By Michael Kerwin
President and CEO, Somerset County Business Partnership
In any discussion about the hotbeds for discovery and innovation in the United States — in fact, around the world — New Jersey is always high on the list. As home to 20 members of the Fortune 500, the Garden State has the talent, infrastructure, and resources necessary to lead the world in life-changing innovation. More than 17,000 businesses have a presence here in Somerset County alone, including global innovators that include LabCorp, GSK, Sanofi, and Ethicon.
We are, however, on the brink of toppling over an economic precipice, and New Jersey’s rightful place as an innovation leader on the global stage is tenuous. Significant corporate tax burdens — among the highest in the nation — have made our state much less regionally attractive for businesses, both large and small. And our prohibitively high cost-of-living is among the reasons why New Jersey holds the dubious honor of leading the nation in the number of residents moving out. This makes it more difficult for world-class companies to retain world-class talent.
This is an alarming statistic for a state that is in the top ten nationwide for the most patents held — a state that for years has boasted the world’s highest concentration of scientists and engineers. These are people who invent products that prolong and enhance human lives. Their extraordinary minds and considerable skills are crucial to our future. But like anyone else, they have mortgages to pay, families to feed, and children to educate.
What New Jersey needs is an action-based plan that focuses on addressing our economic challenges and fiscally outdated systems. Opportunity New Jersey (ONJ), whose steering committee includes representation from the Somerset County Business Partnership and major statewide chambers of commerce, has developed such a plan. ONJ recently announced its Plan for an Affordable New Jersey, along with the establishment of the New Jersey Economic Development and Advisory Council. I encourage all our business leaders, and our lawmakers in Trenton, to give these initiatives their full attention.
With a goal of stimulating job growth in New Jersey, the Plan makes preserving and promoting our state’s business interests a priority. It calls for no new mandates on New Jersey employers, and a two-year moratorium on taxes, fees, and other government actions that affect job creators. The Plan challenges Trenton to reform our business tax structure, following through on the promised sunset of the Corporate Business Tax and making no further increases to the Gross Income Tax. It also encourages continued activities that stimulate venture capital investment, such as the proposed Innovation Evergreen Fund — which will make about $500 million in venture capital funds available to New Jersey-based startups. That’s the kind of boost New Jersey needs to put us on the right path to affordability and ongoing innovation.
A key component of the plan is the Economic Development and Advisory Council, on which I have been asked to serve. With so many business interests and industry organizations jostling for the attention of our Governor and legislative leaders, the Council aims to be a united voice through which our concerns (and our expert guidance and influence) can be heard.
We have a lot of work to do, but we can get there. We look forward to participating.
To learn more about the Plan for an Affordable New Jersey, and the formation of the New Jersey Economic Development and Advisory Council, please visit www.opportunitynj.org. Make sure to click Join Our Mailing List to stay updated on news and developments.