.

“We have provided over to our policymakers a framework for that recovery, and we stand willing and waiting to continue to have that conversation about how we do safely open,” Buteas said.

NJBIA President and CEO Michele Siekerka added that other states have developed systems to provide the public with a risk assessment of different activities, an idea she suggested could be developed for New Jersey to give the public confidence to safely shop and conduct business in public.

“We talk about collaboration within the state, which is so significantly important, but there are best practices outside of the state as well,” she said. “I hope you will consider things like that, and maybe perhaps you already are.”


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