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MONROE, NJ-While there are certainly macro issues at work in the currently troubled times, New Jersey’s elected officials provide an important micro issue that has to be dealt with. That was the underlying message from a trio of well-known industry experts at Friday’s meeting of the Economic Development Association of New Jersey at the Forsgate Country Club here.

“What’s lost in the debate is that we as a state make decisions in a ‘silo’ world when we live in a global world,” said Timothy Touhey, a long-time state official who is currently EVP of the New Jersey Builders Association. “Some 65% of mortgages in the US are backed by foreign investors. So you don’t interact without knowing what’s going on in the world.”

As far as market conditions themselves, “most of the meltdowns have happened,” he said, referring to lender woes. “It will take another year to play out. All of this fed off the housing market.”

For New Jersey, “it’s a hard time getting equity in the market, but we’ll get out of this,” he predicted. One investment niche, in his view: Commercial banks. While they’re not necessarily bringing capital to the market, “the banks are looking for cash for security.”

In some ways, he admitted, New Jersey’s notorious regulatory environment might have ironically helped the state. Because it’s tough to get projects done, “New Jersey is not overbuilt and is not suffering like places like Nevada, Texas, Florida, Ohio and Michigan. We didn’t experience the dramatic overstock like other places.”

And referring to a new legislative initiative by a coalition of business leaders, “if the state positions itself correctly, we can really run with this,” Touhey concluded.

Government was the focus of remarks by Anthony Pizzutillo of Smith Pizzutillo Public Affairs of Princeton, who’s also the chief lobbyist for NJ-NAIOP. “I’ve worked with four or five administrations [in Trenton], and I haven’t seen anything like this before,” he said. “We are going into the third year of the Corzine administration, and responses to the economy are still lacking.”

Pizzutillo specifically took the Corzine administration to task for what he perceived as inaction in the face of an economy that has been losing knowledge-based jobs and replacing them with low-paying jobs in such sectors as retail and healthcare. He did, however, commend the administration for “bringing the financial restructuring of the state to a debate. It has to be changed,” he said, of New Jersey’s ongoing budget woes.

And in the larger sense, “we do need to encourage economic development,” he said. “Eminent domain isn’t running rampant. We continue to improve redevelopment law. New Jersey is poised to be very pivotal in the 21st century with the infrastructure we have in place as we move to a post-fossil fuel economy.”

Gil Medina, executive managing director of Cushman & Wakefield, told attendees “we have to start looking at the product,” referring to what New Jersey has to offer. “Overall, we have a good product, but it has defects. It is increasingly difficult to sell that product without some changes.”

Medina said that “we have lost our competitive posture in many of our important sectors,” specifically noting telecom. He did defend the Corzine administration to the extent that after the way the state’s economy has performed over the past 30 years, “expectations were high,” perhaps too high given the current challenges.

“The administration doesn’t have enough EDA types,” Medina said. “The governor’s intentions are good, it’s not an omission of integrity, but if more EDA people were involved,” instead of former Wall Street executives, matters might be different.

“Government can make a difference, but unfortunately our government is making a difference in the wrong direction,” Medina said. “We’re not losing because of a lack of incentives–we have good programs. We’re losing because the incentives sometimes don’t overcome the regulatory climate. Economic development officials are important, but they haven’t been given enough of a role.”

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