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[IMGCAP(1)]MONROE TWP., NJ-While acknowledging the current economic crisis, the three speakers at the New Jersey Economic Development Association’s Presidents & Policy meeting here agreed that the state is a strong one. They also agreed that a great deal of work needs to be done to keep New Jersey competitive in the future.

Both Ralph LaRossa, president and COO of PSE&G, and Dennis Bone, president of Verizon New Jersey, discussed their companies’ future plans, placing particular emphasis on improving infrastructure. “We’ll be concentrating mainly on three things,” said LaRossa. “Number one, the company’s infrastructure, making sure our backbone remains strong. Number two, climate change, and number three, workforce development.”

[IMGCAP(2)]PSE&G is enhancing its infrastructure by building a 500,000-volt transmission system in the state to improve service. The system, which is scheduled for completion in 2012, is part of PSE&G’s infrastructure investment of more than $5 billion over the next several years. The utility is also putting $250 million a year into replacing lines in the system.

Verizon, according to Bone, has plans to install a fourth generation wireless network in the state–which was among the first states to receive a third generation spectrum–and spend between $150-milllion and $200-million a year on its wireless infrastructure. The company is also making a significant investment in its landline network, resulting in a large investment in the state.

[IMGCAP(3)]Besides the infrastructure investments, both Verizon and PSE&G are committed to improving the state’s economy by keeping workers employed. According to LaRossa, PSE&G has hired 150 linemen this year to carry out work on the lines, and Bone reported that Verizon is still recruiting technicians to join its New Jersey workforce of 18,000 employees.

LaRossa also spoke of PSE&G’s plans to help the state achieve the governor’s goal of reducing emissions by 20% by 2020. The company is exploring means of renewable energy, including wind and compressed air. The important thing, said LaRossa, is to get the word out to homeowners about what they can do to make their homes more energy efficient.

Speaking on behalf of the state was Adam Zellner, the director of policy in the office of Gov. Corzine. Zellner took the opportunity to refute some of the findings of a recent Rutgers University study that claimed the state was experiencing a mass exodus.

“There are people leaving,” he admitted, “but the largest group is those between the ages of 18 and 24 years. Many of them are leaving to attend college. There’s been a slight increase in the number of people who make less than $75,000 a year leaving, but there’s also been an increase in people who make more than $80,000 a year coming to the state. People have ebbed and flowed in this state for a long time.”

Zellner also outlined some of the governor’s plans to strengthen New Jersey. These include overhauling the incentives programs to make them more efficient and easier to use, investing in the state to keep its economy strong and its people employed and pursuing environmental initiatives, including spreading the word about the growing number of “green collar” jobs and environmentally friendly products and construction methods.

“Basically, what we need to do is stop beating up on New Jersey and concentrate on making it better and stronger,” said Zellner. The other speakers agreed.

“At its core, New Jersey is strong, it has a good location, infrastructure, markets and workforce,” said Bone. “What we need to do is to stop trying to predict what’s going to happen around the next corner. We need to work to position New Jersey today to capitalize on future opportunities. We need to get the financial house in order, keep investing in the state, investing in our transportation, education and IT infrastructures. The cards we’ve been dealt are good ones. We can play them and make this a good place for our workforce and the people in the state.”

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