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Despite all of the negative publicity that has been generated regarding the business climate in New Jersey, businesses in the Garden State generally like it here and want to stay. That’s the overall message of the first annual “C-Suite Survey,” conducted this fall and just released by the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University.

Indeed, the survey, which drew responses from nearly 150 senior executives, fully 92.5% said that they planned to remain in the state. Just 6.7% of respondents replied that they would “probably leave,” and less than 1% said they would “definitely leave.”

The results indicated that accessibility, location, workforce quality, the educational system and healthcare were among the key advantages of doing business in the Garden State, according to James W. Hughes, dean of the Bloustein School, who presented the results at a public policy forum in Plainsboro. Among the disadvantages: The cost of doing business, cost of housing and living, taxes and state and local regulations, according to Hughes. “At the same time, companies doing business here are committed to stay, and a large number plan to expand,” he explained.

Specifically, when asked about the state’s advantages, air transportation was cited by 76.5% of those responding. Other high responses came in regard to geographic location in the Northeast (69.9%); workforce quality (67.9%); workforce availability (67.1%); quality of public education (66.6%); quality of higher education (64.4%); and access to healthcare (57.7%).

On the downside, cost of housing drew the largest negative responses, cited by 88.8%. That was followed by cost of living (88.1%), state taxes (83.2%), land-use regulations (70.8%) and state regulations (64.2%).

But the bottom line was that nearly 81% said they will expand within the next few years, and of those, nearly 60% said they would expand in New Jersey. Some 38% said they would expand elsewhere in the Northeast, 50% in another part of the country and 35% in a different country. (Multiple responses here push the figures to above 100%.)

The effort leading to the C-Suite survey came together earlier this year when the Bloustein School, the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, Cushman & Wakefield and several trade groups teamed up to launch it. The survey will be conducted again in 2008 and 2009.

“It’s an important commitment among New Jersey’s business leaders,” says Joan Verplanck, president of the NJ Chamber of Commerce. “Our role is not to complain, but rather to figure out how to make New Jersey an optimum place to do business and then promote it as a unified group. We will be proactive, develop a vision and then take it to government.”

“At times, we may disagree with the administration in Trenton on means and methods,” says Gil Medina, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, who himself is a former New Jersey commerce commissioner. “But we must help compel our legacy politicians to make difficult choices that will allow us to strengthen our fiscal system, create a vibrant business environment, generate employment opportunities and sustain prosperity in our state.”

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